How To Plan For The Unplanned in Life


I’ll be honest. I am one of those over-thinking, plan everything out type of people. From a young age I knew exactly how I wanted my life to go, and prepared (sometimes half-heartedly) for a very linear and predictable trajectory. Once I finished high school and went away to college I became even more laser-focused. Ideally I would graduate college while making as many connections through internships as possible, get a job, meet a guy, live together, and then go back to school for my masters. Then I’d travel, get engaged, and work my way to the top of my field. And then, hopefully, before 35, I’d get married, have kids and live relatively happily ever after. Even typing it up now sounds obnoxious — but to be honest it was the same linear plan most everyone I knew had. The plan society had prepared us for.

You’re probably not surprised that things did not go down like this. I barely scraped through college, managing to pass most my classes while interning and working full-time. I had a couple of bumps and bruises along the way (my first real heart break, the struggle of making it on my own, and the beginning of what would later become an ongoing battle with depression). My linear plans started looking more like wiggly lines with no particular direction. I used my connections to get an entry level job on the Presidential reelection campaign on the other side of the country, and was taken for a complete loop when it didn’t work out the way I wanted — thus ending up back home. My resilience being what it was, I continued to try many different things — waitressing through most of it, and finding odd jobs here and there while living with the boyfriend I had planned on having. Except even that was different than I had imagined. He was a recovering addict, was still finishing school, and had no idea what he wanted to be in the future. So, not ideal, but he loved me and I him, and that was enough to I make even more adjustments to my life plans. With his ailing father, we both willingly put on lives together on hold even longer — and I felt that with every step I took back towards my linear path, there stood another detour. To my surprise it went on like that for most of my early twenties — mercilessly hitting me with one unplanned thing after the next.

What I slowly started to realize after a while was that there is no linear path you can plan for in life. Our generation is arguably pioneers in what it looks like to live life sporadically in every direction, taking the standard detours that happen in your twenties and turning them into careers and lives our parents have never even dreamed of. To some that may look like having a baby before you’re married…to others maybe that means taking a gap year (or two, or three, because that’s just the way life happens.) You plan for the unplanned in life by being willing and flexible to jump at opportunities as they come, and accepting that things don’t always happen in a forward moving path — that we have to continue to create our own and that might be windy.

Some people believe that you can never plan for the unexpected. That life happens to you and you go where it takes you — but I believe that you can, to some extent, plan for the curve balls life throws at you. Sure, the very first thing thats comes at you out of the blue may knock you down, but you become better at catching those things and turning them into what you had planned all along. The “fake it till you make it” motto is how you plan for the unexpected. Trusting your gut and understanding that you are never a victim to your own circumstances is how you navigate the twists and turns. Sometimes you find you landed in exactly the place you wanted to be, even if the journey to that destination wasn’t ideal.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t plan for what you want in life. I’m still a firm believer that I will achieve success in a chosen career, that I will find love and create a family, and that I will be happy with the friends and choices I make. What I’m not attached to is how that happens and when. I understand that life is a cycle of things you’re prepared for, and bunch of things your not. Most importantly, I am learning to understand that it is not the planned things that makes us who we are but rather those curves balls and unknown pathways that create makes life full, vibrant, and exciting. That’s how I plan to live, and it’s the only plan I know I can count on.