When life goes doesn't go to plan

My dearest friend,

Doesn’t life throw us some curve balls? Sometimes these unexpected things are perfectly delightful – like finding an unused $20 note in a winter jacket – and some are just a mild inconvenience – like missing a flight or getting a flat tyre. Some have a bit more too them.

We may not think of it in quite such naive terms, but we usually start out – somewhere in the semi-conscious mind – with a script of how our lives might go. We’ll get some schooling and education, there will be some friendships and some moments of self-discovery, first loves and riotous fun.  We’ll then have some sort of career – maybe one that pays, but not merely done for money. Hopefully (this is dream land, remember) we’ll be competent, respectable and fairly honoured for the intensity of our efforts. At the same time we will develop a central relationship, maybe a marriage. A union that will last forever, be mutually satisfying and come with sincere friendship. There’ll be kids too, offering us a chance to nurture a grateful, adorable small person, the best of its two parents, whom we will watch grow into an admirable, motivated adult. With the current advances in science, we will go on to lead an active and pain-free life, mentally and physically healthy, into our early eighties. Our parents will themselves have died at an advanced age and when the time comes for us, the end will be swift and painless. Easy.

But life hasn’t got the script in your case. Or most cases. You’ve found yourself with an unexpected event with lifelong consequences. That doesn’t quite fit into the script that we’ve been handed by the advanced, secular, consumer society we live in.

I’m so super proud of how you have handled such an off-script and surprise event.

Research shows us that negative emotions, like fear and anger and frustration can actually cause our brain’s executive network (responsible for problem solving and higher order thinking) to constrict and work less effectively. But on the other hand, positive emotions help your brain generate more creative solutions to problems.

Sure, some negative emotions arose in relation to this unexpected event. But you didn’t react based just on these. And that’s way important. There’s a world of difference between a reaction and a response.

A reaction comes from an automatic part of the brain. Almost life a reflex. Reactions are very quick, especially if we feel threatened in some way. On the other hand, a response is something we consciously choose to do based on a more thoughtful assessment of a situation. For example, when someone cuts us off in traffic our automatic reaction can be to get angry and assume the driver is deliberately rude, thoughtless and incompetent. But by pausing and taking time to think, we give ourselves a window of opportunity to pick a better option. We might decide that retaliating is not in your best interest or we may realise that the driver wasn’t deliberately trying to be disrespectful, but was simply not paying attention.

You did a great job of pausing. You restrained a reaction long enough to ensure that you chose the best response for you given the situation. This takes wisdom. And self-knowledge. And grace.

And you didn’t judge this unexpected event.

For most of the things that happen to us, there's generally no way of knowing whether they will be a ‘bad’ thing or a ‘good’ thing—and which one an event turns out to be often has a lot to do with how we respond. If an intimate relationship ends and our response is to blame our self, become despondent, and never leave the house, we will increase the likelihood of not finding another relationship. However, if we accept that, for whatever reason, it was not the right relationship for us, maintain a positive attitude, believe that a better relationship is coming our way, and then get involved in fun activities, we significantly increase the likelihood of finding another great partner, possibly one who is an even better match.

You were able to see that this unexpected situation could have the potential to open other doors. We never know what will come of a situation, so rather than assuming a situation is bad, which only generates lots of unhelpful, negative emotions, you kept saying, "We shall see." You were looking ahead with hope.

And you’ve been planning since for everything to turn out well.

A lot of people don’t do this. Myself included. Many people hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The problem with this strategy is that we act on our expectations, yet our actions create our experiences. If we want a good outcome, we have to be plan for one because that is what leads to the actions that create good experiences.

An unexpected event is one you didn’t plan for, but you’ve shown that that doesn’t mean you can’t plan to create the best possible outcome from the situation. We all have the ability to shift our attention from an unexpected event that seems like a big problem and focus instead on finding the solution. The minute we ask what we can do to make something better, we have taken the first step in planning for events to go well.

It’s time now to trust in your ability that it will all be okay.

You’ve been through difficult things in life already. There’s been loads of challenges. And to date, you have survived them all. You’re strong. You’ve got the power to handle this. Trust yourself.

Because the truth is that the script we’ve been sold is not the truth. I haven’t come across anyone yet who gets through their allotted span without at least one (or five) major off-script event. Something, somewhere, will go catastrophically wrong. Not potentially, or incidentally, but necessarily. Because of our humanness.

We cannot know what it will be exactly; what is certain is that it will be something; an event committedly disastrous in nature that will stop us in our tracks, make us question every resilient assumption and break our hearts. The only thing we can do, is be aware that that the script was a bit of a false hold. The unexpected stuff is what makes us know we are human.  

Love me. xoxo

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