When Life Doesn’t Go According to Plan


My favorite movie when I was a child was Baby Boom, starring Diane Keaton. It’s the story of a high-powered career woman named J.C. Wiatt (Keaton) who has it all: money, success, a fancy Manhattan apartment, and a boyfriend who shares her professional ambition. Everything is perfect, until Wiatt suddenly inherits a baby from a distant relative, turning her life—and her plans—upside down. I wanted to be just like Wiatt: confident, successful, and in control. I envisioned living a life like hers, however it never came to fruition. Now I am left, like many women, wondering, “What happens when life doesn’t go according to plan?”

One of the things that appealed to me about Baby Boom—even at the young age of ten—was Wiatt’s success. I admired the way she popped in the office barking orders at people, and they quickly complied. She knew her strengths and she used them to her advantage. She wasn’t afraid to play a man’s game . . . and she was winning!

Every personality test I take pegs me as an achiever: strong, goal oriented, determined, and thriving on accolades and affirmation. Like Wiatt, I wanted to live in a big city and wear posh suits. I wanted a successful career where I could make a difference. I wanted to command a small army of people who respected my opinions and admired my leadership.

My life, however, is not a carefully-scripted movie. While I don’t regret any of the choices I made, they have all led me down a path that often conflicts with gifts, talents, inner desires, and the way God has wired me.

Today I am a married mother of five . . . a stay-at-home-mom, a freelance writer, author, blogger, and speaker. All of that might sound trendy and even impressive, but most days this achiever feels like a failure. Most days the greatest thing I accomplish is folding four loads of laundry and getting dinner on the table. Most days the posh suits look more like yoga pants and a t-shirt. Most days I don’t command a “small army of people,” rather I chase after an army of small people who are still learning to respect my opinions and admire my leadership.

So what do we do when life doesn’t go as planned?

First, we realize that what we envisioned was just that—a vision. A mirage. A dream. It’s a fantasy full of perfection but void of reality. Even if we live out our dream scenario, many complications would soon follow. For instance, if I lived the J.C. Wiatt life, I would face career pressures I don’t have to deal with as stay-at-home mom. I also would not have the capacity to raise five children. I doubt our family would have opened ourselves up to the possibility of foster care and adoption, and I’m almost certain we would not cram seven people into a tiny New York apartment. Living the big city, high-powered career life would have forced me to sacrifice many things I love about my actual life. There is no such thing as the perfect life and the grass is not always greener on the other side.

Next, we remind ourselves of the choices that led us to our present circumstances. When I look back over time and remember this life I now live is not the product of one big decision but of many small attempts at happily ever after, I realize that this is the life I was meant to live.

Finally, we avoid the comparison trap and find joy in our present life. We stop comparing our circumstances (usually the negative ones) with some conjured up image we create in our minds of how great life would be if only: if only we had taken that job, if only we had moved to that city, if only we had X number of children, if only our husband would do what we asked him to do. This might not be the life we envisioned, but chances are it’s a pretty good one. And for that reason alone we can find joy.