13 Lessons From a Life That Did Not Go As Planned

I don’t know about you, but my life has not gone the way I thought it would go. If it had, I’m not sure exactly where I’d be, but it would not be here—in Nashville, TN—at the coffee shop where I spend most of my mornings typing away on my computer and running a small business.

did-not-go-as-planned

I was joking with a friend the other day that I came to Nashville kicking and screaming and then somehow fell in love with it.

Isn’t is so crazy how this happens?

How, of the things we love most in our lives, so few of them would be ours without this wandering path we’ve walked to get them.

Here are 13 things I’ve learned from a life that did not go as planned.

1. Most advice is total BS.

I hate to say it, but it’s true. Most of the advice out there, even the really well-meaning stuff, is total crap. A good bit of pop psychology and self help and just about every “guru” and even religion will make it seem like if you just follow their program, their system, their set of rules… your life is going to be perfect and painless.

It’s so strange to me.

Since from the beginning of time there has never been any such thing as a perfect or painless life, and since the lives of people we admire most—the people we desire to be like—were neither perfect nor painless.

Martin Luther King Jr. Buddha. Mother Theresa. Jesus.

From them we learn that the way of meaning is always a way of love, and that the way of love is tangled up with sacrifice, heartbreak, hardship and pain.

Life hurts sometimes? It probably means you’re doing it right.

2. You are exactly where you’re meant to be.

Or perhaps you’re not. Who knows.

But you’re the only place you can be. The only possible place you can be in the world, in history, right here, right now.

This is where you are.

Period.

So the most insane thing you could possibly do—the only truly counter-productive thing—is to try and be somewhere different, to lie or hide or fantasize that you are someone or something you are not. The only way we can ever make any progress, have any enjoyment, find any meaning or purpose in our lives is to just… let it be.

Let it be true that you are right where you are, right now.

Here you are. In this place that you maybe, perhaps, would not prefer to be. But here you are, nonetheless.

Let it be true.

The truth, as they say, will set you free.

3. Don’t play it cool.

If there were an olympic sport of acting “totally chill” about something you do not feel “totally chill” about, I am convinced I would win the gold medal. “Sure, no problem,” “Whatever works best for you…” “I’m just happy when you’re happy”… this sort of BS. And yet I am learning that playing it cool is just another way of resisting and lying and hiding in a life that is not my own.

I am learning to be not-so-chill.

Like… no, that will not work for me. No, that does not sound fun to me. I’m actually pissed/sad/ashamed/humiliated about that thing and NOT “totally fine” about it as I originally stated. No, I can’t make that work. No, I don’t want to come.

No thank you. Please leave me alone.

I actually really like you.

That sort of thing.

This doesn’t come naturally to me.

I tend to hesitate and tremble and bumble my way through and apologize unnecessarily for having feelings or thoughts or ideas about things that might inconvenience or disappoint or hurt anyone who is connected to me.

But I am doing it anyway.

Speaking up. Saying things. Using my voice, no matter what it costs..

4. Art is everything.

I don’t know why it is that we have measured creativity as “second rate” in our culture. Second to efficiency and productivity and sports and money and more important “intellectual” pursuits. But art is not secondary.

Art is everything.

Art is resistance and resilience and survival.

How we do art is how we do life.

The most courageous and spectacular and phenomenal creative work we will do is to shape the life we are living. Impossible to do this without mess and failure and pain and fear and vulnerability.

Time to get our hands dirty.

5. Don’t wait to be happy.

Be happy NOW. Right this minute. 

Despite what so-and-so thinks about you. Despite the rejection. Despite the fact that you don’t have all the things you thought you’d have. Despite your loneliness, your grief. Be also happy.

Don’t make your happiness contingent on anyone.

You are in charge of your own happiness.

Give yourself permission to be wildly, stupidly, ridiculously happy right this minute.

6. Life is not happening to you.

YOU are happening to your life.

It’s not that you have 100{9ac618bfda39dd0c8c9a0232963cb9a2adfe54a7367c2d4954ad9e847b2e5305} control over your circumstances. It is that you have so much more control than you ever dreamed possible. I have wasted so much time whining and complaining about the way “things” should have gone, and all along I have ignored what was right in front of me: the power to change me.

Life didn’t turn out how you planned. So what?

Time to write a new ending.

7. Soft is strong.

We spend a lot of time talking about how we need to be “strong” to face life’s challenges, but I have to wonder if this is really working. If all this “hardening” isn’t making us brittle.

When things didn’t go our way, we shatter.

These days the challenge for me is to stay soft. And wow, does it takes strength to do it, to give in, to go with the rip tide, to let things take you exactly where they’re going to take you, to stop digging your heels in. The more I do it—the softer I become—the stronger I get. Real strength. True strength. Strong like water.

She bends, but she doesn’t break.

Soft and strong.

8. You do not have to be good

It was Mary Oliver who first said this but it’s finally making sense to me.

You do not have to be good.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

I tried for years to be a good woman, a good friend, a good Christian, a good daughter a good wife… and the funny thing was, the harder I tried to be these things, the worse I became at the only thing that actually matters—telling the truth. Not bashing people over the head with what I have decided is “true” for them, but showing up… showing the truth of me.

Open and vulnerable. Here I am.

I do not have to be good. I only have to be human.

Actually the hardest, most terrifying, most life-changing thing I’ve ever done.

9. Nothing is worth the trade.

A thousand times in my life I’ve traded my heart, my soul, my passions, my voice my integrity for a paycheck, a job, a sense of security, a relationship, a title, a status, access to the inner-circle, a feeling of being invited to the club. I feel myself easing into it… “well, it’s just for now,” “It’s not that big of a deal…” “I can make this work…”

And yet nothing—NO THING—has ever ever been worth the trade.

At the end of the day, when it all falls apart, when the house of cards you’ve built comes crashing down… all that’s left is… you. Your greatest investment.

The only true form of life insurance.

Your #1 security plan.

If you have you, you have everything.

10. Go all the way for what you love

Be passionate. Be two feet in. Go all the way for the things you love.

Sure, it makes you vulnerable and it’s scary and other people may not care as much as you do… that’s okay. They’re not supposed to. It’s not their job.

It’s yours.

So go ahead. Dive in, head first. Love what you love.

11. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.

When you go the way of love, you’re bound to get hurt. It’s impossible for this not to happen.

Forgive as quickly as possible. Forgive all the time. Practice it every morning.

Start with yourself.

Forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive.

Freedom is found on the other side of forgiveness.

12. This is Not An Accident

This place you are right now—the place that seems so impossible and so cruel and so tragic that it could not possibly be real, let alone be orchestrated or even allowed by a God who cares about you and loves you and sees your pain. Even this.

This terrible burning of you. It’s not an accident.

It belongs, as Richard Rohr would say.

The loss of your love belongs as much as the happy years you spent with her. The devastation of your career belongs as much as the years where you were celebrated for your accomplishments. The tragic end of your marriage, somehow, BELONGS, as much as the vows you took on that first day you stepped into it.

It seems so impossible.

How could this be true?

We are being shown slowly—those of us who are learning to stay—that the pain adds up to something over time. All the shaking and shattering that seems so cruel—it is a great grace, helping you get to that soft and tender part of yourself that has been hiding for so long.

13. No such thing as missing your own boat.

When you’re done hiding, done resisting, done blaming and making this about everybody else, you come into the light and discover that all the the opportunities you’ve been waiting for, all the love, all of the joy you thought was “out there” in the distant future is actually right here, right now.

It’s been waiting.

You did not miss it. It’s not too late. There is no such thing as missing your own boat. Life will keep waiting, keep bringing these things around to us again and again. You might miss somebody else’s boat but you can never, ever miss yours.

What would you do if you knew this was true? If you knew there was nothing to prove, nothing to muscle into place, no reason to compete with the people you want to love?

Relax.

Your boat is waiting.

It’s impossible to miss it.

13 comments on “13 Lessons From a Life That Did Not Go As Planned

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, advice and life with us so we can be inspired, motivated and relieved that we are not alone in the kicking and screaming sometimes!

    Sarah Butland
    author of Being Grateful, Being Thankful

  2. Number 13? WHAM. Superb.
    Those of us who are learning to stay….
    (As opposed to dreaming of becoming a Lighthouse attendant. My reclusive writings dug up years later like Emily Dickinson😂)
    Nothing has ever been worth the trade. (Truth)
    You do not have to be good. M.O.
    Deciding truth for others.
    No matter what it costs.
    Art truly is everything and it is how we do life.
    We can’t see it but engineers have built into massive structures such as bridges and skyscrapers, ways to bend without breaking against the winds of life.
    Thankyou Allison.
    I love your writings.
    ☺ 💙

    • Ooh, I love that image of bridges and skyscrapers bending but not breaking. It makes me think of how I heard once that the word “integrity” was originally an architectural term, meaning a structure could stand strong in the face of high winds and rain, etc. What an amazing image. Love that. Thanks for sharing Greg.

  3. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like wild geese, harsh and exciting —
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.
    -Mary Oliver
    You rock Allison!

    Jen

  4. This is one of the best lists of this type of reminders that I have EVER read on the internet! Thank you so much for sharing it with the world. You definitely have a gift in stringing words together so they are effective.

  5. I can relate with everything you have said here Allison. I am spending Thanksgiving in tears and absolutely distraught because I got a news a day before that made mockery of my efforts this year. I was ans still angry at life, myself and God. Nothing I set out to do this year has worked out. I mean everything I have worked for, hoped for and invested in. I was hoping for this “stuff” to happen. I even prayed to God to give it to me as a Thanksgiving cheer and birthday gift as my birthday is close. I was upbeat, hopeful and grateful. Then the news came on the 22nd. It felt like my heart was run over by a military grade truck. All my hopes and dreams and I am still unable to process the grief I feel. I have cried several times every day since then. Why me? I am a good person and I live right. I have done all the sages have asked me to do and nothing seem to be working. I am the most determined person I know in my network and even the most tenacious most people know (they tell me that), but here I am; it seems like I have just had series of failure and losses all through the year. I have no one around me to support me and I want to give up. I suddenly had the urge to read from you and looked for your article in my email and I came to this one. I could relate with all and I cam to number 12 which stopped me on my tracks.

    “This is Not An Accident

    This place you are right now—the place that seems so impossible and so cruel and so tragic that it could not possibly be real, let alone be orchestrated or even allowed by a God who cares about you and loves you and sees your pain. Even this.

    This terrible burning of you. It’s not an accident.”

    But how? Life has been unfair.

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