There is one overused quotation I see proven true again and again and again and again throughout life: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This nugget of wisdom by Robert Burns has been hammered into the ground for a reason: Rarely do things play out the way we wish them to. It’s stressful. It can be as minor as friends canceling for a night out or as major as a derailed engagement or lost job. If no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, how do we craft a new one?
Dissolved plans hit us nerds especially hard. We like structure. We like to analyze and plot our courses of action. Sometimes we have every step and detail mapped out. There is pleasure in procedure. Then, we’re left high and dry when all of our eggs are placed in one basket and life stomps the eggshells.
It’s like a dungeon master in Dungeons and Dragons: You plot an exciting and grueling crawl through a dungeon, and the players burn down the tavern instead.
Step 1: Chill Out
The first thing that follows a failed plan is panic. The more effort and emotional investment, the more distressing it will be. The five stages of grief may even make an appearance. We cannot make a new plan until we’ve cleared our heads of the noise and the Zubats swarming our every step. Easier said than done, right?
There are several quick and easy steps to get started: take a long, deep breath (or even meditate), exercise, talk with a friend, play some video games, work on a project. Do whatever will take your mind off of the anxiety, depression, anger or fear you may be feeling. Don’t deny yourself the emotion, but you can’t let it control your actions either.
I experienced this first hand in 2014, during my super-senior year of college. I spent half the year preparing an application for a job in Japan teaching English through the JET Program. I wrote ten drafts of my entry essay. I honed my resume and application form to the best I felt it could be. I snagged an interview, and despite an embarrassing moment forgetting the Japanese word for breakfast (asagohan, by the way), I felt confident I’d get an offer.
As you might guess since I’m citing it in this post, it didn’t work out. I wasn’t even offered a spot as an alternate. My world seemed to crash down around me. But, my roommate has my back. He took me on a long walk to trip to our favorite ramen joint. By the time we returned home hours later, some depression remained, but my head was clear enough to decide how to proceed from there.
Step 2: Analyze Your Options
If you were able to craft a plan in the first place, you should be able to find alternatives to that plan when it fizzles. Once you’ve calmed down from the initial burst of emotion, it’s time for us to do what we do best and analyze the situation. A day trip to a convention may not work out, but there are other things to do for an enjoyable weekend closer to home. You may not have gotten into your dream college, but you can start school somewhere else and transfer to your first choice.
Take some ‘me’ time and find a quiet place. Think about what went wrong, but then think about what else you can do, what the other options are. Journal about it. Getting our minds set on one outcome can create a nasty case of tunnel vision. We have to expand from 2D to 3D again. To discover and acknowledge other options is empowering. It gives us control when we feel that circumstance took it away.
When I finished licking my wounds after not getting the JET Program job, I faced the reality: Graduation was months away. Student loan payments would begin a few months later. I had made no plans for graduate school. There were several options: I could remain in Bozeman, or move away. Bozeman’s job market wasn’t the best, and any job I could get most likely wouldn’t allow me to live comfortably while paying loans back. A move would be expensive, and employment would need to be guaranteed or at least easily attainable on the other side.
I realized the option with the most safety but also potential: I had family in North Carolina, who were be happy to help me relocate. The state’s technology sector steadily grew for the last ten years, and there was potential for better paying jobs than anything in Montana.
Third step: Make a New Plan
Once all of the alternatives and possibilities have been analyzed, it’s time to set a course of action. If the willpower and drive existed to craft the original plan, it can be utilized to make a new one. Don’t let lingering negative feelings from the first failure hold you back from a new endeavor.
Sounds contradictory, right? We’ve spent this whole time discussing how to recover when one plan fizzles, now we make a new one that can be spoiled all over again? To reach our maximum potential in life, we need direction. Being decisive is important to progress, but so is flexibility. We can’t let one closed door keep us from finding a new one.
Once I determined moving to North Carolina was the best option, I set plans in motion. I struck a deal with my father for financial assistance for the move. I began settling my remaining affairs in Bozeman to transition out. I shot off dozens of applications to companies in the Raleigh area. I arranged my schedule to spend quality time with friends and family before departing. Then, on the fourth of June, I packed up my car, then me, my sister, and my pet rats embarked on a grand road trip across America to the Tarheel State.
One great opportunity fell flat, but a whole new slew of opportunities lie ahead.
The unknowable rumblings of cause, effect, and circumstance often roll right over our best plans of action like a Deep Accursed dropping in from above to wreck your shit. When things don’t work out the way we want them to, it isn’t the end of the world. It’s the signal to try a different approach. You either find a new way to accomplish the original goal or find a completely new outcome you didn’t imagine before. Be optimistic. Be intuitive. Be analytical. Be decisive. Be ready to fight that six-legged hellspawn when it shows its hideous face.