Unexpected Life Changes

Constant change. I heard that phrase once, and immediately pictured a stage filled with dancers, each moving to the flow of the music, weaving around each other but never touching. It’s an oxymoron – constant change. It’s also the perfect description of life.

Have you ever wondered all of the versions of you that are possible, if only one thing were different?

I’m not scared of change. Or, more accurately, I’m not scared of big changes.

It takes me far longer to get used to a new iOS update than it took for me to get used to a new phone altogether. When a grocery store rearranges its shelf displays, I’m thrown off, but when I land in a foreign country that I’ve never visited and don’t speak the language of, all I feel is excitement.

This summer my life plans were thrown for a loop not only once but twice in just six weeks.

July 12th I was daydreaming of walking through the narrow streets of Milan, trying yoga in India, and exploring the beautiful Canadian landscape, and I was looking forward to doing all that while completing a dual-degree graduate school program spread across three countries.

That version of me would be a blend of the three countries she would live in during the master’s program, and all the ones she had lived in prior, too. She would make hot chai tea and take it outside on a chilly Toronto morning to crack a textbook open and get some reading done. She would navigate countries on instinct, not guidebooks, and go whichever direction the locals pointed her in.

July 31st I was picturing Kremlins and frozen rivers as I started Duolingo’s Russian program and filled out applications for a graduate program in Moscow.

That version of me would be wrapped in scarves and warm sweaters, using a Russian word here and there in a conversation otherwise held entirely in English. She would be sipping steaming hot tea as she studied early in the morning. She would walk around markets and food stalls, using impromptu charades to communicate with foreigners, biting her bottom lip to hold back the ‘too foreign’ smile she’d been warned not to wear.

September 5th, I signed my first ever ‘real big kid’ job contract for a permanent position with the London office of a Boston-based organization.

This version of me will always have an umbrella within arm’s reach, her very own office desk to work at, and real business cards. She will take her tea (no sugar, no milk) at home, in her new workplace, and at the quirkiest tea shops she can find while wandering around London.

Sometimes your plans change slightly, and you end up waiting for the next bus, or you watch a movie instead of getting dinner with a friend. Sometimes your plans change so dramatically that you reimagine your entire future.

In the span of 6 weeks this summer:

#1 – the masters’ program I had applied to and had been dreaming of for almost a year was canceled, in the messiest possible way by the program coordinators and director

#2 – I applied to and was accepted to a different masters’ program in Russia, a country I have not yet visited, with a national language that I do not (yet) know

#3 – I was called in for an interview for a job I had applied to over a month earlier, then was called back in for a second interview a few days later, and was then offered a job less than 24 hours later

At first, when I was still in the middle of this all, the lack of a clear future path laid out neatly ahead of me threw me for a loop. But I hung in there through the uncertainty and even learned how to make the best of it, thanks to advice from a great friend.

And a new path appeared. And then again another new path. One that I had been adamant that I wouldn’t take even if it did appear because I had convinced myself that it would not appear. Appear it did, and it’s now the path I’ll be walking on (with an umbrella safely in hand).

Those six weeks weren’t easy at all. I’m the first to admit, that there were moments within them that I was scared. Not of the possibility of change, but because of the consequences of change.

Suddenly at a loss for “what’s next,” I scrambled a bit and called everyone I knew to ask if they knew of any opportunities. And when I say everyone, I mean _everyone_. Who, in turn, called everyone they knew. For a few nights in a row after the first big change, I called a good friend and talked to her on the phone until I fell asleep because I knew that if I tried to sleep in a dark and silent room my thoughts would turn negative. I planned board game nights with my best friend, and called my mama more in a week than I had in the previous month, probably (sorry mom!).

There isn’t a manual for coping with life changes. There’s just experience and grit. Experience of coping with previous changes, of knowing what works to help you feel settled, and experience of knowing where and how to find help. And grit, grit to roll with the changes.

It’s not always easy to roll with the changes or to take them in stride. Certain big changes knock the wind right out of you. Some changes aren’t positive, even if there may be some small pros or silver linings within them. Because no matter how hard you try to be positive about things and no matter how glass-half-full you are, sometimes changes are just things that need to be fought through or accepted, rather than embraced and rejoiced.

Luckily, the life changes I dealt with this summer were the kind of changes that can be celebrated, even if a little belatedly after some tears are shed. I know some of my close friends were less lucky with their own recent life changes, such as those impacted by Tropical Storm Harvey, and I recognize those situations are different.

While I can’t speak for my friends or for their specific situations, I’ve had a few negative life changes of my own in the past 20 or so years. Those are the big changes I didn’t deal with well. In part, perhaps, because I wasn’t scared of them and because I ‘rolled with them’ a little too easily, letting them swallow me whole.

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The thing about change in life is that it really is constant. Whether you actively seek it out, or whether you actively do everything in your power to avoid it, change is ever-present. From something as expected as the leaves changing color, to your current favorite song, to neighborhoods evolving over the years.

Earlier this year I watched this video of Mandy Harvey, a singer. (If you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it!) In it, she says: “It’s not the dream that I always had. That’s okay! Because I showed up and I did something I never believed I could do.”

The quote resonated with me immediately, and I doodled it into my Passion Planner the next day. I look at it often, rereading the words to myself as a reminder.

It’s okay for our plans, our dreams, our entire futures to change. Whether the change comes from our own choices or something outside our control. In the two big changes I faced this summer, they were one of each. Neither one was easier to handle or to accept just because of who created the change, and both had their unique pros and cons.

When life plans change, you just have to change with them.

After all, “Blueprints for the future are a fool’s errand. […] One day, maybe this year or the next, you’re gonna be somewhere else. So enjoy yourself now.” – Ron Swanson.

What life changes have you recently gone through, or are you recently going through?


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