What do you do when things don’t go as you planned?
At the end of last semester, I became swamped. Grading student papers took a full week. My students’ papers were so excellent, my initial plans to just dash through them fell by the wayside as I read their heartfelt summaries of what they had gained during the semester. The good news is that they inspired me tremendously. During the week or so that I read through their papers, I saw clearly why this work is important, why I do what I do, and how it can foster personal achievement and success.
After grading was finished, I planned a hiatus during the Christmas holidays. I even had the audacity of imagining myself staying in bed all day reading whatever I wanted and getting clear on my goals for 2012.
But…as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” Life for me came in the form of computer and cell phone breakdowns, family and personal illnesses and upsets, and my own thwarted determination to dejunk piles of papers that had more nostalgic benefit than current utility.
How did I handle it?
For the most part, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other to keep going (with an occasional time-out for a pity party, allowing myself to feel just plain miserable). Fortunately, I no longer go into the “Why me?” frame of mind. I know why me. It’s because bad things happen to all of us. Nothing goes smoothly and perfectly. Change is not linear. It occurs in fits and starts, dips and rebounds. We learn and grow through adversity. And while I don’t like to think that anyone suffers to learn a lesson, I do believe that adversity creates an opportunity for us to grow, if we are willing.
We define “Leading Consciously” as “the ability to examine yourself, become conscious of your automatic habits, patterns, and beliefs, and to choose new behaviors as a result of the expanded awareness.” In other words, instead of doing what you have always done, deliberately step out of autopilot into conscious assessment of what assumptions, emotions, and behaviors got you to where you are and what new assumptions, emotions, and behaviors it will take to get you where you would like to go.
At one point, I had been stuck in my autopilot pity party for about a week. Finally, I reflected on what it means to lead consciously and decided to make the shift.
With the pity party behind me and the future bright in front of me, here’s what I learned in hindsight:
- I can either ruminate over how wrong everything has turned out or I can deliberately force myself to still my mind, meditate, and then ask for guidance. If I do the latter, I always get redirected toward a possible solution. The challenge is to make the conscious decision to not just wallow in repetitive rehashing of what went wrong. Instead, go into stillness and then listen for guidance.
- Love is plentiful and all around us. All we have to do is to allow ourselves to experience it and to let in the vulnerability of it. Brene Brown, a colleague, talks about “the power of vulnerability.” How right she is! There is great power in allowing ourselves (myself) to feel vulnerable and to reach out to others for help.
- Even if I slow down, the world doesn’t stop. Things that are most important to me are not lost forever. I may not get things done as fast as I would have liked or in the way I would have liked. I may even be redirected toward a new possibility. Yet what emerges often turns out to be better than what I had originally planned. And, no matter what, there is *always* so much to be grateful for.
For me, the new year has finally begun.