When Plans Fall Apart

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I have this habit of wanting things to go according to my plan. The plan can include something as simple as what I want to do on a regular Sunday or something as broad as major life goals I want to accomplish, ideally in a particular order. When making decisions, this means I often spend a lot of time thinking about possible actions and consequences, as if there were one “correct” choice to be made. This also means I don’t like when things change unexpectedly and I definitely don’t like my plans falling through. When my plans don’t work out, I find myself caught off guard. As if things were supposed to happen the way I wanted them to.

This habit has been curiously persistent. I have had life-changing experiences where my well-thought-out plans have completely fallen apart and yet I have found myself getting right back up to design new plans and become mentally attached to particular outcomes that – again – may never materialize.

A friend of mine listened recently while I shared my frustration about not knowing how to reach one of my big goals in life. When I was done talking, she looked at me for a second and then moved her glass and plate apart on the kitchen table, put her phone squarely in the middle, and said: “Let’s say you want to travel from this glass to this plate. Turns out the phone is in your way. It seems you keep bumping into the phone, over and over again! It’s like you don’t realize you can turn to the right and go around it… or turn left… or jump over it… or go somewhere else!”

Of course she was right.

Most of the time, there is more than one way from A to B.

Also, B is just one of many possible destinations.

In other words, there is no one right way to live my life. I even dare say there is no one right way to live yours either.

Life keeps taking unexpected turns whether I want it or not. Time after time, I find myself in the middle of things that were not at all on my agenda and the more I try to stick with my plan, the more frustrated I get when life does its own thing.

At one point in my life, when I had experienced a series of difficult events and transitions, I decided to help myself recover mentally by setting only one big goal: To be. The result was a year where I ended up feeling more alive than I had felt in a long time. It was like an adventure – starting each day with a sense of appreciation for being present and curiosity about what I might encounter. I decided that all I really had to do was to be myself, breathe, and be ready to accept whatever the day were to bring.

The following year I made a different agenda. Instead of planning to be, I planned to accomplish. Needless to say, this plan didn’t work so well. The more I chased after my goals, the less often I remembered to look up and breathe. And the more frustrated I got with my lack of “progress”, the more stuck I became inside my own head, worrying and thinking things over… and over… and over. It is actually hard to be present in the world when you are stuck inside your head.

It seems simple, now that I think about it. But knowing myself, I think this may be one of those lessons I need to learn a few times before I finally get it.

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Quiet

The Quiet OneI have always been one of those who think more than they speak. The quiet, introverted, reserved… Missing opportunities to share my thoughts while waiting for others to pause long enough to create space. Or reflecting on all the information and points of view flying around in heated group discussions until I realize the whole conversation has moved onto something else. On top of that, I accepted the message all too well growing up that kids (girls) should sit still and be quiet. Wait to be called on. So when the world called for initiative, assertiveness, and active participation, I struggled, more often than not. I used to see this as pure annoyance and character flaw.

I hadn’t yet read the book Quiet, by Susan Cain.

Fortunately, humans learn, and I learned to speak up when needed and own my opinions. Talk, as well as listen. But what I also learned was to value this quieter way of being. First of all, we don’t all have to talk at once. Second, being quiet allows me to notice things that sometimes get lost in all the noise.

Being a foreigner in countries where I have blended in with dominant groups due to my white skin and privileged social location has given me plenty to think about. I have observed people’s reactions to me and each other, systems that favor some and punish others, and my own biases. This site is an outlet for some of my thoughts on that. Culture, society, mental health, my work, and the ways in which all that blends together.