How to Plan the UnexpectedLife is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. ~John Lennon
Plans are what I’m good at.
I plan my meals, outfits, weekends. I plan what I’m going to say when confronted by a certain someone, what my life will look like six months from now and how I’m going to spend the tax return that hasn’t yet hit my account.
I plan because I like control, because the only surprises I like are of the party variety and because I don’t want to have to face anything that I’m not entirely ready for.
Yesterday I was forced to acknowledge the very real possibility that my job may not be here in the next six months. Possibly even the next six days.
That certainly wasn’t in my plan.
News like this seems to always be a little shocking — even when we hear whispers of financial trouble or watch other people clear out their desks over and over again. For me it’s shocking because I have the naive idea that things won’t happen if I don’t plan for them to happen.
Despite the situations in my life that have told me otherwise, I thought that the universe was taking notes when I created blueprints for my life. Turns out, there’s a bigger plan that I have yet to be privy to.
My sister was 24 when she found out that she was pregnant with my niece — old enough to take full responsibility for the life of the child, but in no way prepared for such a life change.
The truth is, when I would talk about the 3+ kids I hoped to some day have, she balked at the idea of even having one. It simply wasn’t what she planned for her life.
Despite the initial shock, she spent the following months adapting to the idea, growing to accept the change and eventually showing excitement for that next unpredictable step.
Now, three and a half years later, any thoughts that this isn’t the perfect situation for everyone involved have long since dissipated. By no means is it perfect because it’s easy or without upset. It’s perfect because it has brought to the surface the lessons that needed to be learned and helped facilitate a variety of life experiences.
It’s morphed my sister into someone she would not have become if she wasn’t faced with something she wasn’t expecting, something she hadn’t mapped out.
In taking a moment to step out of my own fear, these are the things that I have learned about why we plan and what it actually means for our growth and wellbeing:
1. Avoid the Uncomfortable
Planning helps us avoid the uncomfortable itch that comes along with growth.
When we make plans for ourselves, we generally try to steer around any foreseeable bumps in the road. In fact, that’s the real basis for making plans in the first place.
I learned multitudes about what I wanted for my life after enduring a breakup that was completely out of the blue. I learned how to trust my instincts and listen to my gut after being forced to walk away from a lengthy friendship.
I plan to avoid these lessons because they’re painful. But steering my way around them wouldn’t have had the same payout. Not even close.
2. Illusion of Certainty
Planning gives us the illusion that we can control our circumstances as well as the actions of others.
I would say that the majority of the time that we find ourselves hurt by others, it stems from the tough realization that we have no control over how others feel, think or act.
By making plans and expecting those around us to fall in line, we believe we have everyone under control that we can avoid being hurt or disappointed. Unfortunately, this illusion of control makes it even more devastating when things don’t go as planned.
Control in any situation, no matter what it looks or feels like, is not real. Being able to recognize this can relieve us of a heavy burden — the responsibility we feel when things fall through or simply don’t work the way we had hoped.
3. Plans Are Based on the Past
Our plans are dictated by what we can physically see or imagine from experience.
When we look to create plans for ourselves, they are almost always dictated by what we know to be true — things we, or someone around us, have experienced. But the possibilities are almost always far greater than what our mind is able to create for us.
How, for instance, can a person plan to travel to a country they’ve never heard of on a continent they never learned anything about? They wouldn’t. It would be through unplanned circumstances that they might have the opportunity to open their mind to this possibility.
It’s these unexpected events that lead us to create the best possible version of ourselves, and the most fulfilling life experiences.
4. A Plan is an Excuse for Being Stuck
Planning is an acceptable covering to being stuck.
Fresh out of college, I spent over a year working at a job where the pay was poor. There was little respect and virtually no room for growth. But my plan all along was to stay until I found something else.
Well, it’s easy to not put your all into looking for a job when you already have one. So I stayed on month after month, complaining about all the things that I loathed about the position, my boss and the pay.
It was the plan that made me feel like staying was the responsible thing to do and I thought I was actually being incredibly smart. But the plan simply kept me stuck with an excuse as to why it was ok.
5. A Plan Creates the Illusion of Control
Planning allow us to believe we can create and maintain our own flow.
It’s undeniable that life has it’s own flow. Things come in and out of our experience without us having to dictate what should go where and why.
Planning leads us to believe that we can be the creator of our own flow, picking and choosing the optimal times certain things will occur in our lives. It just doesn’t work that way.
As much as we try, we can’t always see the big picture — i.e. how losing one job could open the door to one better suited to our wants and needs. We simply see the inconvenience and pain such an event can lead to.
In my attempt to see this potential life change as a positive step forward, I’m handing all planning over to universe with the expectation that the outcome will be far greater than anything I could plan on.
What life plans should you hand over?