A big storm was coming. According to all the TV stations and internet sites, it was going to be a "significant snow event"; before the snow even started to fall, flights were cancelled and schools were closed. The heightened level of alert was reflected by the lines at the gas stations. Packing up my briefcase with enough work to keep me busy at home for a day, I made my way to the grocery store. I had been promised a pot of mushroom barley soup, if I would provide the missing ingredients: such a deal, certainly worth standing on a long line at the market.
Looking around me, I saw baskets and carts overflowing with cartons of milk and juice, loaves of bread, packages of batteries and containers of ice melt. Shelves which previously held row after row of staples were now nearly empty of bread, butter, milk, meat, orange juice, guacamole and chips (after all, what's a snow day without guacamole and chips?). Watching all the people preparing for winter's next special delivery of cold, wet misery was enough to warm any planner's heart. You would have thought I was in the remotest part of the Rockies or Appalachia - better stock up, the pass will be closed until Spring - not suburban New Jersey!
What is it about a crowded pre-storm supermarket that warmed this planner's heart? My job is to help people articulate their values and translate those values into action steps. It's all about preparation and planning and compensating for the Maybe's and What if's that might occur. It made me think about a recent client meeting with Jonathan and Karen, a couple in their mid-forties with two children aged nine and twelve. Jonathan works in sales and Karen is a freelance writer.
"Jonathan and I have been talking a lot about our values since our last meeting and I think we have boiled down the essentials - as you called it, our financial musts."
Karen smiled as she said this, but I couldn't help but notice Jonathan squirming as Karen continued.
"For us to feel financially satisfied, we want to be able to fund the cost of a state university tuition for our children. We want to be able to have work options when Jonathan hits 66 and I am 63. We don't know where we want to live after that, since we want to see where our children are situated. But, we do know that we want to continue to be productive in some way. I can freelance, but Jonathan is the problem - he just doesn't know for sure what he might want to do."
Jonathan's squirms became even more pronounced.
"Jonathan, I sense that you are a bit uncomfortable. What's going on?"
With a sigh, Jonathan began, "It is such a lost feeling; I mean, Karen can continue to write for as long as she wants; but me, I have been in sales all my work life. I just don't know where to go from here."
"You know, Jonathan, it is perfectly alright to be where you are right now. In fact, from my experience, it is quite normal. So give yourself a break and get off your own back - the real fun is about to begin."
A quizzical look replaced his previous mask of discomfort.
"Anything as important as life after working days requires planning and preparation. So, your first job will be to take some time and write down a list of possibilities, interests, and childhood dreams. Ok, not every single dream - like being centerfielder for the Yankees - but some of the other ideas and dreams you've had over the years. For example, one of my clients, quite similar to you, rediscovered a previous dream to become a chef and open a small restaurant. He did a lot of research, found a school, took classes and made his dream a reality. You have time to begin that process now, methodically and practically. There are no restrictions on your imagination."
Jonathan nodded his head. His wiggling slowed down until finally his demeanor became almost peaceful.
"I can do that. It actually sounds like a fun exercise."
Jonathan was right. It is fun to think about your dreams, the crucial ingredient to preparation. Honestly, I don't know how the term "preparation" got such a bad rap. It's actually very simple. The hard part seems to be that first step of getting started. Once you overcome that hurdle, you're on your way.
The next morning, I woke to a few inches of snow and a bright sun. The promised storm had passed without inflicting monumental inconveniences, power outages and mountains of snow. Driving to the office, I thought longingly of the pot of mushroom-barley soup that wasn't going to get made today and the container of guacamole that would just have to wait. Oh well, at least I was prepared.