Unexpected Lessons from an Unplanned Life

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When I was maybe 19 or 20 years old, I had this weird secret fantasy of being dropped off into the wilderness, left to see if I could survive. I wondered how long I could last with only my wits and my hands. I wanted to "see what I'm made of," as I remember thinking.

Of course now, sitting on my couch in a warm apartment, shielded from the bitter-cold snow, that idea sounds like CRAZY TALK. Me? The girl who avoids camping at all costs? Who despises bugs? Alone in the wilderness? Haaaaa.

But I'm no stranger to that "Lemme see what I'm made of" mentality. It's what propelled me through college crew practice, where I pushed my body to its physical limits. It's what motivated me to opt for a drug-free labor.

Sheer curiosity as to what I'm capable of handling.

And it was never fun to test my limits, of course; it was excruciating. But the end result was always worth it: Character-affirming pride. A silent nod from myself to myself. An internal high-five.

***

We grow up thinking that we can plan our lives from Point A to Point B. With the right grades, the right degree, the right attitude and determination, we have full control over who we are and who we will be.

I did, at least.

I didn't look at the world as being rife with inconsistencies and sheer luck. Does anyone? How about the man browsing the self-help section, searching for how to be more passionate, more responsible, or happier? What about the woman making resolutions to be more THIS and less THAT this year? What about the college student sitting on her dorm bed with a pen and paper, plotting the trajectory of her career over the next two decades?

Do they know what I know?

So many of my changes, in my life, in my self, have sprung from life's sucker punches and unpaved detours. From picking myself up and moving — just moving, instinctively — without scripts or maps. Unplanned pregnancy, unforeseen job changes, an unexpected illness that continuously tests my limits as a wife and a human.

Bam — I'm changed. I'm different. In all the ways I need to be. 

Of course I keep making to-do lists, business plans, goals. But behind it all, I know that my plans have to be fluid, flexible, because anything could happen next. Behind it all, I know that the unplanned moments have been the most important ones — important for my development as an adult (my perspective, tolerance, understanding, maturity), and important in finally seeing through the bullcrap and filtering through the nonsense.

Bullcrap = the importance and effectiveness of careful planning.

Bullcrap = the avoidance of any kind of unhappiness or pain or struggle.

I understand why we're programmed to pick the safe choices, minimize our pain, and limit our vulnerability. It isn't fun to to go through an emotionally or physically trying experience; it's excruciating. But it's also reality. It's the human experience. And there are brighter moments on the other side, peppered with pride, growth, and deep understanding.

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It's the unplanned struggles that have been the most necessary.

I'm sure I could have lived a perfectly fine life if I had stayed on the well-beaten path, without any unexpected obstacles in my way. But I'm grateful to have been dropped in the goddamn wilderness of my life.

I'm grateful to know what I'm made of.