“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
― Joseph Campbell
I have read this quote so many times, but I have always thought you have to have a plan. No plan, no accomplishments.
I have been working with undergraduates for over 3 years now helping them think about the life ahead. Who are they? Who do they want to be? I listen to their plans and life goals. It’s not easy for the students, but the possibilities do seem endless and, most of all, possible.
Not only do I spend my days with college students, I do it at my alma mater, so I rarely forget how I felt when I was that age.
When I first read the quote above, I felt a sense of sadness. “Letting go of the life we planned.” Did that mean it didn’t work...that we failed? As I hear these young students describe their future, I think about the plans that I made years ago. I felt fairly confident of my direction at that time. It helped that nobody ever questioned why I was doing what I was doing.
In the class that I help teach, we do an interesting exercise. After weeks of helping students design their lives forward, we have them pretend they are at their 25th year college reunion. We have them imagine what it would be like to be 47 and what their lives would look like. What did they accomplish, what didn’t happen, and what parts of life just happened that they never saw coming?
It’s fascinating to listen them. The exercise is meant to help them think about those things that didn’t go as planned. What did they have to let go of?
So back to the quote above. I don’t see it as sad anymore. I realize that so many things I didn’t plan have actually been quite magical. And, yes, there have been things that have torn my heart into pieces that were not magical in any way.
But, it is when I let go, as Joseph Campbell says, that life becomes quite an extraordinary ride. It is when I stop measuring my life against the plans I had made as an undergraduate and I just become who I am and take each day as an opportunity to be open and experience whatever comes my way that I find I am most at peace. I guess that is living the life that is waiting for me. So much planning and measuring of goals has many times prevented me from allowing life to just happen and to see opportunities that when I was younger I wouldn't have even noticed.
Maybe mid-life is not so much about a crisis over what can no longer be accomplished, but an opportunity to see what surprises we couldn’t even have imagined at age 22.
It’s not easy, though, letting go of the things you planned. It means giving up the pretense of being in control, it means not thinking that you failed, but just that you are following another path, and it means feeling much more comfortable with uncertainty.
I am in awe of those who have led their lives this way from the beginning, but I have been a very analytical type and it has taken me much longer to let go of the life I had planned. I don’t know what is ahead, but somehow, that feels extremely peaceful and I am eager to know more about the life that is awaiting me.