I like plans. I think a successful life is in no small part due to an ability to plan it well. However, a good deal of painful experience has also led me to be convinced that life’s happiness is equally dependent upon how we respond when our plans get changed. I am hopelessly idealistic and once a picture is in my head, it’s hard to let it be painted differently. But such idealism has made me no stranger to disappointment. My college journey has exemplified this time and again, being reconstructed more than once (Change of Plans). Recently, my plans were put up for change (again) in a journey I have been walking with a dear friend. Meet Allison:
I have never been a great planner. My life is a bit more flexible, a lot more spontaneous, under planned, overbooked. But while I may not have things planned out on paper, I do have a certain plan of how things are supposed to turn out in my head. I think we all do this. Though we may not realize it, we have an intrinsic web of ideas about our lives–how things are suppose to turn out. You only realize you have these internal expectations and whims when life doesn’t turn go as planned. Amy and I are both dreamers, strategizers, and lovers of the little things in life. We are those people who always have a plan of the next latest and greatest thing we can do to change the world. If you have been around us enough, you have probably heard our plans of splendor being discussed in revelatory tones in the corner of Starbucks. We make plans. We succeed. We are also used to plans changing.
We’ve lived through six different combinations of roommates in three different homes. Our lives have seen us come together in 2 different countries and four different states. Plane tickets, hospitals, classrooms, beaches, and coffee shops. Always coffee shops. Diversity, change, and tragedy, but nothing has stopped the planning and dreaming about life. The biggest of any plan we have made together has been our one to go to college. Both community college students together, we spent two years planning our transfer.
We poured ourselves into choosing schools, dreams, and The Common App. Our plans looked great the way we could see them. But who knew how life would change.
Earlier this year, mid-semester with barely a few weeks notice, things took a turn. We found ourselves in different parts of the country, both processing personal pain, both very uncertain about the future. It was the hardest season of our lives to date, and we knew that for a time, it was only going to get harder. Still, our plan gave us hope. When the semester ended and fall came, we would resume our plans, transfer together, and the world would be righted. That was until Allison got into one school. And I didn’t. And I got into another school. And she didn’t.
A sudden move. A death in the family. A rejection letter. An acceptance letter. Life ceasing to be what could be controlled, predicted, or planned. And it hurts. It hurts when life changes, especially when those changes shake the very core of how you thought life would turn out, how you hoped, imagined, prayed, anticipated, willed it would. It is not always easy to pick up pieces of broken plans and hurt hearts. Sometimes you throw mud on the people you love the most when you feel like life dealt you a hand you never deserved or planned for.
It would have been easy to get lost somewhere around the “this wasn’t how it was supposed to go” point. When things don’t go the way we plan, we sometimes resolve to hate the new as some kind of protest against our loss of control. But life doesn’t pay much heed to these temper tantrums. Things don’t go my way because I won’t be happy with any other alternative. But when you refuse to disengage, even when you feel out of control, things change from “this is not what I wanted” to “this is what I’m choosing.” And when we choose something, we begin to believe again that we have a say in our lives and a chance to make them beautiful.
We have found that the ability to embrace the “new plan” with the same passion and openness, expecting the new plan to somehow morph into the best plan, will keep you from shutting down and limiting your life because of its disappointments. My mom always had a phrase she used when stopping at a stoplight. As I was often her co-pilot, I would tell her to continue straight through the light towards our destination. She would always be quick to respond “forward, Allison, never straight.” When living this life, there are bends and twists, the unexpected and the unimaginable. The good, the bad and the ugly.
It hasn’t been straight. It’s never going to be straight. It’s been a ton of circles, zig zags, and “let’s just start over”. But we have made new plans and continue to find ways to face life together on the East Coast. I’m proud of us. I’m proud of us for engaging in life through the disappointments.
For those who heard our college planning sessions in Starbucks and wondered what happened to the plans, well, the plans changed–but we had the courage to make them, and the courage to face them when life changed. Amy is now a Tar Heel wearing Carolina Blue in the great state of North Carolina, and I settling into my new home of grey and blue at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. We are making the best of changed plans, new adventures, and embracing that this is the new plan. You can’t stop lives like that.
–Post co-written by Amy Rochelle and Allison Laverty