Success Secret #1: Coveted by Many, Mastered by Creatives


You know that warm feeling (read: mini orgasm) you get when you make a plan? Like a really pretty color-coded plan? The kind of plan that people say is brilliant? The kind of plan that goes…well, according to plan?

Yeah, I like them too, so much so that I decided to become one.

I—like many other wedding planners—made plans constantly. Itineraries, checklists, vision-boards, venue hunting route, timelines, agendas, and agendas to the agendas riddled our daydreams and desks. If we failed to make a plan we would get sloppy. And if we were sloppy, we’d be unemployed in a hurry.

But that’s fine. Us planners were in good company. For example, when you first decide to become an entrepreneur, you are bombarded with blogs, articles, podcasts, and books screeching and pointing from the rooftops that you need plans. Business plans, marketing plans, social media schedule, writing schedule, deadlines, step-by-step processes, procedures, even eating plans. And I admit that I was tantalized by them. I loved making them. I loved following them. It was the structure of them, the grounded reality of making things attainable, one step at a time.

And there’s a reason why the idea of making plans has been talked about and preached for ages: because they work. And we grow up following them like a traveling wine circus (Does that exist? Because I’ll buy a ticket right now and make my travel plans).

Think about it. In school each year, we were following our teachers’ lesson plans. They had broken down their goals into tiny baby steps that come forth through tests, homework, and field trips. Each lesson and assignment built on top of each other like a ladder, and we climbed it until we reached the goal: graduation.

We followed plans outside of school as we pursued our team sports, our reading lists, our video game levels, our dance lessons, our piano recitals, and our dubious plans to get Timmy the Track Star to notice us.

Plans were all around us and we followed them. So it makes sense that when we are let loose as adults, we flock to plans. If we can’t get someone to tell us what plan to follow, we make up our own. Plans are solid. Plans are vital. Plans are comforting. And they seduced us like Chris Hemsworth and his Thor hair.

But just as plans can rise you up as a stellar creative entrepreneur, they can quickly turn you to the bottle.

Because when we put our plans in a vice grip, we tend to forget why we made them in the first place. To get to a goal.

I first became aware of this phenomenon about a year into my wedding planner business. By that time, I had met and worked with some brilliant planners. But time and time again I would see planners crumble under the weight of the plans they set. If something went off plan, we would freeze. We were so obsessed with our perfectly crossed referenced, lace-fringed plans that sometimes we completely forgot about the goal: get our clients married (without spilling anything on the dress).

So what is the answer? Not make plans? (The Type A in me just downed her glass of bourbon at the thought.) No, the answer waited to reveal itself until I left the world of planning and declared myself a writer. A creative. Which to an outsider, may seem a bit perplexing, as it looks like our creative world lives in the abstract. Like there’s no formula for what we do. That plans will scare away the muse.

But you know as well as I do that real creativity is inspired and planned. And most of the time? Things can go awry anyway. The camera might stop working, chainsaws may go off at the neighbor’s every time you yell “action!”, the major plot point you had envisioned couldn’t possibly work with the character arc you had dreamt, the electricity could go out, the wine could vanish.

But here’s the difference between the hardcore planners and us: flexibility. As a creative, you have to be flexible, able to bend and mold with whatever comes up. It’s a lesson we learn early and a trait we resort to often, because flexibility takes creativity.

In our world, just as often as things go according to plan, they can get stabbed in the foot. It’s a lesson entrepreneurs of all types should take from us. Because it is in the flexibility where the secret of success lies.

So herein lies the secret (be sure to tell your accountant friends):

Committing to the plan is safe. But, committing to the goal is foolproof.

By committing to the goal we are promising ourselves that when things go bananas and lean slightly to the left, we can regroup, refuel, and keep going. Talk to any creative entrepreneur who has finished that movie, or won that award, or landed that client, and they will tell you the road to their success was sprinkled with fires to be put out, flying monkeys to dodge, and potholes to cement up.

That road to success is a plan and it’s one we need to get us started. But there are those who will hit their first troll under the bridge and come to a full stop, scared to make any new moves. Never mind that they can see their goal in the distance, ready to be conquered. Never mind that they see a secret pathway to the goal hidden behind the troll’s shoulder. Never mind that their map has flown away and they need to wing it. All they can concentrate on is that their road – their perfectly cobblestoned road that they spent months creating – is being overrun by stinky mythical creatures.

By committing to the goal—and not the plan—we understand that things will come up. We understand that as long as we keep our priorities centered on the end result and not always the journey, we have a shot. We understand that to be flexible as a creative entrepreneur is more than a life line. It’s salvation.

So we’ll flirt with the plan. We’ll take it out to dinner. Show it a good time. But the goal? The goal’s the one we want to settle down with. Make babies with. And if it takes more than one or two or three plans to walk down the aisle with your goal…well, that’s ok. We’re creatives, and dang we one hell of a catch.