So, here I am on January 20, 2014 and I’m just now beginning to reflect on 2013. It was a crazy year for me filled with many good things (i.e., graduating with my master’s degree; getting a job; seeing Josh Groban), and some events that I wish I could erase. I’m a planner and I pride myself on knowing what to do in these situations. Because things often didn’t go as I planned in 2013, I often found myself a little unprepared for how to handle new and challenging situations. As such, I wanted to share a few of the lessons I learned in the last year, so that you can be prepared in case you find yourself in a similar situation. These lessons aren’t things that you haven’t heard before; I don’t proclaim to be presenting you with rocket science. However, sometimes hearing these things from another person can help them seem more applicable to you. Enjoy 🙂
Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected.
We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. – Randy Pausch
It’s not rocket science, folks. We all have preconceived notions about how our lives will play out. We get it into our heads that we are going to follow a linear path that will be smooth sailing with very few waves. We’re going to go to college, graduate, meet the love of our life, get married, have kids…and, well, you know how the story is supposed to end, right? Unfortunately, life rarely takes us in the exact direction that we had expected. Sadly, we’re so caught up in how we think our lives should play out that we’re often unprepared when things don’t go our way. In 2013, I was certain that I was going to get into a PhD program…so certain that I never took a second to think about what would happen if I didn’t. This leads us to the second lesson.
Lesson #2: Have a back-up plan.
You can always change your plan, but only if you have one. – Randy Pausch
Because we often have it set it in our minds that things will turn out as anticipated, we rarely bother to have a back-up plan. We don’t think about what will happen if things don’t go our way. This is what gets us into trouble. I know that some people might not want to have a back-up plan because they’re afraid to think about the possibility of having to use it. Or, people might not have a plan B because they’re superstitious and think it may jinx them. I get it. It makes you realize that there’s a possibility that you may deviate from your life’s course and that you may have no control over this. Although it’s hard to admit it, that’s life. Life is full of bumps in the road that throw us off our chosen path. As such, we need to be prepared. When I found out that I wasn’t going to be accepted into a PhD program, I was terrified. For someone who considers herself to be a planner, not having a back-up plan in place was awful. It was scary not knowing what I was going to do with my life, when I’d thought for so long that I’d be spending the next 5 years of my life in school. This is where accepting the next lesson becomes really important.
Lesson #3: Sometimes taking the path less traveled is OK. I promise.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost
When things don’t go the way you had planned, it’s hard. Really, freaking hard. I would actually consider this an understatement. Because we’ve been following a certain path for so long and weren’t anticipating being thrown-off course, it’s really hard to accept anything other than what we’d always had in mind. We think that our life is going to follow a straight path and that we’re going to get to point A to point B with no problems. We have an idea of how things should be. Unfortunately, when we do face these bumps in the road, it’s often hard for us to accept that we won’t be following our chosen path. For me, I thought that I was going to go to college and straight into a PhD program. Obviously, that didn’t happen. When I graduated from my master’s program, the obvious next step was going for my PhD. Also didn’t happen. Learning to accept that (twice) is something that I still struggle with at times. Now, I’m currently working in a great job with wonderful people gaining invaluable experiences and learning more about what I want out of life. It certainly wasn’t expected and it isn’t what I had originally wanted. It’s not the smooth path that I would have originally chosen for myself, but being on this new path has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities that I never knew existed before.
Lesson #4: Don’t just focus on the short-term, focus on the long-term, too.
The future depends on what you do today. – Mahatma Gandhi
When we’re faced with making a decision that we didn’t think we’d have to make, it’s often easy to focus on how our decision will effect us in the present. Too often, we don’t take the time to think about how our decision will impact us in the long-run, when everything that we’re doing now will affect our future. If I had only been focusing on the short-term when I didn’t get into a PhD program, I would have moved back to my parents house in May after graduation and wallowed in self-pity for a couple weeks…or months. However, realizing that if I had a shot at getting into a PhD program in the future, I needed to make a decision that would help me reach my goal and get me back onto my original path. This is where the next lesson is important.
Lesson # 5: Weigh your options.
“When you have to make a hard decision, flip a coin.
Because when that coin is in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping for.” – Anonymous
Despite not having a back-up plan, I had a wonderful support system to help me think through my options. What were my options? What did I want to do? What option would serve as the best stepping-stone to get me to where I wanted to be? I was fortunate enough to have a few job interviews and even more fortunate enough to have a few offers. Making a decision was challenging because it had to be done rather quickly. However, by weighing my options and looking at the pros and cons of everything, I was able to make the best decision for me. And if you’re still having problems determining what you should, just a flip a coin and you’ll have your answer.
Lesson #6: Learn to be OK doing things alone.
If you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone. – Maxwell Maltz
Sometimes when we are thrown off-course, we’re often forced to do things and move places that we never imagined. A job may be available, but it may be in a city where you know very few people. Speaking from experience, this can be very difficult. When you’re used to spending all your spare time with friends who you can call on a whim to go out, it’s a stark contrast to being in a new city with few friends. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I think it’s important that you accept that it’s OK to do things alone. You might be lonely at times and it might be difficult, but it will give you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and focus on yourself and your interests.