Planning is a useful and helpful skill. It gives us the opportunity to prepare for a variety of outcomes or possibilities that may be different from what we might expect.

There’s a phrase that I became aware of a few years ago – “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”*

You can plan all you want but when you’re actually in the situation then you have to deal with what actually happens.

I’ve had a useful example of this lately. It’s revealed some things about me that I knew, some that I didn’t and it has been useful.

In the latter stages of last year my partner decided to go ahead with a full knee replacement. Her current knee was degrading and she was in pain. It was impacting on the quality of her life as it also affected her ability to walk.

But it’s not a trivial operation and there is a reasonable recovery time. There are also other considerations as a new knee will change her height and how she currently walks.

The operation was scheduled for early January. I would look after her once she came home. We talked about what it will mean and what was required. I knew it would impact on my routine, but I didn’t believe it would change that much.

The operation went ahead and was successful. She had four nights in hospital and then I brought her home.

Life changed. Immediately.

It was very different from how I imagined it would be.

My time was no longer my own. There was little she could do so I had to do it for her or help her to do it. She wasn’t sleeping well as she was in so much pain. She didn’t sleep well. I didn’t sleep well. Hmm.

We decided that only one of us should not sleep so I slept elsewhere.

As situations arose we made decisions about how best to deal with them. It required a lot of my time, and, of course, it’s not easy to see somebody you care about in pain.

It reduced the amount of time I worked on the business. There are regular visits to the hospital for consultation and physiotherapy. It was very different from our normal routine for both of us.

And It was very different to how I thought it would be. It was having an impact on me that I didn’t expect.

It wasn’t the things I had to do, to take care of. It was a significant shift from sharing things to doing everything. I had expected it to have an impact, but the reality of that impact was what I had to deal with.

Sleep became even more important so that I was as refreshed and ready as I could be.

In the second week, I didn’t go swimming because I felt it would be better for me to have a little more sleep. I needed that energy elsewhere.

I noticed that at the end of the second week I was adapting to the new requirements.

I appreciated how important it was to take time for myself – not long, but walking for an hour enjoying the fresh air.

I was now responsible for thinking about what we were going to eat in the coming week. I had to plan and order the food. Minimising waste, eating quality food but also being aware of the increasing cost of food.

I enjoyed preparing the food, but realised that it can take a lot of time to prepare, cook, wash up and clean. A task usually shared.

I was curious about whether I’d be patient or impatient with the new situation. It turns out that I am patient.

There were times of frustration of course, but I didn’t let that play out in unhelpful ways. I recognised it and dealt with it.

With less time to do things, I found that I was doing things in less time. What’s that other phrase? If you want a job done give it to a busy person? I see the truth in that now.

I learned that with reduced time I had to prioritise what was the most important tasks and focus on them. If I could only do one thing then what was that one thing going to be?

So the reality of my situation was very different to how I thought it was going to be. We’re in the third week as I write this and Jill’s improving and doing more as she improves and as her body heals. It’s a slow process and, alas, a painful one.

I’m not pretending that it’s been easy, that there weren’t frustrations, that I haven’t wanted things to be as they were. I’ve had all those and more besides. But I’ve put this into context and got on with it. I’m sure it will continue to change. That’s life.

It will help me to provide context to other situations that I will no doubt face. I’m appreciating what I have and dealing with what needs to be dealt with. I may not deal with new situations as well as I am this situation because every situation is different. But this has been a useful experience for me. I know that it will be a ‘journey’ – not one thing, but a series of things that make up the event.

So my plan didn’t survive the reality of the situation. I’m dealing with it, doing what needs to be done, even if it’s very different from what was expected.

It’s easy to give in to the temptation that our struggles and issues are not important. I hear it from clients that compared to others their issues feel ‘trivial’ or ‘first world’. I did consider whether writing about this was me complaining. After all, I’m not the one who has had the operation, who is in pain, who is having to relearn so many things.
I’m not complaining. I’m observing, reporting and sharing so that you might find some aspect of it useful for you.

And as some of my friends were happy to point out to me – this is what it’s like to be a parent, just for a lot longer…

I welcome your thoughts and comments so let me know at brooke@brookehender.com or Contact

*The quote is from the Prussian Military Commander Helmuth von Moltke (1800-91). The original (in English) is ‘No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main force.’ and often shortened to ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy.’