Life is funny, isn’t it?
From the beginning of my freshman year of high school, my goal was to be in the select Jazz Choir for my junior and senior year. It was going to happen. It didn’t matter that only 16 voices got selected. It didn’t matter that I needed to fit it into my schedule. I just KNEW. And when the roster was posted at the end of my sophomore year and my name was under the altos, my goal had been fulfilled.
The day after the list was posted, my dad was offered a job in Michigan. My heart sank because no matter what my mom said about it not being a definite thing, I knew. Within months we were moving across two time zones back to the Midwest. My Jazz Choir dreams were no longer.
When I left for college I determined that the stars would align and I would meet my future husband within weeks of my freshman year and we would fall in love and have the perfect college romance.
Except, I had met this boy on a cool Michigan summer night and even though he was 600 miles away I couldn’t get him out of my head. Eventually we started dating long distance and I married him instead.
Although I was Midwest raised, I couldn’t get the Rockies out of my head and I decided that when I graduated from college I was destined to move back out west. Student teaching in Denver, Colorado seemed to be the sign that it was destiny.
But my first real job offer was at a small school on the far south side of Chicago. Six months after my December wedding, my new husband and I were packing up all of our belongings in a small U-Haul and driving them to northwest Indiana, our home for the next three years. Instead of an arid climate and mountain views, we got humidity and Chicagoland traffic. And I continue to see the humor in the fact that when we finally did head west, instead of desert and snowcapped mountains we found ourselves in hot, humid southeast Texas, facing hurricanes instead of blizzards.
During the years I have been lucky enough to teach John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, I also teach Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse,” the basis for the novel’s title. After the speaker plows over the mouse’s home and ponders the short-term plans of the mouse and how those plans compare to those of humans, he says, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley.”
Our best-laid plans, more often than not, do not work out the way that we originally intended.
And that can be hard to accept. I am an obsessive planner. I planned every step of high school and watched those plans crumble because of circumstances outside of my adolescent control. I planned the imaginary boy who would someday become my husband and instead fell in love with a boy who was what I really needed instead of what I had dreamed about. I planned to be a mom by my mid-20s and saw those dreams postponed by career shifts and an uncooperative body. I planned to spend the rest of my adult life in a single location, and instead moved long and then much longer distances away from the friends and family we were supposed to stay geographically close to.
Far too many times I have felt like the mouse in Robert Burn’s poem; just when I am cozy and believe I have life figured out, everything appears to fall apart.
But I’ve learned that when the plans appear to blow up in my face, something else is born out of the explosion. More often than not, I discover that there was something that fit me better on the other side, even if that meant taking a completely different direction than I had originally intended.
While I admittedly hold on to a small piece of the disappointment from not being in Jazz Choir, the move to a different state resulted in a stronger academic program, a memorable high school theatre experience, and eventually meeting my husband of sixteen years. While I wanted to have children much earlier, being forced to wait allowed me to strengthen my teaching skills, benefitting my present and future students. While I desperately wanted to stay in one location, being forced to move put me on a path towards graduate school, which led to my dream teaching job, moving to a state that has been a new family adventure, and the beginning of my professional development as a writer.
I know that there are a lot of things out of our control that can hold us back from our personal aspirations. We can’t control where we are born and the family that we are born into. We can’t control illness and job losses that temporarily or permanently derail our dreams. We can’t control the actions of others that create detours that make it overwhelmingly difficult to find our way back to the main highway.
But sometimes, we do hold the power to decide how we are going to respond to the curveballs that life throws our way. We can choose to wallow in our disappointment, or we can accept that the goals need to change and look for the ways we can use those curveballs for something different. Sometimes that something different will just be something different. Sometimes that something different will be something better than we ever imagined.
Either way, learning to dream differently helps us to achieve what often initially appears to be unachievable, changing our lives, and the lives of those around us, for the better.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!