May 9, 2017 at 7:56 am, by Carl

Last week the spring semester concluded and already a new one has begun.  It’s a quick turn-around.  In both instances though I confront students looking for their path forward in life.  The students concluding are hoping that they passed the class in order to take the next step.  Those who started with me on Monday have come to the term believing that they need this class for the events on their horizon.  In both cases, there is a warning of potential over-planning.


It’s a tough balance to find.  I’ve written and spoken for years about the need for plans, to goal set, to lay out a path with strategic vision and then go down that road.  It is something I believe in, something I think God has granted us as humans…the need to plan ahead.  There is wisdom in saving for a purchase or discerning the best time to start a home add-on or even figuring out when is the right time to leave for a vacation drive.


And yet, what that wisdom can twist into is the tyranny of over-planning leading to a person becoming trapped in constant worry about missing the right door, the right moment. I’ve seen students withdraw from a class that they were passing because they have determined through over-analysis that if they don’t make a higher grade, then they can’t go forward in their dream (rarely is this true).  Worse, many just end up getting stuck through a feeling of failure that they can’t find the path.


In this, they miss one of the most important lessons of how to Live Well.  The lesson is that “Life Unfolds Before You.”  What I mean is that as you go through life, you have no idea what events, opportunities, challenges or difficulties that will happen before you.  In that moment, when life unfolds with the “next thing,” moments you could never have planned for will be there, in that moment, waiting for you.   This is one reason why I counsel many to understand that the most important thing you should do as you go through whatever is next is build relationships.  So many times in life what ends up being the key factor is a relationship with another person.  Sometimes that is a key ally who can write you a letter of recommendation.  Other times it is a friend who knows just the right person to call.  There are times when it comes to light that the contact I am working with knows me through another person.  In all of those moments, the vital thing is not your resume but rather the words of the previously build relationship.


Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, provides a wonderful lesson of how life just unfolds.  In 1994, Ulukaya first came to the USA as an immigrant looking to find his way.  After changing Colleges, Chobani provided a written essay on “any subject he knew well.”  As a young man growing up in easter Turkey, Ulukaya knew how to make cheese, so he wrote about that.  Unbeknown to the student, his professor owned a small farm in upstate NY.  The professor asked Ulukaya to come visit for a weekend to teach her how to make cheese.  He took her up on the offer, and discovered that the USA was far more than large urban cities.  He switched schools from his current one in NYC to SUNY Albany, and convinced his former professor to give him a job working on the farm, from making cheese to cleaning out the stables.


From that small beginning, in 2002, Ulukaya, using seed money from friends and families, started a small company to make feta cheese.  It was successful enough that a few years later, he was able to purchase a recently closed Kraft plant.  Chobani yogurt was born, and another USA economic business success story happened.  But did you catch the key moment?


He didn’t come to the US with a plan to make yogurt.  He wasn’t in school in NYC for cheese making.  Life unfolded before him, and in that moment, the most important things wasn’t his plan and not even his strengths or skill set.  It was the relationship with the professor.  Imagine for a moment that during the class, Ulukaya had been a jerk.  Or maybe had been openly dismissive of his professor.  Or maybe only came to class some of the time, or spent the entire class texting…generally floating through life rather than positively engaging it?  Do you really think the professor would have reached out to ask about the cheese-making, let alone invite him to the farm for a weekend?  I can promise you the answer is no.


But instead, Ulukaya was being a positive person, engaged in the class and aware that building relationships was as important as learning the subject material.  Today, he is a billionaire (which isn’t the point) because of how aware he was that life can unfold in front of him.  Notice how he didn’t sit back once he saw the opportunity.  He moved quickly to leave NYC and transfer upstate.  Realize, he didn’t transfer because he had plans to open the cheese factory…that idea came later.  Instead, he simply noted that here, in upstate NY, was an opportunity to have a job in something he was familiar with, helping someone (The professor) that he obviously liked enough to engage in the first weekend visit.


I speak to so many who feel like they are trapped.  And I don’t mean older people who have a mortgage or children that might possibly tie them to an area or a current job.  You are not trapped.  You too can move to upstate NY…or to some other state.  You can transition in another direction than you are currently heading.  You can start a different job.  And you don’t have to have previously planned for the moment.


Life Unfolds!  Let it.  In the meantime, as you are going, don’t forget that one of the most important things will be the relationships you cultivate.  Be one of the rare ones.  Be trustworthy.  Be pleasant.  Be interested in others.  Be devoted to always doing your best work.  You do that and as life unfolds, you will Live Well.