At one point in time, I had four planners. My favorite one consisted of a detailed, meticulous ten-year plan. I was confident in the plans I created and did not leave room for adjustments. After all, I knew what I wanted.
With this mentality, I prepared for my final year of college. I was studying special education, and I even had a teaching job waiting for me upon graduation. But to my surprise, I started to feel a restless “itch” I could not explain or identify. It became more intense as the start of my senior year approached.
In response to this nagging sense of unrest, I began to actually pray about my future. I was shocked when God gave me an unmistakably clear and yet terrifying instruction: “Change your major, drop your plans, and trust Me.” So, despite my natural inclinations and desires, I changed my major three days before the start of my final year of college.
I quickly became overwhelmed by the weight of this change. For the first time, I had no idea what I would be doing in six months, let alone in ten years. I now had no job waiting for me after graduation, which was looming in the not-so-distant future. I was studying leadership, a broad field that yielded an infinite amount of possibilities. I craved the safety and predictability I had known. A part of me wanted to hate the new direction I had started. I wanted to return to my four beautiful planners and rigid predictability.
But to my surprise, I flourished. I found purpose and passion that I had not even realized were absent in the first place.
The remainder of that year was characterized by an almost constant state of change. As soon as I thought I figured out what my life would look like, a new opportunity would emerge to throw me off-track. Each new change brought a wave of frustration, sometimes even verging on despair. However, each new surprise also brought a new layer of joy and aliveness that I never imagined possible.
Eventually, I gave up making choices based on my future goals and achievements. Instead, my purpose began to dictate my decisions. My life became less about pursuing plans and more about pursuing purpose. The result of this subtle, yet profound mental transition was freedom from self-imposed pressure. I stopped worrying about changing my plans, and I began to embrace changes.
I still think about the future. I have goals, but they are about fulfilling God’s purpose for my life. When I start to object to an unwanted change, I remind myself of the purpose, passion, joy, and freedom I have now gained. I am more ready to accept newness because I have experienced the beauty that comes from letting go of my perceived control of the future.
I have come to enjoy investing more energy on my life as it is today than on my anticipated future. As a result, after seeing my original future, though beautifully and wonderfully thwarted, I am finally down to just one planner.
How can you adjust your long-term goals to allow for unexpected circumstances? As you enter the New Year and start planning, I want to challenge you to do so while being open to other options as well. When change comes, and it will, take the time to look for beauty and joy in the newness. Try writing down the passions and delightful discoveries that come as a result of the unexpected, and refer to this list when change gets hard.
Rather than avoiding opportunities that are not “part of the plan,” look for ways to grow and thrive in the midst of change.