It’s never too late to start planning

Over the past month or so I’ve been doing something I should have done ages ago. I’m writing a personal business plan.

For those who don’t know, a business plan is an outline of an entity’s strategy and operations. It sets goals, defines a target market, describes broad tactics, and projects financials – profits, losses, and cash flow. It’s used, mostly by for-profit businesses, to document their goals and/or as an application to a bank or other source of capital for a loan or investment.

In short, it answers the questions “Where are you going?” “How are you going to get there?” and “What will your profit be?”, whether you measure profit in dollars, value to society, personal satisfaction (or sanity), or whatever.

I’ve never done any real life planning stuff before, because I never thought it would be relevant for me. I love serendipity. I thrive at making things up as I go along. I get a buzz from uncertainty. My disposition seems to preclude any sort of formal planning.

This approach has always worked for me. Why? Because there was always one stake in the ground, one tether, to control the swing of everything else. At different times the tether has been a steady job, a city or sometimes a set of relationships.

But over the past few years I’ve come to realize the old approach isn’t working for my new Range Life. With no steady tether, the relatively clean arc of my activities have turned reactionary and scatter-shot. I’ve replaced the careful curiosity of a cat with the yipping ADD of a puppy. I’ve seen this lack of focus in a company, and I know where it leads. More specifically, I know that it leads nowhere.

To get started, I’ve taken tremendous inspiration and guidance from Chris Guillebeau’s annual review over at Art of Nonconformity. He says it explicitly, but what I and thousands of others are trying to do is to prove that if you choose to do so, you can be successful outside of the traditional 9-to-5 (or 7-to-7!). You can – I can – live a Range Life.

In further testament to my ADD, as I write my personal business plan I get so excited about certain things that I set the planning aside and take a step or two towards one of my goals. But now I’m too impatient. I’m going to finish this plan by mid-week and let myself loose on the execution, which is the fun (and hard) part.

2011: Good riddance.
2012: Let’s do this thing.

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2012: Let’s do this thing.

In typical fashion, I’m more than a week late posting my end-of-year wrap up.

“This is no way to run a blog!” say the experts. I wholeheartedly disagree. This is in fact exactly the way 99% of bloggers run their blogs: posting sporadically for a while, and then falling off the face of the earth.

This is, however, no way to run a blog and have more than a Tebow’s chance of gaining more readers than Lis, Henry and my mom.

So where have I been? What the heck is going on? Beyond the self-fulfilling prophesy of my laziness, I’m late posting because I spent the better part of 2011 hiding. When people have asked me about my next move, I’ve told them that I’ve been taking care of some family business. That’s kinda true, but mostly bullshit. I’m certain I’ve spent more hours getting angry about American politics, getting angry about Hungarian politics, getting angry about baseball politics, and playing Angry Birds.

Oh….fine. I suppose I did do some things of redeeming value last year.

In a nod to my old, money-earning life, I took on a few freelance Web-product and editing gigs. In so doing I was reminded that I really am pretty effing good at it, and even enjoy it…at least in small doses.

And then there was my new, non-earning life.

After publishing a few stories on Matador Network, I represented them on a fantastic press trip to Papua New Guinea, sponsored by the PNG Tourism Board. In the process I met fellow travel media types the Scuba Diver Girls, “Gonzo” Robin Esrock, and Bronwen Dickey, all of whom I continue to admire.

I was ignored by countless editors.

I pitched, repitched, repitched, repitched, got an assignment for, and reported, wrote and edited a story for a major regional glossy mag…only to have it killed at the last second. The good news: I was paid in full for the story. The bad news: I earned about $0.02/hour, and (worse!) didn’t get the clip.

I pitched, repitched, clarified, reclarified, got an assignment…and had the assignment retracted for a different story in a national glossy mag.

Through all this, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do next. Which is scary. Thus the hiding.

Do I want to be a freelance writer? (I do.) Do I want to be able to pay the rent? (I do.) Do I know how to make both things happen at the same time? (Well…)

My night dreams take place on creaky buses and dusty roads. There is a biking trip through the ‘stans. There’s a string of Greyhound bus trip rides to San Diego, then continuing southward for a few years. There’s a return to familiar SE Asia to get my PADI instructor cert and settling down in Thailand.

In these dreams it’s easy to forget the isolation of life on the road. I’ve been back more than a year now, and I once again take for granted the ease of conversation with a friend who really knows me.

My day dreams are slightly different. Walking the streets of New York, my brain is full of, well, New York. My brain sparks and whirs. I’m in New York. I’m alive.

This is a very different reaction from when I first returned last September. At that time, I eyed New York – the physical manifestation of my old life – cagily, like a trap, like the strangely seductive nothingness of sweet nothings. Sweet nothings, I suspected, from an insincere lover.

But slowly, slowly, the city has eroded my defenses with glimpses of what was and what could be again. Yellowing autumn oaks vying for luminescence against blue skies. The purposeful stride of the sleekly dressed along Fifth Avenue. The woman in Penn Station singing (opera) for her dinner. The easy availability of a bagel with lox and scallion cream cheese.

It’s not just these physical things. It’s also the intellectual stimulation – of conversation beyond hostels and bus schedules and schemes and scams and cultural perplexities and the precise location of the new frogfish spotted at Artificial.

Slowly, insidiously, my latest affair with New York spread its roots. And then, sometime in early 2011, amidst the jackhammer of weekly snow storms, it sprouted new buds. Love, or deep affection, sprang from 10-foot snow banks. I was once again smitten. Stuck. Damn.

So what to do? Stay or go? Listen to my dreams or my daydreams? Or instead listen to the sucking sound coming from my savings account?

In these situations, some people pray. Others visit a life coach. Still others talk to their friends, family, bartender, or strangers on the bus. I write. And writing, like other types of therapy, requires time to produce understanding.

So far, just one thing has become clear. My next thing will finally recognize and make explicit the unheralded force behind my life so far: cultural anthropology. It’s why I couldn’t escape my generic suburban hometown fast enough. It’s why I moved to Hungary on (basically) a whim. It’s why I love cities (and why I fell particularly hard for New York). And most vitally, it’s why I need to explore new places and new cultures in order to feel sane.

I even have a new name for my blog: Taking the Fork. The name is inspired by one of many wise teachings from the great (despite his Yankee-hood) Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

So. 2012. The year of taking the fork.