How many “Plan A’s” have you had? How many of them worked out exactly as you envisioned them? And, what did you do next?
I’ve had more Plan A’s than I can count and, as I think about them now, more than a few did not work out exactly as I planned. Here are just a few that took a detour:
My Plan A: Marry my high school sweetheart, grow up and grow old together.
Detour: He met someone else at his first job after graduating college; we divorced (not in my plan).
My Plan A: Retire from my successful career after 20 years with the same company and start my floral design business.
Detour: Laid off 2 years before my planned exit; forced to “retire” early; not enough saved to make the dream happen (not my plan).
My Plan A: Take annual road trips with my hubby and the fur-babies to see the USA.
Detour: Chronic pain crippled him and I became his caregiver (not his plan or mine).
Everyone has plans for their life. Most of us expect good things to happen. Many of us are blessed to have our hopes and dreams fall into place, like they were meant to be. I’ve certainly had my share of those and I’m grateful for each one.
When your life takes a detour, what do you do?
There are lots of options here. To share a few, you could play the victim and grouse about it. You could crumble into a heap and get stuck where you are. You could worry yourself into a frenzy and be unable to see a clear path to a solution. Or …
You could rely on your life experience and tap into the wisdom that comes from it. You could walk in faith and know that “this too shall pass.” You could look at things differently and ask yourself, “what if I tried it another way?”
I’ll never forget what a colleague asked me when I was devastated by the unexpected layoff after 18 years with the same company. As I was going through the litany of all that I was worried about and afraid of and unhappy about, she stopped me and asked, “what if it was your idea? What would you do then?”
I will always be grateful to her for that new perspective because it kick-started me on the path to a new passion—helping other professional women when their Plan A takes a detour.
One of my clients lost her husband after a long illness. She took care of him for many months; he passed and she was alone. She worried. They had so many plans to travel that would never happen now. When we talked about what new plans she could make for herself, it was difficult for her at first. After a while, she began to create a new vision that included travel to some of the places she wanted to see, and she got involved with a group of women who loved to travel, too.
She looked at her love for travel in a different way. She has celebrated each of her wedding anniversaries since with a trip to a place they would have gone to together—in his memory—this time with new friends who love travel as much as she does. Is there sadness—absolutely. And there is joy and laughter, as well, with her new travel companions.
What are the lessons?
One of the ways I like to reflect on my detours is to look for the lessons. (Otherwise, what’s the point, right?) Here are just a few of the lessons I learned.
Lesson 1: I’m stronger than I think. That’s what I learned as I dusted myself off when I was a 20-something country girl, living in New York City alone after my first husband left me for another woman.
I started out feeling (and acting) like a victim. How dare he cheat on me. How dare he leave me alone in this big city. What is this country-bumpkin going to do now?
After the initial shock wore off, the anger set in, then the pleading-for-him-to-change-his-mind stage occurred. It took several months to work through the grief and loss. It took longer for the sense of failure to diminish. After all, I was raised to be a good wife. I was a good wife. He just wasn’t a very good husband. And (in retrospect) we were very young.
I had just started my career in corporate America, working for one of the big three broadcasting companies (at that time there were only three … dating myself.) Gratefully, my manager took me under her wing, personally and professionally, and became my first real mentor. It helped so much to be able to focus on work and get up each day with a purpose.
It was also the first time I learned about wearing a mask showing that I’m okay, when deep inside I was feeling weak and wobbly. I learned how to control my emotions at those times when it was inappropriate to be emotional, and save the breakdowns for when I was alone or with friends who understood and allowed me to be me.
It was the first time I had ever lived alone, too. I stayed in the apartment we found together when he moved in with his new girlfriend. I had moved from my parent’s home to a rented apartment shared with eight girls while going to college to our first apartment after we got married. Never lived alone—till then.
It was scary at first, for sure. And, there were many a night when I asked a friend to stay with me. After a while, though, I learned to enjoy the peace and quiet. I even decorated my little one-bedroom for the holidays, just for me. I was learning how to be alone and loving my own company. Who knew I would like that? Who knew I would start to develop my own interests and hobbies that support my alone time even today?
And, a friend’s mother taught me about self-care. She shared several books that helped me to sort through the feelings I was dealing with and which made it abundantly clear that I was not the only one who had felt this way. What a revelation that was for me—and a relief. Plus, I learned how therapeutic a warm bath can be, and how cathartic it was to write about what’s going on in my head and my heart.
All these life lessons have been stored and retrieved many times over the years. I was learning to turn coping into surviving and finally thriving.
Lesson 2: My heart is bigger than I imagined. In my early 30s, I never thought that I would be taking care of a woman dying of cancer. I didn’t plan to move my mother-in-law into our home and become her caregiver. But I agreed and I’ll never regret the bond we formed as she lived her last days on this earth—with me.
My second husband was an only child. His mother was his rock and he was her star. Muriel had struggled with breast cancer for many years. At the time, she had survived longer than anyone else being on chemo—one radical mastectomy with chemo and then 5 years to the month a second radical mastectomy with chemo. She finished her treatments, did well for a while, and the cancer returned. More treatments, did well, remission for a while, and it returned. And the cycle continued for 12 years.
This insidious roller coaster ride would have taken most women long before, but not Muriel. She was a true survivor—working until nearly the end as the receptionist on the executive floor of one of the most prestigious Madison Avenue ad agencies. So, you know she had to wear a mask everyday she went to work, greeting everyone with her Carol Channing smile, wearing one of her favorite platinum blonde wigs. She was a master at making everyone feel welcome and at ease, even though she was feeling a bit weak and wobbly inside herself.
As she spent the last months of her life with us, I learned a lot from this woman about what’s important in life. She lived by her values till the day she passed on. No matter how much her family may have disappointed her, she continued to love and support them—without enabling their bad behavior. She was stern, yet loving when her son did something she didn’t approve of (even though he was in his 40s). I witnessed tolerance. I saw her not judge people because we never really know what’s going on behind closed doors.
She walked her talk. She was a significant role model for me. I was learning to be more forgiving, more accepting and more loving.
Lesson3: Time is precious. And today, my Plan A turns into Plan B once again.
After spending a wonderful life in competitive sports, my husband’s body is revolting from the abuse. Starting with Little League Baseball, basketball, semi-pro football till he was 42, senior tournament baseball and softball till he was 69, then golf and bowling till he was 75 … it has taken its toll. He worked in between all his sports activities, too.
Now, my husband finds it difficult to stand and walk due to severe pain. His spine is bone-on-bone, his knees are bone-on-bone and no one can quite figure out where the pain is coming from. He’s had four failed back surgeries and there are no more back surgeries that can fix the problem without risking his life. And, there are no guarantees that any treatments will reduce his pain.
So, our dreams of taking road trips with the four fur-babies to tour the USA have been put on the back-burner till we can find some relief for him. And, we now talk about other ways to have fun and enjoy each other’s company. Our relationship is important to each of us to nurture in every way we can. As hard as it is for him to be in pain and for me to watch him, there is more than one way to live a full life.
As we walk further down this path exploring Plan B, we find ourselves getting frustrated at times, feeling a bit sorry for ourselves and holding our own private pity party—just for us. Then one of us kicks the other in the proverbial butt and pulls the other out of the doldrums so we can think about more positive ways to spend our time together.
Just when I thought we had arrived at that place in our lives that we could go and do whenever we chose to, Plan A takes a detour. I’m learning to take the road less traveled when there is a fork, enjoy the scenery that we find there and honor each moment we have to be together on the journey.
It’s a choice
And, we get to make that choice every minute of every day.
Are you ready to jump off the couch and choose to look at your Plan A Detour in a different way? Can you let go of the worry that it didn’t work out as you planned and see a new path to take? Do you have other life experiences that prove you have done it before so you can rely on that to motivate you in another direction?
Here’s what I’ve learned: Plan A’s are not always supposed to work out exactly as you envisioned. If they did, we’d never learn something new about ourselves. If they did, life would become very predictable—and where’s the fun in that?
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m a firm believer in making plans. I teach clients how to create crystal clear visions of what they want, in vivid detail. I also love committing those visions to writing and designing a visual depiction of the vision. The clarity that comes from those vision exercises can inspire you to move forward and help you stay focused.
Here’s the trick: let go of “how” you’ll get there. Even though your vision is full of details—you’ve set the timeframe, the colors, the feelings, the people, the location—there are multiple ways the vision can come to fruition. Not all of them are within your control. And, it may not look exactly as you planned.
The learning is in the journey and the road is not always straight. Taking a detour occasionally can give you time to pause, reflect and regroup. The detour can take you to new places so you can learn something you wouldn’t have been exposed to on the main road to Plan A.
Plan A? Or the detour? I love it when my plans fall into place as though they are meant to be. And, I am learning to love the lessons from the detours. Oh, so many lessons. Oh, so many detours!