Plans and Improvisation

I am a ‘Type A’ personality and a bit of a control freak, so I tend to always have to have a plan. I have come to realize, however, that planning is good, but not always practical. Or more specifically, plans don’t necessarily work out the way that we intended. It is good to be able to have a clear plan in view, but it is just as important to be able to adapt to the randomness that will inevitably creep in and throw that plan off course.

I had a clear trajectory for my life, which included 5 years of university, 6 internships, and upon graduation, 6 months to 1 year of struggling to get in at the bottom rung of a publishing company and work my way up the ladder for the next 5 years into the position of my dreams. This is all well and good, but I quickly began to realize that it is delusional and childish thinking. It’s been 3 years since graduating from my Masters program and I am no closer to that bottom rung.


I used to think that if something didn’t quite work out the way that I intended, that I had failed in some way. If I didn’t get the job, I probably said or did something wrong in the interview. If I didn’t achieve the dream that I set out for myself, I must be somehow lacking in some desired skill or trait. So, even with over $30,000 of student loan debt hanging over my head, I was convinced that I just needed to take more professional development courses and go to networking events and somehow I would get the ‘big break’ I was waiting for. I kept telling myself that throwing away some of my hard earned low-income salary on courses and ‘networking events’ were an essential investment in my future and were a necessary step to sticking to the plan and keeping my career goals on track. I didn’t know how to think outside of my academic bubble and more education seemed to be the only answer to me.

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. I spent three years insanely trying to make my career take off. I finally got to a point where I realized that my life wasn’t working out as planned and I was tired of trying the same avenues, so I made the radical decision to deviate from the plan. I decided that my career wasn’t going anywhere, but I was going to lose my mind if I didn’t break the chain. I made the radical decision to STOP focusing on my career, the one thing that consumed my thoughts day and night and made me lose sleep, and focus just on me.

After all, there was definitely more to me than my job (or lack thereof), but somehow I had lost sight of that. I had gotten to a point where I forgot who I was outside of my self-imposed title of failure ‘three years and no career in sight.’ I didn’t like this about myself and I didn’t like how much importance I was placing on my career. I was stuck in the delusional thinking that ‘everything will be better when…,’ and I was placing all of my happiness on this ‘thing’ that seemed to keep alluding me. Self-confidence and happiness is not a goal for the future with prerequisites; happiness is a personal choice in the present.

So I thought, what makes me happy? What do I enjoy the most and is something I would do with my free time that has absolutely nothing to do with work and building a career? The answer was travel. So, although it wasn’t planned, it definitely was needed. I saved up my money for a flight instead of for more courses and networking events, and I applied for my work and travel visa and came to Germany (which I have mentioned in many articles already).

The thought overwhelms me even now. Take some time to think about this. What if every time our plans don’t work out and we feel hopeless, defeated, and lost…what if we have actually succeeded at moving our life boat one step closer to the finish line that is just out of view? What if in the moments that we fail, we are really succeeding in getting to the very point that we are supposed to be heading towards?

I like this idea very much and am now thinking about ‘failure’ in a completely different way, and I think a much healthier way. Plans are good. Thinking your plan has failed, though, isn’t. So maybe, when things don’t go according to plan, think of these moments as not failures, but improvisations; necessary deviations that are directing you in the way that you should go.

In the words of the very wise John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”