Don't make plans you cannot change

4 April 2023

I recently came back home from a 2 months trip in north and central America. During my travels, I had the pleasure of meeting two retired airline pilots who gave me a great piece of advice: “never make plans that you cannot change, because no plans survive contact with reality”.

Of course the bigger and distant in time the plan is, the more the quote proves true. It is something that experience teaches us, even if only intuitively.

The quote is not new and it has been associated to many famous people with slight variations. But the truth remains.

Hearing those words… made me think. Because I broke the recommendation completely when planning for my long trip. I had bought a lot of plane tickets, way in advance, to save money. However, during my travels, I kept meeting people, like the two gentlemen, who told me about new places I would have loved to visit. But changing my plans to include the new places was impossible at that time. It would have been too expensive to change my tight flight schedule… because I did not buy flexible flights!

In that moment I consciously realized what my unconscious mind already knew. In a moment, I realized how many recommendations that spawned from that quote: “never put all your eggs in one basket”, “have time buffers for unknowns”, “get insurance for XYZ”, “do not buy what you cannot afford twice”.

I think the quote is a precursor of all the previous recommendations because it acts at a more abstract level of reality. At the simplest level, every instant, we set a goal, act it through and reassess. We make assumptions, plans, and goals all the time. But we cannot possibly ever know that things will take place as we expect them to. So we keep our investments diversified, we make space for unexpected events in our plans, we get insurance for our travels, we don’t spend all our money to buy a car or a house.

I also want to mention it would be wrong to deduce that we should not make plans at all because of our inaccurate understanding of the world we live in. I know this because it can be a plausible conclusion in a moment of difficulties. We cannot dismiss planning exactly because we must live in this reality. If we do not make any plans, we will not get where we want. We are prey to our circumstances, and they will diverge from our desirable ones pretty quickly. If we just stop moving, we stop living. Our plans may be imperfect but if we expect them to fail, when it happens, we can adapt and move on.

Stay in the flow.