Let's Get Off Our Buts

Part Five:
We Don't Plan to Fail, We Just Fail to Plan

Next week there can't be any crisis. My schedule is already full.


Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event.


It's a well-known fact: long-range planning never works. We almost always get to our goal through means other than the ones we put on our schedule. So why plan? Because people who don't make long-range plans seldom get to where they want to be.

In short, a plan will get you to your goal, but not in the way that's on the plan.

So, plan. And, be prepared not just to change horses in midstream, but to change to a boat in midstream. Keep your goal, your Dream. Stay firm and fixed on that. Be prepared, however, for whatever methods come along to get you there. Especially methods not on your plan. Plan on it.

How to plan? Simple. Take a segment of time, take a goal, and divide up the latter into the former. Keep dividing it up until you have a next action step-- something you can do right now to move toward your goal.

Let's say you want to produce a play within the next year. Get some kind of calendar. Twelve months from now, write, "Play opens." You have the goal (the play), and you have the time (twelve months). Now, chop up the goal.

What needs to happen before the play opens? Make a list. One item per 3x5 card is good, or list them on a sheet of paper. This list doesn't need to be in any particular order. Brainstorm. Free-associate.

The journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single phone call.


When the list is complete, put the steps in order, according to time. What needs to happen first, second, third, etc. "Find a play," for example, would probably come before, "Design the posters." If something is a toss-up ("Do I find the play first or the director?"), choose the way you would like it to go and schedule that.

Now, start laying these steps out backwards in time. How many weeks of rehearsal? Six weeks? Put those in. That means casting will have to be completed by six weeks before a year from now. How much time do you want to work with the director before casting? Put that time in. Continue.

When everything is roughly laid out, you can ask yourself, "Is a year enough time? Is a year too much time?" Let's say a year is a good period of time--not too ambitious, not too lethargic.

Continue breaking the plan down until you know what you must do next-- something specific you can actually, physically do. "Find a play," is too vague. "Call this list of twelve people and let them know I'm looking for a play," is a workable next action step. This might be followed by, "Read plays submitted." That's a do-able action step.

When the plays are submitted, the action steps become more precise. "Read DO IT! The Musical! " would be a next do-able action step. (And an excellent one, too, I might add. The musical has this great opening number, called "Let's Get Off Our Buts," featuring a dancing comfort zone--like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors --and, well, a word to the wise producer is sufficient.)

Now, start scheduling the next action steps. When will you call the twelve people on the list? "Next week" is not good enough for that one. When next week? What day? What time? Schedule it in.

When you plan your Big Dream, do something on it every day. Remember when I suggested that if you don't plan to devote at least fourteen hours per week--two hours per day--to your Dream, maybe it's not a big enough Dream, or maybe you don't really want it? Here's where that Dream begins to manifest--in the fourteen (or more) hours you schedule it into your calendar this week . The two (or more) hours you schedule in tomorrow.

You can schedule general tasks--completing this book, for example, or making some exploratory phone calls, or, if you are a producer, finding out if there really is a musical version of DO IT! Your Dream may have some very specific action steps that can be scheduled today--or tomorrow, at the latest. "I will write from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. tomorrow."

The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies.


The output may be one word or one thousand. For writing (meditating, phone calling, or any number of things), getting off our buts means getting on our butt-- putting it into a chair and not moving from the chair for a set period of time. Don't plan specific events too far in advance, especially early in a project. One exploratory phone call might change the entire course of your project--a method may appear that's far better than any you considered yourself. Expect that. Do plan specific amounts of time doing something on your Dream every day. Those segments of time will fill as the project rolls (and flies) along.

Someone once said, "A blank sheet of paper is God's way of letting you know what it feels like to be God." So is a blank calendar. A calendar for the next year represents your time, one of the most precious commodities you have. Use it well. Choosing what you want to do, and when to do it, is an act of creation. You are creating your Dream.

Write Things Down

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.


If you want to be a writer stop talking about it and sit down and write!


The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no limit to this fever for writing.


It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by then I was too famous.


God is love, but get it in writing.


Everyone is a professional writer. You may not get paid for writing per se ,per se. The NewYorker once had a cartoon of a street sign that read, "No parking, per se."> but you will be well paid for what you write down.

Make lists of things to do, people to call, letters to write. In fulfilling your Dream, you're in business for yourself. Pursue your Dream with all the tools of the business world. One of the basic tools is listmaking.

People who want to appear clever rely on memory. People who want to get things done make lists. Even if you're good at remembering things, write them down. That way, you don't have to remember them. Your mind is free for more creative pursuits.

The two enemies of memory are time and volume. Over time, we tend to forget. (Who sat two rows behind you in third grade?) And, when there's too much to remember, we forget. Write it all down.

Make notes of phone conversations. Most of these notes you'll never look at again, but when they come in handy, they come in handy.

Send letters to people confirming things, and cards thanking people for the gift of their time, advice, or direction. (You'll be receiving lots of favors as you move toward your Dream.)

Taking Risks

Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to save it.


As often as successful people counsel us to "take risks," that's about how often we ignore such counsel. For the vast, vast majority of people, taking risks is just too risky.

If we don't take risks, however, it's doubtful we'll ever get to our Dream. "A lot of successful people are risk-takers," Phillip Adams wrote. "Unless you're willing to do that, to have a go, to fail miserably, and have another go, success won't happen."

There must be something risky between you and your Dream; otherwise, you'd be living it. Attaining dreams requires new behavior, and trying new behavior is taking a risk.

"Be daring, be different, be impractical," Sir Cecil Beaton advised; "be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."

"There are risks and costs to a program of action," John F. Kennedy said, "but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction."

Of course, there are limits. Andy Warhol had a suggestion for Kennedy and his kind: "The president has so much good publicity potential that hasn't been exploited. He should just sit down one day and make a list of all the things that people are embarrassed to do that they shouldn't be embarrassed to do, and then do them all on television."

Don't play for safety it's the most dangerous thing in the world.


A great idea from Mr. Warhol. Unfortunately, none of our presidents has taken him up on it--not intentionally, at any rate.

The irony is that the person not taking risks feels the same amount of fear as the person who regularly takes risks. The non-risk-taker simply feels the same amount of fear over trivial things.

People not taking calculated risks in pursuing their Dream sometimes take foolish risks in general. They drive too fast, drink too much, abuse drugs, or engage in other reckless behavior. "Take calculated risks," George Patton advised. "That is quite different from being rash."

Maybe the risk-taking mechanism in these rash individuals needs to be exercised--or maybe they want to prove (to themselves as much as to others) that they're not so cowardly after all. I maintain that if they really want to display their courage, all they have to do is pursue their dreams.

The reverse of that is more often true. Having given up on their dreams, many give up on life and die a little more each day. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Some people die at twenty-five and aren't buried until they are seventy-five." Or, to quote Auntie Mame's famous line, "Life is a banquet, and some poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death."

All you have to do with what you fear is walk right up and confront it. It's among the hardest things to do, but it's the only thing to be done. The farther you run from confronting your fears, the farther you run from your Dream. "Do the thing you fear," wrote Emerson, "and the death of fear is certain."

"Often the difference between a successful man and a failure is not one's better abilities or ideas," Maxwell Maltz observed, "but the courage that one has to bet on his ideas, to take a calculated risk--and to act."

Don't Say No till You Know What You're Saying No to

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance it is the illusion of knowledge.


As I mentioned before, when we commit to a goal, the methods to achieve that goal will appear. When the methods do appear, they may not be (and seldom are) dressed in familiar garb.

Many people habitually say "no" to all new experiences. Behind this habit, of course, is the comfort zone--"It's new, so don't do it."

Many people say no because they don't want to know. "The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of an eye," wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.; "the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract." I, of course, recommend becoming a pupil of light; a pupil of life.

"My mind is made up," the old saying goes, "don't try and confuse me with the facts." The retort comes from Aldous Huxley: "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." William S. Burroughs said, "A paranoid is a man who knows a little of what's going on."

If something new presents itself to you and you don't know enough about it to decide if it might help you achieve your goal, don't say no--find out more. How do we find out more? By asking, doing, listening--by getting involved.

As you may have gathered, my advice on each new opportunity is: if it's not going to physically harm you, and it might be helpful on the path to your Dream--try it. Other than the comfort zone's control of your life, what have you got to lose?

Try everything once except incest and folk dancing.


Another reason people don't even want to hear about new opportunities is that they are afraid to say no--especially after they've "gotten to know" someone. It's the old don't-say-no-to-people-you-know-but-do-say-no-to-people-you-don't -know rule. This is a rule perpetrated by the people we know--for obvious reasons. ("Why are you giving your money to this charity to save eagles when your own brother needs new carpeting?")

This phenomenon was described by the great philosopher Gypsy Rose Lee: "She's descended from a long line her mother listened to." It's easier for most people to say no while the person offering the new experience is still a stranger.

I'm not suggesting you listen to the spiel of every person who tries to sell you a flower at the airport. It is safe to assume that one besuited flower-seller will supply you with roughly the same information as any other. I am suggesting, however, that you listen to one flower-seller spiel once.

You might try activities that are more clearly on your path more than once. As Virgil Thomson--who thrived until his death at ninety-three--once said, "Try a thing you haven't done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not." The other famous Virgil (the one who lived 70-19 B.C.) seemed to agree: "Fortune sides with him who dares."

Doing something once will get us over the fear of doing it. That's fine, but if it was a significant challenge to our comfort zone, doing it once is not enough to really feel free about it--there's still guilt to reckon with. Doing something three times usually works through the fear of doing it, reduces the fear of feeling guilty about doing it, and takes a good slice out of the guilt about doing it.

We are not free to choose to do a thing or not until it's fully within our comfort zone.

The person who has never been to New York City--but has heard nasty things about it--is not free regarding New York City. The person who's visited New York City often enough to feel comfortable there is completely free to choose to travel to New York or not.

All men should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.


After listening to people present whatever it is they have to present to you, then you can say no. You are not obligated to say yes just because you listened. You are only obligated if you committed to a certain course of action. Listening to information is not an agreement to do anything with the information. You may decide that the information is all very interesting, but it doesn't help you fulfill your Dream. Say no, and be on your way. You may also do some things that turn out to be a complete waste of time. Oh, well. As someone once said, "Don't be afraid to go on an occasional wild goose chase. That's what wild geese are for." Or, to quote Flip Wilson, "You can't expect to hit the jackpot if you don't put a few nickels in the machine."

Your goal-fulfillment system is working all the time--pulling experiences, lessons, information, and people to you to help you fulfill your Dream. "Let your hook always be cast," Ovid said two thousand years ago. "In the pool where you least expect it, will be a fish."

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