I’ve always had a hard time with planning. I find the process of “thinking things through” boring and tedious. Occasionally this impulsiveness gets me in over my head. Like the time I ordered 20 zillion ivy seedlings for the shady part of my backyard without realizing that the soil was more clay than dirt. Getting those little buggers in the ground was much harder than I thought it would be — to the extent I had thought about it at all.

However, I’ve found that leaping before thinking has a nice side benefit. It gets you in the game. If you don’t know what’s ahead, you are much less likely to sit on the sidelines. Once 100 tiny plants arrive on your doorstep, you’re committed to their survival, no matter what the obstacle. Would I have ordered them if I had known what I was going to come up against? Probably Not. Am I glad now that I did? Definitely.

Even when I grit my teeth and set out to make a plan, I find the whole planning process falls short of what I really need. This was never more clear than when I quit my job last year to start daughterhood. I decided to mitigate the uncertainty by creating a detailed plan. The only problem was …I’d spend hours and hours writing a business plan and then learn something that made me scrap it… or suddenly things would change in ways I hadn’t expected and I’d be starting over.

It turns out that no amount of planning or preparation or research was going to correct for the larger problem..which was that I had no idea what I was doing.

What I really needed was experience and time. And there’s the rub because when you start a business, become a mother or start taking care of your parents, it’s a race against the clock to get the experience and knowledge you need in the shortest amount of time possible so that you don’t run out of energy or money or both.

You’re essentially up against the truth that …. no matter how much planning you do, there’s no substitute for experience. Research is always a good idea but it’s so overrated as a predictor of success. So, don’t feel bad if you can’t get a handle on all the stuff you feel like you need to know. Of course, do your research and make your plan but, at the end of the day, know that you just have to live it.

It seems I’m forever learning and re-learning this truth. Because the cost of forgetting it is so high, I’ve come up with reminders that I keep taped to the wall above my desk. These are three mantras that come from business advice I’ve received and, they are really perfect for mothers and daughters too. So, I want you to keep them in mind.  

First Mantra: You Just Have to Get in the Boat and Start Rowing

When I sat down with a professional mentor of mine and walked him through my plan for starting a website and blog about the health and elder care systems for aging, he said,

“Anne – You are just going to have to get in the boat and start rowing”

Of course, easier said than done. It was really intimidating for me, a non-techy to contemplate building a website. But, more than the intimidation factor, was the perfectionism factor. I didn’t want to make any mistakes. For example I didn’t want to start writing the blog until I had my website set up but I didn’t want to start my website without knowing what to call it, and of course, I wanted the perfect name. Finally, out of frustration, my team said, “just start writing.” When I sat down to write first blog, the word “daughterhood” came to me after just a few hard hours of actual work.

This worry about mistakes is very real and understandable when you are managing your parents’ care. The consequences of a mistake seem really huge. There will probably never be another time in your life when you are faced with so many hard and complicated things you need to know and do. It’s just overwhelming in the both the sheer amount of stuff but also in the “where do I even start?” category.

Here’s the answer to that: Just start somewhere. Just start rowing. That’s all you have to do. Make just one phone call, ask that first stupid question. Take the first step. Don’t look up at the mountain, look down at the path. That’s where you’ll find your answers.

You’ll be confronted with reams of insurance and legal questions. You will become an expert in Medicare – the health insurance program that covers older adults in the country. You’ll learn that Medicare comes in two forms – traditional and managed care. That it has a hospital insurance piece and a doctor insurance piece. That it covers drugs through something called, “Part D.” That if your mom goes to the hospital and then needs rehabilitation, she has to stay in the hospital for three full nights first in order to get Medicare to pay for it.

I could literally write a book about all these things and many people have. And, you could read them all. The problem is you still wouldn’t know everything you need to know. People report that they can’t find the information they need but the truth is that the perfect information they need lives only in their individual experiences.

If One Path Doesn’t Work, Go Down Another

Boy, if there is one thing all the blogs about entrepreneurship emphasize, it’s that apparent failure is not failure, it’s learning. Often failure on one path is the only thing that points you to the right path. You need to get clear that being on the wrong path is NOT the result of imperfect planning or bad daughterhood.

For example, a friend of mine’s mother suffered severe brain damage from a really simple but devastating fall. My friend and her siblings were wringing their hands over whether she could go home after rehabilitation or would need to go to a nursing home permanently. When we were talking about it, my first thought was that her mother’s care was too complicated for even 24 hour round the clock care at home but when she told me how important it was to her Dad to be able to bring her mom home, I advised her to try it.

As I suspected, it didn’t work out for long. But for this family, it was more important to have tried and been wrong than to have never tried. For another family, the trade-offs and issues will be different. This is hard stuff when every decision feels so fraught with serious consequences. So, it’s important to remember it’s really okay, and also very normal, to try different solutions before you find one that works.

Of course, the one that works will only work for awhile because when you’re caring for aging parents, circumstances are fluid and constantly changing. And, when they change, you’ll choose new paths and make new decisions.

Keep Putting One Foot In Front of the Other

As I work to make daughterhood successful, ideas fail and sometimes I’m tempted to go back to a regular job. But, then I look back at all we’ve done so far and the wonderful response we’ve received from you, and I know I have to simply keep going, adjust, learn from the paths that didn’t work and trust.

And, I encourage you, in the same way, to look at what you’ve done for your mom or dad. As I like to say to my kids, “You must be so proud of yourself.” This is important perspective. You are doing hard stuff and your mom or dad is blessed to have you. Your primary job is showing up, putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping.

My mentor (the one who gave me the first mantra) told me about training in one of those elite army units that practically tortures its applicants to test toughness. (Hopefully you are seeing the non-subtle parallels to your situation). Anyway, he said that the guys who lasted were not the big, strong ones necessarily. The ones who lasted are the guys who knew that all they had to do was get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other. They understood that that’s true success.

Yesterday, you moved your mom into a nursing home or you had to fire another home care worker, or you had to quit your job because you couldn’t keep up with all the responsibilities. Maybe your mom didn’t recognize you for the first time or your dad went into hospice care. You don’t understand the Medicare rules or the hospital doctors are being rude. Your husband and kids are missing you. You and your siblings are fighting. You were looking forward to a vacation and now you have to cancel it. I could go on and on.

But, never forget you’re playing a long game here. You will work very hard, you will be frustrated and terrified at every turn. You will go down a lot of paths that lead nowhere and you will want to quit. But, you won’t quit. You’ll keep rowing. You’ll get up every morning, show up and put your oar in the water and paddle. This is normal and this is success.

Going through this will change you. It will give you a new perspective, mental toughness and greater ability for compassion that few other challenges will bring. As a Glennon Doyle says, “We Can Do Hard Things.” I highly recommend you go to her website, buy this magnet and put it on your fridge.

So here’s what I want you to do.  If there’s a big task looming, figure out the one thing you can do today and whenever the larger concerns loom in your head, just say to yourself, “Success is just one hard thing today.” Practice this over and over.

And, please share how you are doing and how I can help you.