How to Deal When Nothing Goes According to Plan
I’ve always been future-oriented. I always try to plan at least five years into the future, which might be one of my least favorite things about myself. I never live in the present. In my mind, the present is set, and it’s the next five or ten years I need to worry about. I’ve been this way since elementary school, when I would read the Fiske Guide to Colleges cover-to-cover before bed. I memorized facts about different schools and planned what I would study and where I would live. I had a rough draft of my life planned before I entered middle school. I was going to attend Yale and become a lawyer who solves cases with her knowledge of hair care. (So I was going to be Elle Woods with a dash of Rory Gilmore.)
Naturally my life plans changed throughout middle school (and high school and college and post-college), but every time I changed my mind about my future occupation, I went back to my worn copy of the Fiske Guide. I wasn’t going to let minor changes keep me from mapping out my future. But when a major change caused a plan to unravel, it took more than a college guidebook to get back on track.
During my sophomore year of college, I met with my academic advisor and decided I was going to graduate a semester early. I also decided that I would take the semester I was out of school to work part-time and find an internship. During my last semester of college, I already had a part-time job at a daycare, so all I needed was to secure an internship before Christmas, which I did with time to spare. A month before I graduated, everything was going according to plan.
Now, about three months after graduation, I am working as a full-time daycare teacher. I love my job, but this wasn’t the plan. Instead of drafting tip sheets and making copies, I’m preparing crafts and changing diapers. There were some company changes that caused my internship to cease to exist while I was there working on marketing copy, so the perfect plan I spent all of Christmas bragging about fell through.
I wasn’t prepared to deal with my plan failing. At that point, I was far enough into it that I thought nothing could go wrong unless I did something stupid, and I had no plans to do anything stupid. But I can’t control what other people choose to do, especially when they’re following their own life plans. I’d have to be a huge hypocrite to be mad about that.
If anyone else is experiencing some setbacks with their life plans, here is what got me through my own setback:
- Make a new, short-term plan. When my internship ended, I thought I had to immediately get another internship or find a full-time job in my desired field, but after scouring job and internship postings, I realized that could take a while. Instead of putting “get a job” on my to-do list, I put “apply for five jobs before June” on my to-do list. It’s less pressure, and as long as I put in the effort, I’m guaranteed to succeed. This may seem like taking the easy way out, but it’s not. Obviously I’m still trying to get a job, but this way I won’t feel crushed if things don’t work out. When my internship fell through, I felt defeated. Focusing on a long-term plan can put too much pressure on a person, so it’s a good idea to make several short-term plans first.
- Don’t forget your goals. As the name suggests, long-term plans take a long time to play out. Everything isn’t going to fall into place at once, so give it time. Then give it more time. You might even have to set your goals aside for a little while, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a difference between a job and a career, and many of us have to put our career dreams on the back burner while we get a job and pay our bills. I believe that’s called responsibility, and it might not always be the ideal path, but it’s a safe path. When you’re ready, you can start focusing more on your career dreams, but don’t be afraid to give it some time.
- Enjoy this time! Ever since my plan dissolved, I’ve been able to spend more time focusing on the present, and it turns out that’s a great way to live. I have more free time now because I’m not trying to fulfill some sort of career goal, and I’ve been able to enjoy myself more. I go on walks, take myself to see movies, read for fun and keep up with current events. Between school, work and internships, I’ve been putting in 60-hour work weeks for a couple years. But now I only have one job, so when it ends for the day, I’m done for the day. I can’t remember the last time I had this much freedom. It’s fantastic!
- Acceptance is key. I’m still having trouble accepting my current job situation. I work nearly 40 hours a week, but I still refer to my job as part-time. I never planned on being a full-time daycare teacher, but that’s what I am. I don’t know how it happened, but it did and I need to accept that. And I’m super happy working there, so there’s no reason for me not to accept it. When you work somewhere full-time, that’s a full-time job. It may seem like an obvious concept, but I seem to be having trouble with it, and I can’t be the only one. This job is paying my bills, so I should show some respect!
Plans might not always work out, and it might hurt when they fall through, but I’m an optimist and believe there’s always a bright side. Sure, I had to leave my awesome internship, but I no longer have to deal with the horrible commute to that office. And not long after my internship came to an abrupt end, one of my coworkers at the daycare put in her two-weeks notice and my boss was scrambling to fill in the gaps in the weekly schedule. Suddenly I went from part-time employee to full-time, and my boss started referring to me as her guardian angel. My disappointment made other people’s lives better, and not in a sadistic way.
I’ll probably never stop planning every aspect of my future. That’s just what I do! But I hope I can get better at dealing with disappointment when plans fail because I didn’t do a great job with that this time around (I’m still catching up on the housekeeping I avoided while I wallowed in my room). And until I make new plans or learn to handle disappointment, I need to accept the life I have now. Besides, it could be worse, and some of my master plans are still moving along wonderfully.
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