Lists. Agendas. 5-year plans. 10-year plans. Even for the most haphazard individual, planning will factor into life at one point or the other, from significant life plans like a career choice or relocating to a new city to the most “mundane” plans, like when you plan to eat that next bowl of ice cream. In university, we plan out our classes, we plan out our assignments, we plan out our social time and the list goes on. We are consistently planning and encouraged to do so. In fact, sometimes not having a plan is synonymous with lacking ambition or being unserious- and so, we bow to the pressures of life and we make plans.
As an individual, I like to plan. It gives me clarity and it gives me a sense of calmness. Of course, this is not the case for everyone as there are folks who don’t like to plan but hey, going with the flow is a plan in itself. Whatever works for you, there is some satisfaction and security in your choice of plan. But, if you are a person who has made plans, then you know that even the best laid plans sometimes switch up on you.
Earlier this year I was a girl with a plan, I was on track to graduate, I had job prospects, I had a great support system and was generally living my best life- and then my father suddenly passed away and everything went sideways. I had to travel for the funeral, I was falling behind in class, my immigration status was on the line… in the distance- explosions. Okay, maybe not the explosions part, but you get the picture. Then came the summer and even in the summer I was a girl with a plan. I was going to work a couple of jobs to save up and reinvent myself (#letsgetthisbread), and that went sideways with a couple of extra turns too. Job? Poof! Savings? Poof! Hot girl summer? Big poof! It was frustrating, it was exasperating.
So, what do you do when things don’t quite work out? Here are some quick tips that have helped me get by.
Ps: I am not an expert and I am winging it just like everybody else, but these tips made things a little easier:
Realizing that time is relative
A big part of my discontent with my plans going awry was that it had completely knocked off my timelines. I had set out different times for the year(s) to align with all these undertakings and throwing one thing off course had a domino effect, ploughing through the rest in a “hulk smash” kind of way. I felt like I was really falling behind. But then I asked myself “Who was I falling behind? Where was I falling behind to?” The answers to those questions gave me the realization that my timelines were arbitrary. I had constructed them and in the same vein I had the power to reconstruct them. It was not like an action movie with a timer set that said that if X didn’t happen by Y time then I had killed all of humanity. I mean, you’re still alive and so am I. I needed to see my timelines as guidelines and not hard fixed deadlines.
Taking action where you can (and realizing that sometimes things cannot be acted on)
There is a helplessness that you experience when your plans don’t work out. It feels like things are no longer in your control, like you’re floating in your own world but can’t seem to find sound footing. Wow can somebody say poet? But I digress, there are many variables that you feel that you cannot control and in many cases some of these things are out of your hands. I could not go and tell the company that had told me a role would open up but decided to postpone it, to shift their whole model and open up the role. I could not have a heart to heart with the folks at immigration to still validate my study permit without classes because I was grieving and did not have the emotional or mental capacity to be in a classroom. I also could not do a 25-second plank. I know that last one is not really thematic with this list but I thought it deserved an honorable mention.
That aside, there were things I could do. For example, I was able to visit different campus offices such as Arts Advising, Center for Accessibility, and International Student Advising for more information on what my options were. I was able to talk to my understanding professors on how we could best work together so I didn’t have to throw away all the work I had done. I was also able to go back to the drawing board and find merits in not having an extra job in the summer; I could breathe for a change. Taking action where I could gave me back some semblance of control and re-stabilized me.
An essential part of growth is the ability to reflect and asses as an ongoing part of your life. Through reflection you begin to see the merits in yourself and the not-so-great things at the same time. It gives a structured platform to dissect these positive and negative aspects and is an important tool in self-discovery and the life-long journey of coming to know and understand ourselves. In my case it enabled me to apply my modified version of the “progress principle” where I was able to reflect on my days and find joy in the small wins.
Shifting your equilibrium
So you’ve been thrown off course and you insist on going back on course. Don’t do it.
Kidding. Only kind of. Depending on the situation, it is possible to get back on track but, in some cases, it is simply not an option. For example, once I deferred my classes I could no longer graduate in May; insisting on a May graduation was therefore baseless unless I pulled a time machine out of thin air. Because I clearly did not wield such Houdini powers, this meant that I needed to adopt a new mindset. A gap year? A 5th year perhaps? Backpacking across the world to find myself “eat, pray, love” style? (Haha, definitely too broke for that last one.) What I needed to do was to accept my new reality and equally shift gears to a new place. This acceptance did me a world of good because there was only so long I could fight against the inevitable before I no longer had any fight left in me. I was in a big rush to graduate and bolt out of Vancouver Usain style, but the thought of a 5th year, (the route I decided to take) slowly became palatable. In the summer, the free time I had due to the jobs I wanted to take on that did not pan out became “happy time” and calmed the adrenal glands that had been pulling overtime for most of the past year. I could stop and smell the roses…and also realize that I DO NOT like the smell of roses (#selfdiscovery). And once again, I started to feel some semblance of peace and calm.
Long story short, life can be super unreliable and unexpected and with but with some flexibility and proactivity you can meet these challenges head on. I hope these tips maybe helped you a little bit. You got this homie!