This is one I have struggled the most with. I'm a planner and a control freak. I have to-do lists for my to-do lists (yes, for real). I used to plan out every inch of my life down to the tiniest detail. Whenever any little thing didn't go according to plan, it would send me into a tailspin that I had trouble recovering from.
When I was in high school, I had a plan for my life. I was going to be an advertising executive that worked in the city. I was going to be married by 24, have my first child at 27, own my own home by 28, and follow with 7 more children because I have always wanted a big family.
That plan couldn't be farther from my reality now. I am 38 years old and childless. I am a freelance designer that can't imagine working a nine-to-five job in the city every day. I don't own my own home and I'm not sure I want to commit myself to staying in one place for any length of time. I look back at my life's plan now and can't help but laugh.
I used to joke with a friend that it's always been me against the world. I think now I see that it's always been me against myself. I used to battle my own expectations, but I've learned to make peace with the things that I thought I was supposed to have in order to make room to appreciate all of the things I do have. So, how do you do that, you ask?
Here are a few things I've learned along the way that may help you let go of your idea of how things are supposed to be in order to be happy with how things are.
Don't compare yourself or your life to others
This is something I always used to do. I'd look at my friends getting married and having kids and think to myself that I was falling behind somehow. I'd compare my career to other people my age and feel like I should be further along or making more money. I'd constantly feel like I was on this spinning wheel and I could never catch up with anyone around me. It made me feel frustrated and even resentful at times. The second I let go of the idea that I was part of some race to get to a certain finish line, I started to feel better about where I am currently in life. I don't think we should ever compare ourselves to anyone other than our previous self. I made a promise to myself that I would try to be a better person in all aspects of life each year. I want to continually evolve and be better, do better and feel better. I stopped comparing my life to others and focused on my own goals and where I want to be.
Create a positive mantra to help reframe your thoughts
While it's easy to say I'm not going to focus on where I think I should be or what I think should happen and not be disappointed when things don't go as I planned, it's never that easy in practice. When I start to feel like nothing is going my way, or when I start to focus on all of the ways I don't measure up, I try to reframe my thoughts in a more positive, productive way. I came up with a mantra that I repeat often — "I am fortunate to have this experience and every step is a new lesson learned." Some people may think this is silly, but it honestly does work for me. It helps me not get stuck in negative thoughts and feelings for too long, because that always works out to be a dangerous place for my mind.
I've spent a lot of my time in the past five years or so working on turning negative things in my life to positive ones. I've learned to trust my gut and I've learned to take action on things that don't make me happy. If I feel like I'm in a job that doesn't appreciate me and I don't think I have a future in, then I let myself feel frustrated and complain, but I also learned that I'm the only person that can fix that. I've learned I need to take action to change things rather than feel sorry for myself or that I've been dealt an unfair hand. If I'm feeling intimidated because of my lack of knowledge in something, I research and study as much as I can about it. If I am unhappy with how I look and feel when I'm staring in the mirror, I stop focusing on the negatives, and work on things I have control over like changing my diet or treating myself to a better skincare regime. All of these things are part of self-care because I've learned to focus on myself, my needs and wants, and take action on making those things happen. I feel so much better about something that I'm unhappy about if I have a plan to make it better and am working towards that goal.
Now I am trying to find the beauty in letting things happen and be as they are. I try to love each moment and learn and take what I need to from it. I try to roll with the punches more and not panic every time something doesn't go according to my plan. Honestly, the best moments of my life have been the unplanned ones — the moments that take you by surprise because there is no expectation — and those are typically the ones that take my breath away. I am so much happier now that I don't get so caught up in how I think things are supposed to be and am simply happy with how things are unfolding before me.