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From where we sit

Hold your plans loosely

Anton Ng

Over a decade ago, my wife and I agreed on how we wanted to pursue our respective career paths. We laid out where we currently were and where we wanted to go, what were the opportunities, and how we are going to pursue them. The plan we hatched involved being away from each other for most of the year. At that point in our lives, we felt this was our final chance to run as fast as we can with regard to our careers, that we needed to pursue exponential career growth while it is still just the two of us in our family. As soon as we finalized our plans, God blessed us with an unexpected news–we were having a baby. I could not remember exactly what words were said when we learned about my wife’s pregnancy, but I can still recall how non-jubilant we were with the news. The mood was somber at best. It was not in our plans. We had other plans.

Each of us have our own way of planning. We have different timelines for our plans. Some are already planning for the next 10 years, while others are content with looking forward to weekend activities. Some plans are full of details, while others are as hazy as Metro Manila smog.

Organizations make plans, too. They create short-, medium- and long-term plans they aim to achieve. All of us, in whatever form or substance, have plans. Some formalize them in a document, while others simply keep them in their head. If you have lived long enough, you will know, however, that things do not go exactly as planned. As Mike Tyson famously pointed out in the late ‘80s, “Everybody has plans until they get punched in the mouth.”

No matter how well conceived your plans are, regardless of whether you followed your plan to a T, there is so much variability and uncertainty that achieving the desired results can sometimes be elusive. It is not necessarily because your plans are faulty or your execution is erroneous, but because things just did not turn out how you planned them to be. In an earlier article of mine, I wrote that pouring out your entire energy, time, and skills in a particular endeavor will not guarantee the achievement of your goals; even if we put in our best effort, there are other factors that keep us from achieving success. The non-achievement of our desired results is because we are dealing with people.

People, including you and me, make mistakes. Your mistake can derail your plans, and so does the mistake committed by your colleagues.

People are also driven by their own motivations, selfish or otherwise. People’s actions, whether individually or aggregately, in one way or another impact how things will turn out for you.

Hold on to your plans loosely. Pursue them as vigorously as you can. Bring out your best as you run your own race. In an organization, encourage one another to put in the work to pursue organizational objectives. Hold each other accountable. At the end of the day, however, hold those plans loosely in your hands. Hold on them just enough so as to remind you of your hopes, but loose enough that your lives would not bleed from the shattered pieces of your broken dreams.


Knowing that not all our endeavors will be fruitful—thus, holding our plans loosely—reminds us that we are a part of a much bigger world; in this world, we are and we will never be at the center of it. It also reminds us that our actions will have an impact on someone else’s plans and that their actions will affect ours. Holding on to our plans loosely also insulates us from soul-crushing disappointments. The pain of failure will not hurt as much if we know that things could turn out not as how we envisioned it.

Lastly, holding on to our plans loosely will help us get back on our feet faster and help us move on to the next great plan. There is no more lingering self-doubt. As the pop singer Ariana Grande would say, “Thank you, next.”

Looking back on how we reacted upon learning that we are having our first child makes me shake my head in shame. How could have I not welcomed such news with jubilation? Frustration got the best of us. Earlier this year, my eldest daughter was diagnosed with a rare and permanent muscle disorder. At the onset of her condition, when we were not sure how the illness could affect her future, I was saddened at the thought of how my plans for my daughter would be affected. This time, however, we have already learned our lesson: that plans are all good until they crumble. When they do, learn from the experience, let go quickly, and craft the next plan.

Anton Ng is a Partner of the Audit & Assurance Division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 900 staff members. 


As published in The Manila Times, dated on 13 March 2019