We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. ~Joseph Campbell
When we were growing up, most of us Baby Boomers were taught that a successful life meant making a plan and sticking to it. That plan usually meant going to school, picking a career, getting married—the perfect traditional life.
But for many of us, life didn’t go that way at all.
While many in our parents’ generation retired with a gold watch after 30 years in the same company, that wasn’t our reality at all. In fact, many of us haven’t retired at all, not yet, partly because we simply can’t afford to.
Our generation is more prone to divorce than others and many of us know this from personal experience. Some social scientists claim that the sexual revolution -- “decades of relationship innovation” -- resulted in “cultural confusion” about marriage. I don’t know about that, but I do know that like many in my generation, divorce was something I didn’t expect but came my way nonetheless.
Although our lives have proved over and over that life doesn’t usually go as planned, many people are still left reeling when their path deviates from the one they planned. So how do we cope when life hands us a route we didn’t expect? Here are a few tips that have helped me:
1. Can the situation be saved? Assess it honestly. I once saved a job I was about to lose, buying a few extra months that I used to make and execute a new plan. It was a last-ditch effort that (to my surprise) worked. But sometimes, that’s just not possible. Sometimes, we have to accept what’s happened and look ahead to what’s next.
2. Grieve your loss and move on. It’s important to feel the emotion but don’t spend too much time bemoaning your fate. Evaluate what’s happened and start making a new plan. If you’ve lost a job, does the situation provide you an opportunity to do something else you’ve always wanted to? How urgently do you need to find new work and what steps can you take to make that happen?
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3. Relationship loss is a little different. That kind of grief takes longer to walk through and alone time can be helpful. Look at what happened and examine what you might want going forward. Resist the urge to get stuck in your loss—there’s a lot of life yet to live. And many people just like you—your age even—looking for love.
4. Always acknowledge your successes—because you do have them, regardless of the situation. How can you build on those strengths?
5. Welcome this change as a new and exciting opportunity. Yes, I know it can be hard. When my husband left me I once told a therapist “If I wanted adventure I’d go on a safari” and meant it. But in the end I came to see the opportunities this life change brought my way.
Like mythologist Joseph Campbell, Boomer icon John Lennon knew that life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans. Our happiness depends on our ability to not only roll with those changes but leverage them into a new, happy life.
Carol Cassara is a writer and ordained minister who believes in living fully in every color of the rainbow. Her essays have appeared in Skirt! magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, several Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, on public radio and other venues. After a long career as a corporate communications executive, she is enjoying having more time to write, travel and just enjoy life. When she's not traveling the world, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and crazy little maltipoo. Her daily blog inspirations for creating our best lives can be found at www.carolcassara.com.