When your plan doesn't happen, but life does
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Many years ago, I was sitting at my desk at work, and gazing out of the window. “Shubh, are you alright?” my friend asked with worry. “You’ve just been sitting there and staring outside for like 5 whole minutes…”
“Yeah yeah, I’m fine…was just thinking about stuff.”
Truth is, I was thinking about nothing in particular but everything in general. And that “general” largely included where I was headed in life. Aha - that feeling. I think you know what I’m talking about - you’ve probably faced this at least once in your life. Like almost everyone, I had made a plan about how my life would be. A plan about what job to get, what age to marry, what age to have a child, how much to earn, etc. You get what I mean.
And it had finally sunk in that a lot of what I had planned, was not going to happen. Not because I didn’t try, but because life had happened instead. Like a lot of people, I was upset things didn’t go the way I had wanted them to. I was supposed to be climbing the corporate ladder, strutting around in impeccable G2000 attire, engaged or married and completing the plan to “be somebody.”
I wasn’t doing any of those.
A few days ago, I suddenly remembered that upsetting, stare-out-the-window-look-into-the-distance moment. And I laughed. But this time the laugh wasn’t to waive off the introspection like before. It was because of how silly the stress over a lost plan was. I looked back and realised that not having “the plan” work, has still worked in my favour.
Why? Because even though it was a different path, only now can I see the growth from that sitting looking out the window moment, to this sitting and writing moment.
I’ve met people I never thought I would, experienced moments I never thought I would - even if they’ve been uncomfortable, and that growth has led me to learn two essential life lessons. The kind of life lessons we’ve heard way too many times – they go in from one ear and come out the other. Like a neti pot for the ears. Err….anyway.
What I’m trying to say is even though we’ve heard the lessons countless times, we only internalise their meaning when life holds our hand and walks us through it. There’s a fine line in knowing something, and realising it.
Lesson one – we’re too harsh on ourselves.
We show compassion to others, but when we “fail”, we berate ourselves. It’s not uncommon to find someone blaming themselves over forgetting something, not speaking up, or for a failed relationship. We’re great at giving advice to others to encourage them and to “be kind to yourself”, and to look at the brighter side of life. But when it comes to ourselves, no no … it won’t do. I’m sure this isn’t new information to you - you know it - you’ve been hard on yourself.
But why is self-compassion so tough? There’s a lot of reasons, but if I was to summarize it, it’s because allowing yourself to be self-compassionate can open flood-gates to times you may have felt deprived of that compassion. Memories or wounds may resurface that have not yet healed, and so keeping it covered is a lot easier.
So if your plan to be somebody isn’t working, it’s easier to be upset or be tough on yourself over it - because being kind to yourself would mean having it let it go. And when you’ve been holding onto so much for so long, letting it all go can mean not knowing who you are without it. But remember, letting go of pain creates an empty space. And that empty space may feel uncomfortable for a while, but it’s there for you to fill up with all the things that uplift you instead - starting with slowly being kind to yourself.
As clinical psychologist Christopher K. Germer put it, “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
Lesson two – we are always bigger than a plan.
My life - and yours too - is bigger than any plan that you have ever made. If your life plan doesn’t work, you still will. The human spirit has countless capabilities and tremendous strength – a lot more than we think. A great example of the strength of the human spirit is a name that you likely may not recognise, but wait till you hear what he did. Dashrath Manjhi had a mountain standing in his way - and after trying to go around it, he decided to go through it.
A labourer in Bihar, in India, he lost his wife after they were unable to reach the nearest hospital in time. A mountain had stood in the way, and the only path was to go 70 kilometres around it. In what can only be described as a stubborn conviction, Dashrath Manjhi carved a road though the 300-foot mountain! It took him 22 years, and he used only hand tools. He was called crazy, people thought he lost it - but his inner strength persisted and he found a way - literally. Today, the distance from the village to the hospital is one kilometre.
So if we think about it, something so powerful cannot be stopped when a plan doesn’t work. Our in-built survival instinct will subconsciously find another way to achieve what it wants to. Trust yourself more than your plans. You made the plans, the plans didn't make you. As Eckhart Tolle wrote in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.”
There are always doors of hope. The next time your life plan doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to, remember your self-compassion and the strength of the mountain man. Life didn’t happen the way you wanted it to, but as long as you have life, you can make it happening.
Darn ... that last sentence didn’t come out as I planned! ;)