The surgery was scheduled weeks in advance.
I had enough time to get everything prepared. Groceries, toiletries, medicines. Pre-made food. Bottles of water, juices. Fruits, veggies. Podcast interviews pre-recorded and in the can. Kindle. Netflix. Hulu.
I had it all planned. I was set.
The day of the surgery happened, and all proceeded as expected. Mercifully.
Two days later, I was back home with a long list of post-op procedures which I fully intended to follow because the goal was to heal fast and perfectly. I wasn’t going to be rebellious (and this needed to be deliberately planned as I have this tendency).
The preparation paid off. I wasn’t going to get hungry. I wasn’t going to need much of anything for the first (most difficult) 2-3 weeks.
Or so I thought.
This experience—recovering from surgery—has taught me a crucial lesson on planning and goal-setting.
No plan survives first contact.
Things will happen unexpectedly. Wheels will fall off. Things that you thought would be difficult will be easy and vice versa. And the best way to be ready for this is to incorporate the unplannable into your plans. How’s that for circular logic?
Here’s what I mean. The following are five observations (dare I say lessons learned) from my post-op experience that apply to the broader goal-setting and planning process.
Observation #1: You can’t possibly plan for everything.
There were things I couldn’t have planned for. Like the fact that my bed was too high and my couches too low. How in the world could I have known that these things would be difficult for someone who’s recuperating from surgery?
Lesson learned: It’s good to prepare as much as you can. Read up. Ask other people who’ve been there, done that. But understand that you can’t possibly plan for everything. Unless you’ve been down that road before, you won’t know what you don’t know until you’re knee deep in it already.
Observation #2: Sometimes, you’ll have to unlearn what you know.
The phrase “Don’t strain yourself” means something entirely different when you’re well and 100% okay and when you’re in post-op mode. The bar for straining yourself is way lower. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to lift anything as heavy as a gallon of water—that was hammered into me by the doctor and the nurses. But my brain did not compute that opening the windows, when the weather finally dipped below 80 degrees, meant I was straining myself. That was a huge miss that resulted in a major recovery setback and a big scolding from my otherwise sweet doctor.
Lesson Learned: Things may have different meanings when applied in different scenarios or context. In your pursuit of your goal, start with what you know. And be aware of what else is going on around you.
Observation #3: Asking for help is a good thing.
No matter how prepared I was, I still needed help. Which was a problem. Because I didn’t know how to ask for help. Did not know when, or how, or why. I’ve always prided myself as self-sufficient. Self-reliance is one of the values high on my list. But this value did not go well with the situation I was in. In fact, it was in direct conflict. I had to learn to adjust… quickly and only after more scolding from friends and family.
Lesson Learned: Asking for help is self-care. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are incompetent or unable to do anything for yourself. Asking for help means you recognize that you can’t do it alone and that others may actually want to be with you on your journey.
Observation #4: Get ready for the long haul.
What I thought was most difficult wasn’t in fact, the most difficult. The pain was manageable. The most difficult was—is—the sustained effort to do the work to heal. And in this case, the work means not straining myself, taking it easy, honoring the fact that my body needed to recover, and remembering that things weren’t “back to normal”.
Lesson Learned: It’s easy to be excited, committed, and all gung-ho at the start of a new adventure or new goal. Remember that whatever it is you’re going after may take longer than you’ve anticipated. The hill may turn out to be a (small) mountain. The path may turn out to be more slippery than you imagined. Arm yourself with tactics that will help you stay on track and committed through the climb.
Observation #5: Setbacks happen.
I had no plans for a setback. My usual optimistic “everything will go well” mindset was in full force (which was very helpful). But when the setback happened, in week 4 when the sutures separated, I was thrown for a loop. For a full 24 hours, I cried, threw a tantrum (without stomping my feet, because that would make it worse), and did not know what to do. Fortunately, and after a couple of big mugs of coffee, the saner brain prevailed, and I got back to doing the work. Starting over. The doctor said assume I was back on Day 1, post-op. And that’s what I did.
Lesson Learned: When you suffer a setback, it’s okay to feel disappointed and downright, tantrum-my. Give yourself the time to feel the frustration. Hey, that’s part of the journey! And then, get back to doing the work. Sometimes, this means asking for help (see observation #3) so you can get back on track.
• • •
In pursuing your goal, planning is important. Being prepared for the road ahead is crucial. And part of being prepared is recognizing the fact that we can’t plan for every eventuality.
A good plan embraces and factors this into the game plan. Know that you will likely be in need of things you couldn’t have thought of ahead of time. Know that you’ll want to ask for help at some point. Know that you’ll probably suffer some setbacks. Know that your target result may take longer than you’ve anticipated.