I’ve been watching the television show “Songland” for the last few weeks. Monday nights at 9:00 pm is not exactly “prime time” but it’s too late to eat, too early for bed, and nobody’s around to visit with, so I figured, “what the heck?” The program’s website describes it as a show where “undiscovered songwriters are put center stage as they pitch their original creations to top recording artists and a panel of chart-topping music producers in the hopes of creating the artists’ next big hits.” It’s entertaining and, for a music lover like me, a fun and inspiring diversion.
A recent show challenged four aspiring songwriters to create the next hit for Martina McBride, one of country music’s legends. Faced with a daunting task, the (ultimately) winning contestant broke down in tears when one of the judges/coaches asked what her long term plans were. She replied quickly, “I want to be a songwriter. I don’t have a Plan B.” That comment prompted a reply from Ryan Tedder, one of the show’s producers. He told her “That’s why you’ll succeed. People that have a Plan B, don’t make it in this business.” I found it an interesting comment and it gave me pause. If that was true in the songwriting business, it must be true in other endeavors in life.
As I rolled that conversation around in my head, I concluded that Ryan Tedder was right. Success, in any undertaking, is really a matter of commitment. If you have a Plan B, your chance of success with Plan A diminishes greatly. A friend of mine said it a different way. He used to say, “Hard work equals success.” That was his way of describing the concept of commitment to group of young men who wanted to be baseball players. I’ve used several words over the years as I’ve coached, taught, planned, counseled, or whatever; focus, effort, concentration, single-mindedness, emphasis, whatever the noun, they all convey the same thought – when the goal is clear, the task list appears, almost automatically. The goal crystallizes even more when you have the right co-pilot, and a great team behind the scenes tracking your progress as time marches on.
In spite of that excellent life strategy, as we have designed estate plans for families over the last 35 years, we always talk about Plan B; and many times Plans C, D and E. Even if you are laser-focused on your life goals, your estate plan must be adaptable. The reality is that plans and goals change along the path of life, and we have to build in enough flexibility in the documents and strategies so that they respond positively to change. There are things that we know are going to happen – laws change, children get older and start families of their own, retirement happens, and death comes. But we also need to plan for changes that, while they aren’t guaranteed to happen to you, have a high probability of occurring based on our experience. Not just that, we have to plan for changes that are unique to your family situation, as well as changes that may only occur in a worst–case scenario because, well, sometimes life has a different plan than the one you have; things don’t work as anticipated and dreams don’t come true. Faith, hope and love are noble personality traits, but they aren’t part of a solid legal strategy.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to examine our lives and plans a bit closer and more frequently than we normally would and has literally mandated that many of us craft a Plan B – not just professionally, but personally. It has shocked our systems, jarred us out of our comfort zones, and stretched our minds and hearts and wallets far beyond what many of us could have ever dreamed. For some, this has been a wake up call – an opportunity to regroup, retool and reengage with our families. For others, it’s been a chance to start something that they have always wanted to do but haven’t had the correct amount of motivation. Still others have found a work-family balance they thought was long gone. On top of all that, the recent assault on our culture, our history, and our values is so intense and seemingly relentless that the consequences will be profound, perhaps permanent.
Personally, it wasn’t a deadly global virus, created in a faraway country, that compelled me to reexamine, inspect and assess my personal and professional life and the goals I once had. It was the sudden, shocking and rude death of my beloved Plan A that so stunned me and shook me to my core that I had no choice but to reconsider my life’s goals.
In any event, for better or worse, like it or not, here we are. Perhaps it’s time we all took a deep breath, a step back and a look up, and gave thanks for the blessings in our lives. Then we should all sit down, and write down, a draft of our proposed Plan B and a strategy to implement it. Yes, right now.
And while you’re at it, if you haven’t been in to update your estate plan in a while, you should think about doing that too. Right now is the perfect time to ensure your family, your assets and your legacy are protected and that each will be able to withstand the current firestorm, and those to come.
Douglas G. Goldberg, Esq.
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