An obsession with planning

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An obsession with planning

Since I was in elementary school, I have always loved putting up all kinds of planning charts on the wall. Once I put them up, I would never take it down. When my mom said she would not allow any more charts on the wall, the next day I put up another on the ceiling.

Old habits die hard, and I still make plans constantly. I make specific plans for each topic, from relief work to personal research, for each week, month, year and decade. I usually write in my journal, but for the projects I am focusing on right now, I put a chart and key words on the living room wall, renewing my commitment every day.

I am writing a new book, and a chart outlining the deadlines for each chapter, the publication schedule and a tentative table of contents are posted on the wall, along with signs for key questions and phrases like: “Why am I writing this book?” “What is the essence?” “How should I deliver it?” and “Our dreams beyond my dreams.” Also, I wrote episodes, good analogies and useful sentences on colorful post-its and put them all over the place. I’m afraid to invite anyone to my house before I finish this book.

I get excited about making plans, just as one may enjoy planning for a trip more than the trip itself. The first step of planning is to list the time, energy, money and help you can spare for the job. Then figure out the order of things, goals for each step and the execution. Once I write down the detailed plan on a big piece of paper or a notebook using different colored pens, I can dare to work on any grand project.

Who would have guessed that this 40-year-old habit would help with relief work? One of the important duties of a field supervisor is to predict what will happen in the future and make plans accordingly. Relief programs should have weekly, monthly, trimonthly, biannual, yearly and long-term plans taking into account the scope and impact of the disaster, the response caliber of the affected country and the people, countries and international organizations who are offering help, the size of corporate and individual sponsorship and the relationships with neighboring countries.

Moreover, at each stage, three plans should be made for the worst case, best case and most feasible scenarios. From the beginning of the relief program, there should be a plan to transfer the activities to the local government and people when other countries withdraw. For a one-year relief program, it requires more than 20 operation plans, and accurate and quick planning determines the quality of relief activities in the field.

But frankly, I am more excited to make plans for the things I want to do than the job that needs to be done. It is especially thrilling to make plans for something others may find absurd and unrealistic. For example, I long had a plan to travel around the world. The planning began when I was about 10 years old. It was an ambiguous dream, but I added specific plans through middle school, high school and college. Upon returning from studying abroad, I worked for three years and saved every month for three years. When I turned 33, I saved up enough money and completed the plan and left for my around-the-world trip. It was indeed a triumph of planning.

Of course, planning and preparing doesn’t guarantee that everything will go as expected. I didn’t carry out all my plans. There are many in my journal that are more than 10 years old. Some are outdated or nearly impossible considering my health and age. But I don’t intend to erase them. If I think about them over and over again, I may be able to find a different way to make them happen. Or I can give up after trying hard enough. I will have no regret after pushing as far as I can for it.

Some advise me that excessive and unreasonable plans would only make me frustrated and nervous. They have a point, but I believe I would be better off by moving forward step by step thanks to my plans. It would be great if I could accomplish a quarter of the plans I’ve made. Not all plans have materialized, but not a single thing in my life was achieved without planning.

If the plans you made in the New Year are fizzling out, I’d recommend revising and supplementing the plan with a renewed pledge for the Lunar New Year. If you give up in the middle, you’ve already come halfway.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 7, Page 29

*The author is a relief worker and a visiting professor of Ewha Womans University.

by Han Bi-ya

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