People Plan, God Laughs


“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

fishtankOne of the many dichotomies of my life that sometimes leaves even me with whiplash is my ability to embrace the impermanence of my life running up against my need to plan. I am a chronic planner – probably not as extremely far along on the spectrum as some of the more compulsively organized people I know – and this need often collides head-on with the nonstop flow of change. Perhaps, I suppose, there is some deep logic to my planning. I plan for all eventualities, knowing full well that my primary plan is likely to be pummeled by some unexpected occurrence. Ultimately, I am prepared for a variety of outcomes.

I do truly embrace the notion that life changes on a dime. And, in fact, sometimes I introduce the change into my own life in order to challenge the status quo. I am restless, typically bored when things become too familiar or predictable. I like to move things around and mix things up. When I was a teenager, I frequently rearranged the furniture in my room in order to gain new perspectives. I have always liked to have a variety of friends, continually affording myself a new panorama. So, despite my need to have plans in place and create a level of order in my life, I have a high tolerance for the unpredictability that constant change creates. I was raised to expect change as my mother used to often say “People plan and God laughs.” I am acutely aware that God is continually getting side-splitters watching me. I acknowledge his hysteria and continue planning nonetheless.

One of my goals in my life has been to effectively read the cues and prepare myself when change is afoot. I have astutely read the tea leaves time and again, seemingly forecasting outcomes of different experiences. My senses are fine tuned and I am not typically surprised or overwhelmed when changes take place. However, the one area of my life that usually creates the greatest vulnerability and challenges my ability to predict the future is with my relationships. I have been blindsided far too many times, devastatingly hurt by betrayals or misdeeds by people I have cared for. I am a glutton for punishment when it comes to my relationships because I don’t install safe boundaries that protect me from the surprise left turns that are often outside my peripheral vision. Because I invest so much into my relationships, I frequently relinquish the planning and the control and allow them to take on lives of their own. Authentically, I drop my guard and allow myself to get pulled out by the tide, hoping that if the seas become rough, I can swim back to shore safely without too much fatigue. I’m usually successful and, sometimes, not so much.

I was recently sitting and talking to a friend who I had lost touch with for many years. I struggled to remember what precisely had pushed us apart and felt frustrated with myself that I had not been more intentional with this person. I knew there were elements about their personality and behavior that didn’t jive with mine and, yet, here we were sitting and laughing like old friends. We connected and it appeared that we were a good fit. Was it simply that our lives had diverged or had it been a clearer choice on one or both of our parts to move in different directions? I couldn’t help but reflect on the many relationships that had, at one point or another, been so integral and meaningful but suddenly were no longer a part of me. Relationships that seemed non-negotiable. Relationships from which I derived oxygen. Yet I was still breathing while they no longer provided an inflow of air. I have reminisced time and again, marveling at how unbelievably interconnected I have been with one person or another, then impaired by the rupture and finally settling into a new normal. There was no planning for it, there was no alternative strategy. For me, I simply had to move on and move forward and maybe, one day, look back in wonder.

Change is inevitable and, in fact, there are few non-negotiables in my life. My kids being the primary. Beyond that, I know that tomorrow could be a new reality and, regardless of how much I plan or try to prepare myself, disruptions will occur and my landscape can look entirely different. And, admittedly, I don’t entirely hate that concept.

Vive la difference.

CHANGES AHEAD


changeChange is a funny thing.  So often we resist it yet, at the same time, we also quite frequently crave it.  Change is inevitable but we still make such great efforts to dig our heels in and avoid it – especially when the changes that are occurring feel out of our control.

In my coaching group, we have been rotating leaders in order to give everyone in the group an opportunity to offer their point of view or voice to the conversation.  Each week, another leader provides a topic for us to work on and, this week, we focused on change.  Being the end of the school year and all of us having children progressing to the next grade or moving up to a new school, it seemed like a timely topic.  For me, the turning of the calendar and the progression that comes from the end of one school year in preparation for the next, is the kind of change I love.  Even though some years it is bittersweet to say goodbye to teachers we love and know that some of the pals my kids have had will be swapped out for new friends as the classes get juggled around, I still welcome the break of the summer and the fresh start of the new school year.  It is a necessary and refreshing change.

If you asked me ten or twenty years ago what my general feeling was about change, I would say that I embraced it – even, perhaps, craved it.  Given my childhood, I was looking to run away and create a new reality for myself.  I wanted to change everything about my life.  I was willing to toss out every aspect of my life and start over.  And, to some degree, I did.  I abandoned so much of what defined my life in exchange for a life that where I could chart a new course. Today, I’d answer that question very differently.  Nowadays, change is a mixed bag for me.  Maybe it is because I have gotten older and am more set in my ways or maybe I have become more acutely aware of the impermanence of things but, regardless, I have a much more uncomfortable relationship with certain types of change.  I still welcome the changing of the seasons as I quickly get bored with the scenery and appreciate the leaves going from green to colorful and falling to bare trees to rebirth.  I value the unique aspects each season has to offer.  I enjoy the different occasions and celebrations that blow in with each new season and find the change offering me an opportunity to focus on different aspects of my life.  I love how I can hibernate a bit in the winter and hunker down with my writing or find opportunities for projects around the house because we are trapped indoors.  The warmer weather invites me outside to exercise differently and creates more opportunities for me to socialize with friends.  On the other hand, I struggle with a lot of the changes with my children while also feeling excited as I see them moving into new stages of life.  With my excitement comes the inevitable melancholy of seeing how far away they are from the precious little babies I carried in my belly, then held in my arms, then walked alongside with their little hands tucked into mine.  I recognize that they grew taller and pulled away.  With every glance at them, I see the evolutionary development of their young lives and I feel conflicted.

However, where change becomes the biggest challenge for me is with other people in my life and when things change right before my eyes and I miss them.  I often feel like I have fallen asleep during a movie and missed a critical plot point so that everything going forward does not make sense.  I become confused and disconnected and spend a lot of time trying to remember what I experienced before the change and attempt to catch up to the new environment while trying very hard not to lament that things are simply not the way they used to be.  With relationships we have so little control of the evolving landscape because they are fully dependent on a multitude of circumstances that come into play, providing a powerful backdrop to the interpersonal interactions.  For me, this often results in my missing cues and not recognizing that a shift is occurring.  I continue to use the same script that the other person may have long since tossed, favoring a new and refreshed version that has critical edits that leave me clueless.

I find myself getting lost in relationships – especially those really close to me – when I wake up from my nap and realize that I am operating with an outdated perspective that no longer fits the situation.  I struggle to find my way to the new pathway and, sometimes, simply opt to get off the road altogether and move away.  Rather than embracing what might be the potential for a new chapter that builds so solidly on the one before, I run scared, afraid that the change represents something bad.  I worry that I have broken something and it can never be repaired to its original state.  Never do I consider that the reconstructed relationship might be stronger and more solid than it was before.  I recognize the origins of these feelings.  I understand that living with a mother who suffered from borderline personality disorder created so much uncertainty in my relationship and I never knew how she would change the rules of the game with me.  Our relationship was a moving target and she held the bullseye, rendering me incapable of ever taking a clear shot.  I had to zig and zag to respond to her ever-changing moods, rules or feelings about me.  When I see things change in my relationships with those closest to me, I immediately attempt to find a pathway back to the former state and then get frustrated and sad when I recognize that is so far out of my control to make that happen.  Yet, I rarely look to see what I can control or influence because I remember my mother.  I fall into that mindset that I simply cannot control anything.  I am at her mercy, once again.

Certainly, no one ever said that change is bad and, more often than not, change is what helps to make space for really wonderful things.  Unfamiliar pathways often lead to the most amazing destinations.  I try hard to remember this as I begin to focus and recognize that a change is afoot or already well underway.  Right now, I know my life is shifting.  There is a lot of movement underneath my feet in so many different areas of my life – much of which I am, in fact, forcing.  I am continuing to try to balance myself and not keep falling down as the road rolls with the seismic shifts.  I do not need bars to hang on to nor do I need a safety net.  I’ve got everything I need to keep standing and to pull myself up taller and stronger – as long as I keep looking forward and stop looking backwards to try to figure out what I missed.