Everyone has a plan ′till they get punched in the mouth. Mike Tyson
Are you living the life you envisioned when you were 21? I don’t know many people over 50 who are still on their “Plan A.” My Plan A went out the window the day my parents told my brother, sister and me they were getting a divorce. We each turned to each other and said, “This happens to other people’s families, not to our family.”
Unexpected things happen on the way to realizing our vision of an accomplished career, growing business, sizable net worth, marital bliss, above-average children, and a low handicap. Life is just a series of unexpected events.
We live our life torn between our dreams and reality. At the start of our life we have expectations that fail to be met. By the time we hit adolescence and young adulthood we want to make our mark and we want life to start delivering us big things. Most entrepreneurs and executives are fueled by the desire to achieve. We need to be seen, be independent or make a difference. We have something to prove to someone or ourselves. In this stage of our life our ego is under construction as we set off on a quest for our version of the Good Life.
On the way to success we get fired, we make investments that don’t turn out so good, our business fails, our marriage falls either flat or apart, our kids have learning issues or can’t find their passion, or someone gets sick or dies. If you haven’t experienced one or more of these situations then you’re either the exception or you are young.
I was so insecure through my early teens that every day I looked forward to reaching the emotional safety of my house. I’d have my mother tell friends that came to the door that I was sick. By my late teens I had developed coping mechanisms to the point that I was running my own business, working two jobs, building a big bank balance, and walking with a swagger that all hid my pubescent insecurities. I continued adding layers to my vulnerability well into my thirties.
Success was not helping me to grow. I assumed setbacks like a missed promotion, financial loss or relationship blow up (or two or three) were someone else’s fault. It took getting fired from the CEO post at a very visible publicly-traded company and two financial meltdowns to finally wake up.
At some point in our lives everyone comes to a crossroads of sorts. We can see that the path to our dream life is getting rocky. We start to realize there are limits to what hard work, clever moves and money can do to fix certain problems. My getting fired at 35 hurt and my ego started to unravel. There was no fixing things when my client’s young son died in a car accident. There was no book of answers to turn to when my friend discovered he had a problem with opioids that he used to cope with a slowly deteriorating business and rapidly deteriorating marriage. Eventually life serves up an existential bind that tests our not our resolve but our maturity.
We’re not getting out of here without loss and pain and we can’t control the form and timing of our crisis but we do get to choose how we will respond. We typically make one of three choices:
Choice 1: Rebuild. Continue the ego construction project: work harder, prove yourself again, accumulate more, and get rid of the people out there who are “at fault.”
Choice 2: Resignation. Resign yourself to life’s betrayal, build enough resentment to offset the expectations you created, commit to never being hurt again and play it safe but small.
Choice 3: Grow. Get curious, get present, take a risk, transform your anger, shift from focusing outward to tunneling inward and discover the gift in the crisis.
What to Do When Life Gets Rough
Life is hard. Your goal is not to make life good or to make the universe march to your drum. Your goal is to know when it’s time to change your rhythm and stop fighting with reality. It is to notice the expectation or dream you were operating under and to understand what your life is trying to teach you. Happiness is just on the other side of your resentment, indignation and resistance to reality.
Our thoughts and actions make a difference while at the same time we are enmeshed in a quantum entanglement in which other forces are at play. Regardless of what happens in our lives we always get to choose our relationship to our experience. We can react to our pain or we can transform it in a way that helps us evolve and see the beauty beneath the pain.
If your experience is anything like mine, you have lost track of what letter life plan you’re on. The Good Life doesn’t happen to us or because of us, it happens through us. You live the Good Life when you choose to dance between asserting your will and error-correcting when the world gives you feedback. You respond to life’s challenges with the right balance between action and awe. You choose to grieve loss and discover the gift in everything. You live with the paradox of being simultaneously present and holding a vision for what’s possible.
What life are you choosing to live?