I Had Plans. Life Had Other Ideas.
I have come to love and appreciate the unexpected nature of things. I now relish the fact that I don’t know exactly what my life will look like six months from now, and I certainly have no idea what six years from now will hold for me. I do everything I can to stay present in the moment and allow the random and serendipitous nature of life to remind me how delicate my existence is within the chaos, and allow that beautiful uncertainty to mold the landscape of my path.
But not in my twenties.
In my twenties, I had an effing plan. I knew what my life should look like, and I was going to wrangle life into acquiescing to my vision through sheer will and determination.
My list went a little like this:
1. Get my undergraduate degree with the exact balance of good grades and keg parties.
2. Get a boyfriend, who I can take pictures with wearing our college colors at sporting events, to blast all over Facebook and save for our eventual wedding montage.
3. Immediately attend graduate school for no reason other than being an overachieving, Type A control freak.
4a. Leave graduate school with an exact plan of action, in which my career mirrors everything I learned in the classroom. The return on my educational investment will be realized through a long and lovely career in the field I chose at the wise old age of 18.
4b. Live happily ever after.
In my mid-twenties, my wrestling match with controlling my life gave way to an unavoidable tornado of external factors that scooped me up from my job using my degree and plopped me down, back in my hometown.
It’s so interesting in retrospect to think about how terrified I was to let life happen. I believed that with white enough knuckles, paired with blatant denial that there were things in life beyond my control, I could flip the switch and somehow be more powerful than the unpredictable forces that swirl around us at any given moment. I viewed the unexpected as failure, and change as the enemy.
So, what happened? How was I finally able to get past this little fantasy world I had created for myself?
I wish I could tell you about this perfect moment when I was sitting in a meadow, cool breeze blowing through my hair, and a simple yellow butterfly landed on my shoulder, and in a flash I was completely aware of the delicate and beautiful nature of life.
I got my heart broken.
Not just like a little broken. I’m talking heart-smashed-with-a-hammer-and-put-in-the-blender broken. This particular blender mix of broken heart is only achieved through by the Great Game Changer of Betrayal.
I don’t want to fixate on this, because it was this amazingly awful thing that happened to me that pried my (white-knuckled) fingers off my life. This crazy pain literally forced me to view life in a completely different way and profoundly proved that I had no control over the people and the things around me, even the ones I trusted the most.
Now I didn’t come out the other side of Blender Heart Syndrome without help. I had amazing friends and family. But most of all, I had Charlie.
Charlie was the therapist I decided to see in order to repair my Blender Heart Syndrome (which I HIGHLY recommend). Charlie dropped knowledge on me like it was his job . . . which, I guess, it technically was.
But here is the Charlie Knowledge Nugget that changed everything: when you are outcome-oriented you have your sights set on a particular ending. This can be a career, a relationship, a personal vision of yourself. (For me, it was all of those things.) And you begin cherry-picking things in your life that fit this particular outcome. You work exceptionally hard to produce this outcome like you would a term paper or school project, assuming that hard work will get you to your happy ending.
I was like, “Duh, Charlie. Everyone knows that.”
But he continued, and this is where it gets really good.
He said that when we are outcome-oriented, we turn off the emotional sensors that make us aware of the present moment. We are so fixated on producing our vision that we ignore warning signs, or clues in the life that is actually happening, by keeping our heads in our imaginary future life.
He finished by saying that the best careers, the happiest people, and the best relationships are born out of being process-oriented. When we’re consumed with an outcome, we can get knocked on our asses because we haven’t actually been paying attention to our lives. But if we live in the process, we’re in the moment as it’s happening, in tune with what is going on around us and within us.
I can remember sitting in his office, transfixed, because this was me! And in a few simple sentences, he was able to help me frame my Blender Heart Syndrome in a way that took me out of feeling like a victim and empowered me to be in charge of my life in a totally new way.
(Have I mentioned that I highly recommend seeing a therapist from time to time?! They are SO SMART!)
So I started looking at my life and deciding what I did and did not want in it.
I did a Life Spring Cleaning and Remodel that not only helped me re-evaluate my relationships and career, but also gave me the courage to move to Washington D.C., with no plan per se, but rather with a commitment that I was going to pay attention to the clues around me and make decisions that resonated with my gut. I was going to ignore this culturally created vision of what I should be doing, or that I should be married, or that I should use my degree.
I banished “shoulds” from my life and embraced the uncertainty.
To say my life is better is an understatement. In the last year I have been happier and more fulfilled than in my entire previous life combined. I have literally shocked myself with my abilities professionally, and the subsequent doors that have opened because I was willing to risk it and challenge myself.
Am I using my degree?
Am I married with 2.5 kids, as was the plan?
Not even close.
But am I living my best life for me and the people in it?
Here’s the kicker: all of this was possible without getting my heart put in a blender. Charlie says that oftentimes, that type of trauma is what it takes to shake you out of your should-outcome-fantasy. But here’s my challenge to you.
Do it on your own terms.
You literally have NO idea what you are capable of.
So get to it.