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How can you pivot to Plan B with grace and agility?
Things don’t always work out how we want them to. Sunday night I fell down a flight of stairs. Then, I passed out. The tumble happened 24 hours into a family vacation to Switzerland. When I sat up, I proclaimed, “This isn’t what I had planned.”
Our lives are full of them.
Unforeseen, unwelcome events sideswipe us all the time.
It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”
Social scientist Arthur Brooks explains that humans are great at ascribing meaning to the narrative arc of our lives but are often ill-equipped to react with poise and flexibility when the story changes suddenly. Unexpected narrative tears test our resilience. They force us to edit, or in some cases, abandon a previous script altogether. These story disruptions run the gamut from annoyance to devastation. Micro-aberrations to our expectations are everyday occurrences. Someone disappoints us. A team member drops the ball. People run behind. Our kids don’t act the way we want them to. We get passed over for a promotion. It rains when we planned to go to the park. Sometimes detours from our expectations are seismic: job loss, betrayal, a life-changing diagnosis, serious injury, or sudden death. Whatever the plot twist is, when it occurs, we have decide how we will regroup and respond.
When you’re starring in your next plot twist, focus on these steps to help you improvise with agility and grace:
Radical Acceptance - When something goes awry, wishful thinking often takes over. It’s easy to get stuck envisioning an alternative reality. “If only I had(n’t). . .” Hindsight makes us want to rewind time. But, you can’t go back. None of us can. Ever. The sooner you are reconciled to this fact, the less self-induced suffering you’ll have to endure. To wiggle loose from the “if only” mindtrap, move from ruminating about “what was” to accepting “what is” as quickly as you can. Following hardship, salvage the situation in front of you. You don’t have to like it, but work with what you’ve got and choose the next best step.
Reimagine & Reinvent - Plot twists force pivots. Doing an about-face can push the bounds of our creativity. Abrupt transitions may be unwelcome but they create space and opportunity. Seize the chance to start a new story from scratch. We tend to lay most of our “original plans” squarely in our comfort zone—they keep us in our predictable status quo. It’s not necessarily better there but it feels safer. It’s known. When pushed into the margins of our lives, we may stumble into possibilities we would have never voluntarily sought in the past. In the long run, involuntary course corrections can turn out to change our life trajectory in transformative ways.
Reassess Readiness - Plot twists can be a time to step back, reckon, and reassess risk. They can reveal points of vulnerability and teach us to do something differently going forward. We’ll never be able to prepare for every unknown contingency, but sometimes an event will snap our attention in a good way. Near misses remind us of two terrifying facts we work to conceal from conscious awareness most of the time: no one is invincible and any of us could be gone in an instant. If something tragic happened today, would the most important people in your life have what they need to move forward without you? (Think: information, instructions, resources.)
Thankfully, my spill in the Alps did nothing more than destroy my right rotator cuff. The incident was an annoying inconvenience but this particular holiday plot twist could have ended much, much worse. I reluctantly thanked the universe for the forced rest and reasoned that if I had to be laid up in pain, at least it was snuggled next to my kids in a comfortable, fabulous place. As I stared at the ceiling on Monday, my mind wandered. When we were 22, my husband and I planned in detail for a world where one of us dies. It’s what you do before you go to war. Will. Power of Attorney. Advanced Directives. Password and login docs for all of our important accounts. It’s all in the safe. Technically, we’re squared away. Still, I was reminded of the importance of clearly communicating what I do to the people I live and work with so that if someone does need to step in for me at some point, they can. Quickly and smoothly. Sometimes the most loving, responsible thing we can do is to teach the people in our life how to function without us. At some point, they will probably need to. For a short while. Or, indefinitely.
I left Switzerland reminded to cling loosely to the story I’ve already written in my head about tomorrow. Time and time again, things won’t work out how I expect. The arc of my narrative won’t bend according to my desires. My story will continue to be shaped by my choices, not my wishes. And that, friends, is part of the maddening beauty of human existence.
What has been the best plot twist in your life?
Which forced pivot has been the most difficult for you to work through?
Which narrative break in your story has had the most impact on you?
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