I’ve been thinking lately about how the plans we make for our lives rarely come true the way we expect. Of course, this is something people tell you as you age. We hear teachers, pastors, and parents constantly say things about expecting the unexpected, as counterintuitive as it may be.
“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans…” you know, the usual clichés. But I don’t think we fully grasp what that means until we have enough life experience, or at least one major formative event, to look back and recognize just how true this is. I know with an unshakeable confidence now that God gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want.
One of the most beautiful things about childhood is the wild imagination. To create fearlessly, to dream tirelessly, and to imagine wildly are all markers of the innocence of childhood. You dream about what your life will look like as a teenager, then college student, then young adult, then parent, etc.
As a child, I used to write because of the pure joy it gave me to tell stories. The prospect of using the exact same words and language as many others before me yet the story was new every time? It was pure magic. Stories are magic.
But as the years go by, some slower than others, walls form in our minds and our hearts. These walls are often cultural messages about who a young woman or man should be. They are societal messages about what success should look like. Sometimes they’re familial messages about what values you should have. Or internal messages about whether you’re good enough and why or why not.
Time passes and it becomes harder to create with abandon, to imagine without fear, and to dream out loud. I’ve come to understand it’s the walls, the barriers, within us that are often the hardest to overcome. They hinder our ability to tell honest stories.
How many of us have willingly settled for less even though we knew we deserved more? Or perhaps you made assumptions about others that led you to treat them worse than they deserved? Maybe you’ve doubted your innate abilities and gifts, pursued things for the wrong reasons, criticized yourself too much, or silenced your own voice out of fear? Of course. We’re human.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes and less-than-ideal decisions over the years. But from those decisions, I’ve gained important lessons, funny memories, and formative experiences. They weren’t experiences I planned. In fact, they were sometimes ones I actively tried to avoid.
Yet amid the difficult seasons, I’ve also gone after what I wanted by applying to and getting jobs/internships for which I wasn’t sure I was qualified. I’ve voiced my opinions in classrooms and meetings. I’ve been honest even when it terrified me. I’ve trusted God and accepted uncertainty. I’ve taken chances that paid off. I’ve apologized and forgiven others.
So, what I’m trying to say is the idea of life working out the way you want it to doesn’t even make sense. How could any of us possibly predict all the people we’ve met, lessons learned, heartbreak endured, risks taken, and experiences that have shaped us?
Of course we have some say in the direction our lives go. This is not suggest we must all roam aimlessly without plans for the future. It’s simply to argue that those in-between moments, the unexpected moments of pain or joy, are what make a life.
This takes us back to the best thing about a child’s imagination. Children don’t dream about their future to be certain of it. They dream because the uncertainty is exhilarating to a young mind. Their imagination is boundless. All the different journeys are equally promising, equally open to possibilities. Our imagination never abandons us. Rather, we abandon it. Often by accident, without ever knowing.
I’m at somewhat of a crossroads in my life. I suppose we all always are. We are always facing forks in the road. Different paths to take. We just might not have our eyes open enough to notice. We assume we’ve already chosen our path, so we can’t possibly change course now. But a child who dreams of becoming a doctor or a teen who contemplates becoming a scientist doesn’t suddenly feel locked into this proposition. No, they become liberated by it.
We aren’t supposed to become prisoners of our dreams. The moment our dreams begin to confine us is the moment we need to explore other ones. Nothing squashes a dreamer’s spirit more than feeling trapped. If breaking free from a confined life means quitting a job, packing up and moving, leaving an unhealthy relationship, or taking a chance on a new one, then by all means we must do it.
The only certain thing about life is its uncertainty. I know that’s not a new idea but accepting this uncertainty while holding onto our creative imagination for dear life is the only meaningful way to live.
I used to chase degrees and resume lines like they would ultimately define my success in the world. As if, at a certain point, I would finally feel like I made it. I used to view everything I did as small steps toward reaching “my dreams”. But looking back on the last 26 years of my life, my fondest memories occurred during the seasons of my life when I didn’t know where the journey would take me. My favorite, happiest times occurred when I gave in fully to the present and let the future remain a blank state.
I think that’s why I’ve been a writer since I was little. You quite literally give yourself a blank page and lean into it. You don’t know what will end up on the page when you begin—you’re not even sure while you’re doing it. You just trust the process.
And it’s only after you finish writing that you read over the pages and acknowledge what you chose to fill it with. If you don’t like the story it tells, you know there is always another page waiting. But, on those lucky occasions when the words arrive effortlessly, they become the lighted torch you carry when the sky darkens and the road dissolves.