11/13/2012 01:30 pm ET Updated Jan 13, 2013

Planning: An Art or a Science?

I was raised believing that "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Thus, I became an unremitting planner who had dozens of agendas that built upon several different options and courses my life may take. Talk about overwhelming! Long story short, I was under the impression that planning was a science, that life was some equation that a few clever trial-and-errors and a handful of mathematical formulas could solve.

In reality, planning isn't a tool that solves life's equations. Planning is an art -- and a peculiar art form at that. I've learned that, much like art, life isn't necessarily a problem waiting to be solved. It's an art waiting to be enjoyed for its own essence. It follows that life plans must then be fluid. They may even change day to day. Who am I to predict what will happen tomorrow? The answer's simple: I can't know until I get there.

That's the tricky part about planning. Plans disguise spells of time to be a series of cause-and-effect, leading us to consider sequences of events a science. In similar ways to any science, plans give us a certain degree of feeling powerful and in control -- positioning us as an authority in the realms of prediction and speculation. Instead, we are just as vulnerable to the tides of life with or without a plan, and the only authority we possess is in terms of our decisions and how we react to situations.

I had planned careers in law, engineering, education, marketing, public relations, and now in journalism. What has made the difference so far? A few unexpected turns. My passion and morals never wavered, they just took various forms and expressed themselves differently as my experiences broadened with maturity, a statement with which most can identify. For instance, I still want to devote my life to a meaningful purpose and goal; I will always strive to be the best I can be; I aim to make my parents proud; I trust I'll always remember those who have loved me; and I'm determined to give graciously to my community. These are the types of plans -- plans of personal spirit and moral fiber -- that merit dogged pursuit.

Wartime brings about such unexpected moments that place personal spirit and moral fiber at the forefront. During World War II, my grandfather couldn't have predicted his B-17 would be shot down over the Baltic Sea, or that the Germans would take him as a prisoner of war for the next 11 months. But this unforeseen moment changed the rest of his life. All other plans immediately changed as he fit himself to reality, living day to day simply thankful to be alive. How he reacted to this moment made him the man I knew him to be: strong, hopeful, measured, and yes, a bit stubborn.

Other unplanned moments hinge on others' decisions and acceptances, such as college, graduate school, and job opportunities. Upon entering my freshman year at Vanderbilt, I would never have expected I'd walk away an English and Communication Studies major, and I certainly couldn't have predicted that I would be entering Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism this winter. These things, as most defining moments tend, do not fall into cookie-cut plans. These moments rather upset, only to cause flashes of fortunate confusion that subsequently replace what was formerly "the best possible plan" with one even more superior.

Life isn't about adhering to one, two, or 20 versions of a plan. It's about taking opportunities as they come, breathing enduring curiosity, and building upon the next unforeseen upset. The old adage has it right; I simply interpreted it wrong. Planning our future in specifics is futile; planning our character and personal growth is self-control. And self-control is truly the only plan we need to succeed. In the same vein as any work of art, appreciate plans for what they are and leave room for spontaneous creativity. What initially strikes us as a violation of or departure from the grand plan may become the focal point of the next.

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