Last week, I wrote a post about success and failure, which really resonated with college students, and graduates. In the post, I shared my hardships as a recent graduate in 2012, and what I did to overcome them while bills piled up, food ran scarce, and my rent doubled.
The post was so well-received that this week, I thought it best to follow up with a piece on the importance of planning, when faced with personal and professional hardships. But first, a story.
The Traveling Nurse
In 2014, Twitter helped me reconnect with a high school friend I hadn’t heard from or spoken to in years. A driven young woman, she had moved to New York with high hopes of becoming a nurse and travelling the world. It was a selfless, ambitious goal; and all who knew her rooted for her success.
For a time, it was all she spoke about. She ate, slept, and breathed her goals of travelling and nursing. She studied hard, and made good grades – all while working shifts at a well-known hospital. In fact, our conversations was about as much leisure as she made time for.
Finally, the month came to begin her studies at the university of her choice. She put even more hours and work in, and really studied hard for that entrance exam. She read the textbook, attempted all the math questions she could find, went over her assignments… She did everything right – everything to the absolute best of her ability. And you know what? They didn’t accept her.
After a moment of discouragement, she shook off the rejection and applied to a nursing program at another university. They turned her down as well. New York was just too competitive, and as an immigrant who went through an entirely different system of schooling and accreditation from other Americans, the odds were stacked against her.
Frustrated, disappointed and confused, she worried about her chances of fulfilling her dreams before midlife struck, and resented the curtailing of her independence, which happens when every last cent you make must go to paying for school.
What should she study in place of nursing? Was it worth doing something else, or should she sit out a whole other year while time ticked on by?
In Jamaica, I often heard our elders repeat a saying which pretty much sums this up.
Man makes plans and God laughs.
Whether religious or not, we’ve all been there.
We’ve all had goals with well thought-out plans we put our all into that just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. It happens when we take on creative projects, when we start our first business, or even after two kids and twenty years of marriage.
While we certainly have the full capability to control ourselves, we simply don’t know what the Universe might throw at us, as other people strive for the same or conflicting goals. The good news is – it’s not the end of the world.
Here are three tips to help you plan, overcome disappointment, and move on when it happens anyway.
- Plan Z. Because life rarely goes the way we plan, it’s always best to have more than one. That means more than just having a Plan B. It means working your way as far down the alphabet as you can.Apply to multiple universities. Keep your desk job until your business takes off. And do not rely on your relationships for the full supply of your happiness. Find hobbies and passions you can enjoy alone or with other people.Create a life worth sharing with someone else, even if you choose not to.
- Stay Up-to-Date. Monitor the situation closely so that you can act before things go sour, or at least, immediately afterwards. That means calling the job or school when too much time has gone on without an answer of acceptance.It means finding another source of income once you realize your business profits have begun to dip significantly. It means paying attention to the ups and downs of your relationships to see what makes the people you love happy, and how you can keep it that way.
- Grieve and Move On. When disappointment strikes anyway, take your moment to grieve and feel the disappointment, but don’t wallow in it. As Dalai Lama once advised, “…not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”Remember that and prepare yourself to pursue new opportunities – whether it’s at a new school, studying a different degree, diversifying your business, or starting over with someone new.
Michael and I once put these principles to work, when our plans didn’t quite go the way we wanted them to. We had had trouble securing locations for the music video he was working on, we didn’t make it to the movies to watch Star Wars, and after driving for three hours south of Atlanta, we still didn’t make it through the hiking trail we had picked out weeks before.
Yet, we made it through it.
We had quite a few options in mind for the video shoot in case things didn’t go as planned – which they didn’t. We had so many options that in the end, we shot scenes at six different locations, instead of the original three he had in mind.
After embarking on a three hour road trip to visit a hiking trail I had had my heart set on, we got hopelessly lost and realised it was way too late to take the 6.7 mile hike and make it back home.
Since Michael does all the driving, he was even more disappointed and frustrated than I was, but we sucked it up and took a shorter hike on the same trail instead. It was nightfall by the time we finished making our way back out of the woods, and Michael thought he had heard a bear somewhere in the hillside by the trail.
Still, I can’t complain. We made it through the disappointment – and so will the rest of you, even when it strikes at the worst moments. Just remember: life doesn’t get easier, but we can learn to get better at tackling the things that make it hard…
For more college-related posts, check out my new website College Mate – your survival guide to college.
Originally posted February 1, 2016.