I fell in love with making plans when I was in the fifth grade. At the beginning of the school year, Mrs. K gave us planners with shiny covers and spiral binding. She required we write down our assignments daily, and she checked our planners weekly, signing her name with a flourish to provide proof that we were, indeed, planning. Like the nerd I am, I enjoyed the process. Here was this planner with boxes and dates, times and schedules that provided me with life structure. Such control! Such ease!
I have used a planner ever since. I write down appointments, schedules, ideas, trips. I daydream about the future, the hows and where’s and what’s. I make plans.
But here’s the thing… A thing I am starting to understand more and more as life goes on:
We have no true control in this life. And plans? They fall through. Plans change because circumstances change. Situations change.
The change seems to always hit you where it hurts, that thing you weren’t prepared for or expected, your Achilles heel. The career major, or the school, or the state you live in. The job. The person you date, the friends you make, the places you love.
It all can change.
This past weekend, I traveled to Nebraska to stand up in a friend’s wedding. Another friend was also in the wedding, and we were having a great time dancing and laughing during the reception. Later on in the night, however, after the bouquet toss but before the Conga line, my friend checked her email.
“They canceled my flight,” she said, staring down at her smart phone. It was 10 p.m. Her flight was originally scheduled to leave at 2:45 p.m. the next day. There weren’t signs of bad weather, no explanation for the cancelation in the airline’s email. We didn’t understand.
And so we did what you do what plans fall through: We made new ones. It took one hour, two long phone calls, another flight delay and some extra driving, but my friend made it to her family the next day. It worked out.
Because it always does, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
A change in plans pushes us to change our course, right as we think we’re steering it in one solid direction. Just around the riverbend, and all that. During this whole growing up thing, I’ve looked back and realize that failed plans can be a good thing and, if not a good thing, a necessary one at least.
If we truly did have control over our life’s paths and life really worked according to OUR plan, then we’d be stuck being the versions of ourselves based on the decisions we’ve made at the time. Which means I would have married my first boyfriend and moved to New York City to become a magazine editor at Seventeen. Looking back now, I know I would have hated living in NYC, my first boyfriend should not have been my last, and I would have gotten tired of writing about hot crushes, male boy bands, and current prom dress trends.
But I didn’t know that back then.
Without a change in plans, I wouldn’t have gone to grad school. I wouldn’t have changed majors, or worked at a baseball stadium, or tried octopus.
We all deal with changes.
I know people who planned to do one career, then ended up pursuing a completely different path. Men who go to college, then go off to war instead. Women who don’t plan on being moms, then have a beautiful baby boy. Women who plan on having a baby, then suffer a heart-wrenching loss.
We don’t plan for the speeding tickets, the missed reservations, the job relocations across the country. The “We Have to Let You Go” speech. The “It’s Not You, It’s Me” speech.
The fighting, the breakup, the cheating, the divorce. The judge’s sentence, the doctor’s diagnosis. The car accident.
We don’t make these plans.
But these things happen. Life happens. And it’s in these moments, where we are scrambling to make new plans, to deal with the cracks in the ceiling and the pain or the panic, that we grow as people. As much as it can hurt, it’s these changes that allow ourselves to become ourselves.
So if something isn’t working, if the relationship is wrong or the career is wrong or your life is just all wrong, then we have to do the opposite of planning:
We have to let it go.
Life changes. Let’s plan (un) accordingly.