Michael Feldstein
Michael Feldstein

The best laid plans

Those who know me understand that I’m a planner, probably to a somewhat unhealthy extreme.  When we are coming home from our annual summer beach vacation, I’m already planning where we might go the following year.  It often drives my family members crazy.

I specifically remember an incident when our son Yosef was two years old.  It occurred to me at the time that perhaps it wasn’t too early to plan his bar mitzvah.  No kidding!  I got a hold of one of those books that had a perpetual Hebrew-English calendar — this was before computers were commonplace — and I looked up what English date his Hebrew birthdate corresponded to in his bar mitzvah year.

It couldn’t have been more perfect.  The Hebrew date fell out on Thanksgiving weekend, along with a Sunday Rosh Chodesh.  That was ideal for allowing out-of-town company to come in leisurely for Shabbos on a non-work day, and to stay for a Rosh Chodesh brunch on Sunday.

So after figuring out when Yosef’s bar mitzvah would be when he turned the ripe old age of two, we waited another 10-1/2 years, and sure enough scheduled Yosef’s bar mitzvah on Thanksgiving weekend, just like I had designed it.  Everything went according to plan.

Well, almost everything.

Those who remember Yosef’s bar mitzvah might recall that on Friday afternoon, a couple of hours before Shabbat, Sharon slipped on some leaves on a wet driveway while delivering a house gift and broke her leg, and she celebrated Yosef’s bar mitzvah in excruciating pain while sitting in a wheelchair.  That certainly wasn’t part of the plan.  But we dealt with the circumstances as best as we could.

As I’ve grown older, I think I’ve become a bit more flexible in my desire to plan every detail of my life.  But the event that really shifted my thinking on planning was the onset of COVID-19.

Since March 2020, when the world was turned upside down by a global pandemic, a number of significant events have happened to me personally.

I lost my father, of blessed memory, last April to COVID-19, and my 90-year-old mother survived a pretty serious case of the virus.

I was laid off from my job of 25 years.

My wife, who worked as an events coordinator at a local hotel, went on furlough – and is still waiting to be rehired by her employer.

I was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. (Fortunately, I have been feeling fine, and my prognosis is very good.)

None of these events could have been planned or predicted.  But the fact that we were able to pivot and redirect our plans after these setbacks has been the secret to getting through these hard times.

My mom has moved from an independent living facility (in which she reluctantly resided for the benefit of my dad) to her own apartment, along with an aide, and is enjoying a brand new chapter in her life.

I am gainfully self-employed now.

My wife has spent more time with our three grandchildren since being furloughed, and has found new hobbies like knitting and gardening to fill her time, along with a multitude of online Torah classes.

And since my illness, I’ve become more grateful for the many blessings that we’ve been given – and I try to live each day more fully without focusing too much on what’s ahead.

There is a good lesson here for businesses, too. Unfortunately, several kosher restaurants went out of business this past year during the COVID-19 pandemic.  But there were also some kosher restaurants that did more business in the past 15 months than they had ever done before — those are the ones that were able to recognize that their plans for increasing customers coming to their establishment were not going to work, and began offering deliveries and curbside pickup instead.

Not all our plans end up happening the way we thought they would.  Man plans and God laughs (or in Yiddish, Mann tracht, un Gott lacht … it always sounds better in Yiddish!).   Life often brings us many surprises, both good and bad.

So what’s the answer?  A little bit of planning is definitely a good thing, with the understanding that if things don’t work out, you can always reassess your thinking.

Plan the activities in your life carefully, but be flexible enough to change course when you are thrown unexpected curves. Enjoy the happy surprises that life may bring, and deal with the other unforeseen challenges that inevitably will occur.   With this approach, I think we will all be in a better position to succeed.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the founder and owner of MGF Marketing, a direct marketing consulting firm. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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