Steen mug shot


“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” Allen Saunders

With four articles partially completed, I could have just sat down and whipped one of them into a passable piece. After all, I love to write and do so whenever I find a spare moment. The lesson might have been, let nothing stand in the way of your responsibilities. 

Life had other plans, and I’ve opted for a different lesson. Saunders knew in 1957 what I know today, that life happens to us despite the plans we have sometimes worked hard to make, and it’s our choice to enjoy it or not.

I was spending the weekend in the mountains with my daughter-in-law, whom I feel sure you know I adore, and I threw caution to the wind and hiked wherever she wanted to explore. Our plan had been to have a relatively relaxing weekend. Instead, the morning began when she saved a girl who was trying to unwisely climb over the edge of a cliff (and I helped by yelling, “Molly, help this girl!”).

The afternoon found us climbing sometimes on our hands and knees up a snowy, icy trail that would end with a spectacular view. Who could have predicted that? Apparently, neither of us. But the gift of the adventure, of spending time with a person about whom I care deeply, that was a priority that ended up taking my normal writing time. 

Life was busy happening while I was trying to decide which water bottle to take.

This is my lesson: Life is unpredictable, sometimes offering opportunities we couldn’t have imagined. We need to evaluate our priorities (and people should always be priorities) and not miss a minute of them or of life.

Spending the past few days with my mother, as she underwent hip replacement and now gets to enjoy the fun of rehabilitation, I found that life once again happened while I was busy making plans. The schedule has been unpredictable, unlike the one I had figured in my head. People are the priority in life, though, aren’t they? Certainly, they are for me.

What about for you? Are you so caught up in your plans that you miss out on what life is bringing you? Maybe you wanted to go to dinner with friends but your husband or wife needed you to be with them. You might have missed the fancy food, but you probably discovered (if you allowed yourself) that life’s plan was better than yours.

There isn’t much research about “people who embrace life’s surprises,” but I did find a study (Bower, Kemeny, Taylor, & Fahey, 1998) which showed a correlation between people who could balance the negative and positive of life (not going as you had planned) and the person’s better physical health.

It’s an important lesson that most of us need to consider: whether it is something simple, like being uncertain of meeting a writing deadline (actually, not such a simple deal for me), or something more serious, like being able to accept the disappointment that comes from losing a job or losing a loved one, being able to come to accept that life is happening to us regardless of our plans will bring more pleasure to life through improved health.

We spend a lot of time planning our lives, or those of our children or other people. When we wake up one day to discover that the plans we made haven’t turned out just as we thought, that life came along and began happening to us, we can either be frustrated or we can be exhilarated. It’s one of the few choices we get in these situations.

As we continue to look at 2020 as a year of vision, I wonder what plans you nailed down that won’t be happening after all. As life takes you down a country road when you were planning to drive the interstate, I hope that you can let go of your imperfect plan and laugh a little as life shows you how little control you have and instead shows you the daffodils peeking through the fall leaves left on the ground. 

Not to suggest you need no direction in life, I simply want to encourage each of us (and our friends, family, and co-workers) to look for the positives when forced to change course. 

It might still be painful at times, frustrating at others, and downright maddening occasionally, but giving life a chance when it disrupts your plans is a healthy, and sometimes more exciting and gratifying, way to live. 

And now, I can get back to my other writing, unless life has other plans yet again. I’m always up for another adventure!

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

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