Best-Laid Plans

The other day, I couldn’t help but think about that popular saying, “Even the best-laid plans sometimes go wrong.”

From a young age, I was a planner. There’s a part of me that just really enjoys everything having its proper place, being organized, and being “just so.” Unfortunately, while that part of me works amazingly well when it comes to keeping a tidy and functional home, it doesn’t always translate successfully to life.

I grew up in a small town in Ohio. (When I say “small,” I mean 2 traffic lights, 1,500 people, and a 20-minute drive to the nearest Walmart.) Growing up, the “world” that I saw was pretty straightforward: graduate high school, maybe go away for college, move back home, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, raise your family, and then enjoy your retirement years. I didn’t know there was any other way. So, I planned my life to align with that path.

After high school, I moved to Columbus to attend college at Ohio State. It was my first urban experience. While I didn’t really know anything about living in a city, I knew that I loved it – the people, the activities, the diversity, the culture, the energy, all of it.

However, I didn’t really branch out much socially. My high school boyfriend was there, as were some of my friends from back home, including one of my best friends from grade school.

While I certainly had a lot of fun in college, part of me wonders if I subconsciously kept my circle small because it was more in line with “the plan.” After all, if I became close friends with a bunch of new people, I would ultimately have to say good-bye to them when I moved back home, and that would be painful, right? Best to play it safe and stick to the plan.

As my time in college drew nearer to a close and it was time to apply to law school (another crucial step in “the plan”), I was torn. I had really enjoyed living in a city, and I yearned to move to a bigger city for law school. But what if I moved even further away from home and really liked it? How would I reconcile those feelings with the plan to ultimately move back home?

Looking back, I can see now that I was negotiating with different parts of myself: the planner part, the “good girl” part, the fiery part, and the independent part, to name a few. This inner negotiation created a lot of tension for me, as each “part” was trying to protect me from perceived negative consequences in the future.

The planner and the “good girl” parts were trying to protect me from disappointing my family and friends by choosing to live further away from home. Meanwhile, the fiery and independent parts were trying to protect me from living a life that (while perfectly acceptable) would not fill my spirit with love and happiness.

Finally, all of my “parts” reached a deal: I would move to Chicago for law school and work there for a few years, live it up in the city in my 20’s, and then once I got married and was ready to have kids in my 30’s, my husband and I would move back to Ohio. A slight detour from the plan, but eventually, I would get “back on track.” Phew – crisis averted.

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For the next few years, the modified plan went forward, mostly without a hitch. I excelled in law school, earning several awards and graduating with high honors. I had my first real job lined up for after I graduated law school, and I spent that summer studying to take the bar exam.

And then, a wrench got thrown into the plan – my long-term boyfriend and I broke up the summer after I graduated law school. We had moved to Chicago together and shared an apartment. As devastated as I was, the fiery and independent parts of me took over. I moved out, found a new apartment, and started my new job and new single life in the city.

However, after a few months, the planner and the “good girl” parts finally caught up to me. “Hey – remember the plan? You’ve fallen way off track! What are you doing?!”, they reminded me. Cue feelings of anxiety and unease about being single and the dating scene, while several of my friends were starting to get married. I didn’t have the skills or self-awareness back then to navigate those uncomfortable emotions. I ultimately reconciled with my boyfriend. The fiery and independent parts went back into hiding, and I moved forward with the plan.

Over the next few years, I got married, bought a house, and worked my way up to a position at my dream law firm in Chicago. I had checked nearly everything off the list of my perfect life plan. Then, the topic of having kids and moving back to Ohio came up. And my perfect world finally crumbled.

Because each time these topics came up in conversation, my body physically repelled them. “No!”, it screamed at me. I had never felt my body react in that way before. I was so confused – this was the next step in the plan. Why didn’t I feel ready? What was wrong with me?

There was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t feel ready because in creating the plan decades ago, I forgot to consider one crucial component: Me. My spirit. My soul. My unique energetic make-up. The plan I had created wasn’t “good” or “bad” – it simply was not compatible with ME. And for better or worse, I didn’t really meet “me” until a few years ago.

So, despite all the time, energy, effort, and resources I poured into my “plan” from age 18 through 31, when I woke up one day in March 2020, I decided to walk away from the plan and start over from scratch, with no concrete plan of what it would look like. I started with ending my marriage, then I ended my career as a divorce attorney, and then I ended my time in Chicago by moving to New York City.

It was painful. It was messy. It was scary. It was difficult. All of it. It still is sometimes. And it probably always will be, at times. But I can finally breathe again. And slowly but surely, I am finding out who I really am on a spiritual level, and I am embodying that in the external world around me.

Because at the end of the day, given the short time each one of us has on this Earth, isn’t that the only “plan” we truly need in life?

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