Learn to Plan – or Plan to Fail

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?

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.

Personal Application

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.

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26 Comments Add yours

  1. Reblogged this on TwoToneTheArtist and commented:
    Few things ever go exactly as planned.

    Like

  2. evmoog says:

    Such awesome encouragement. Will continue to plan for the unexpected and learn to move past failures. Thanks for the words!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. College Mate says:

      You’re welcome. I’m glad I can encourage you and others to stick with it and move forward. – Alex

      Like

  3. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. College Mate says:

      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

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lisalemuya says:

    i love this article very encouraging am definitely going to share it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. College Mate says:

      Thanks Lisa! I hope it encourages others as well, when you do 🙂

      Like

  5. 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 !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. College Mate says:

      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

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Sorry for the late reply! WordPress had this marked as spam for some reason. So happy you were able to live your dream though! That sounds amazing 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. 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!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. College Mate says:

      Thank you! Always glad I can encourage people to pick themselves up and try again.

      Like

    2. 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.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. “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…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. College Mate says:

      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.

      Like

  8. Arohii says:

    I really liked those three tips and second you on all three. Also, the quote is true as God has his own plans. Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. College Mate says:

      Thank you. Glad you found the tips useful. 🙂 -Alex

      Liked by 1 person

    2. 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 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  9. she says:

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

    Liked by 1 person

    1. College Mate says:

      That’s exactly where the title of the post came from. 🙂

      Like

    2. Why did it leave you stuck? Sorry for the late reply! WordPress had this marked as spam for some reason.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. she says:

        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.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. College Mate says:

        I hope you’ve overcome that obstacle. I like to focus on the plan rather than the obstacle itself to keep my mind at ease.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. she says:

        I finally have and thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. College Mate says:

        You’re welcome 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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