Learn to Plan – or Plan to Fail

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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 Travelling 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?

Handling Disappointment

 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Life doesn’t get easier, but we can learn to get better at tackling the things that make it hard.

Alexis Chateau Blog Logo

For more college-related posts, check out my new website College Mate – your survival guide to college.

Originally posted February 1, 2016.

26 thoughts on “Learn to Plan – or Plan to Fail

  1. Yes, an old adage originally quoted from Benjamin Franklin. “Fail to plan. Plan to fail.” It’s always left me “stuck” actually.

      1. It left me stuck because whenever I planned ahead thier seemed to always be an obstacle. An obstacle that was too hard to ignore. An obstacle that would put someone else in a bind. When in reality, I myself was in a riskier bind than they were because my mental health wasn’t in a good place from the start.

    1. Sorry for the late reply! WordPress had this marked as spam for some reason. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! Glad you found those tips helpful 🙂

  2. “Man makes plans and God laugh” is one of my favourite saying because it’s so true.
    I had a similar discussion yesterday. A 23-year-old acquitance spoke with certainty of his cousin realising his dream of being a millionaire poker player by leaving college and giving his all to it. And I was the bad guy/girl saying that I wish him the best and he should follow his dreams, but in life nothing is certain and we all should have plans B, C…

    1. Ah yes, the voice of reason. So many people hate to hear it, but they need to. It’s important to follow our dreams, but it’s important to have Plan B and C to make it easier to get back up and start again. Otherwise, failing at A can mean failing overall and never recovering.

  3. So relatable to countless situations and a good reminder. I also love these two sentences:
    “That means more than just having a plan B. It means working your way as far down the alphabet as you can.”

    Great job!

    1. Thank you! WordPress ate this comment too apparently. I think I should check my spam folder more often haha.

      That’s my favorite quote from the article as well, at risk of patting myself on the back.

  4. I love the we make plans quote. I have included it in my memoir. I wanted to become a doctor but I eventually became a Natural Medicines therapist after a further 15 years. I am glad God laughed !

    1. Hahahahaha. That’s a good one! Yes, indeed. Sometimes not getting what we want is a marvelously good stroke of luck! Glad you’re happy doing what you love now. – Alex

  5. Oh my, yes, life doesn’t get easier. Ascalways, great article. I have learned that bit is harder to “get over” a disappointment that your child feels than a disappointment of your own. My son is hurting and I couldn’t sleep for a week. I wonder if anyone else feels that way.

    1. I didn’t know that. I’m sorry to hear it. I hope he gets better soon. I’m pretty sure I put my parents through similar hurt. I was very sickly as a child. I still am as an adult, though I keep that hidden pretty well. – Alex

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