I’m thinking out loud today about a little phrase I’ve grown to believe in over the past few years. It particularly resonates during this first month of the year, when everyone is so determined to stick to their resolutions, or feeling guilty about already having broken them, or remorseful about having not made any at all. With all of the changes in my life in the past year, some expected and others taking me entirely by surprise, my mantra lately has been that “life happens while you’re making other plans” and even though I’ve since found out that these words I read somewhere years ago aren’t exactly quoted right, they ring true to me.
I don’t remember where it was that I first read or heard these words. I do know that the phrase comes from the lyrics to a Beatles song, Darling Boy, written by John Lennon. (And that he got it from writer Allen Saunders.) The song says “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” and I guess a few words were lost in translation, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s the sentiment that counts. The idea that try as we might, we can’t sit down one day with pen in hand and write out a map to the rest of our lives.
I once thought that was possible. We teach children that they can do anything if they only put their minds to it, and I believed that if I only worked hard enough at creating the right roadmap, I could plot the points of life and sail through knowing exactly how to handle each step. Ridiculous, right? Not so much for a 12-year-old who could recite how getting a C on a math test was going to have a domino effect that led to less success 20 years down the road after the impact on middle school grades, high school classes, college admission, and likelihood of specific types of employment thereafter. I guess I couldn’t help it, with the way my mind works as an INFJ. Looking back now, I am both amused and astonished at the way I presumed to be able to predict the future. At how many adults far older than I think they can, and are frustrated when it doesn’t turn out.
The funny thing is that I’ve also always been an “everything happens for a reason” kind of person, even though I can’t fathom any possible reason for a lot of the bad that goes on in the world or even for things I’ve struggled with personally, like an eating disorder. So if I think everything happens for a reason explicable only by some greater force in the universe, how could I believe at the same time that I could plan everything? I thought that I was supposed to be making all the plans. If they worked out, then great, and if not, then they weren’t supposed to. The trouble is, even if we are very self aware, we still can’t predict the future and spending so much time trying can take you away from what’s going on right now, in the moment.
A few weeks ago, I was watching a tribute concert performed in New York on John Lennon’s 75th birthday. I don’t think anyone sang Darling Boy, but some of the other performances were incredibly moving. I’d never have watched it if someone hadn’t recommended it to my boyfriend, we wouldn’t have been watching it if I hadn’t decided to take a chance, and every step in that chain all the way back to when Lennon and the other three first wrote the music. At each point, people were living in the moment and taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them, not dwelling on the past or worrying about what was to come. Keeping in mind the sunny optimism in my favorite Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun” I decided what I really want to do in 2016.
It’s not a resolution. It’s very vague, and there’s no way to measure it. What I want to do is focus on what’s happening in the present, and make the most of my life at this point in time. That doesn’t mean I’ll do things without thinking about the impact, or that I won’t still have dreams or plans. But I want to spend a lot more time living in the here and now. To enjoy the things that sometimes cross our paths when we aren’t looking for them. To know that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, and enjoy the one I’ve got. To take things as they come. To be okay with not knowing what’s going to happen next, and have faith that it’ll work out for the best.
Are you a planner or more spontaneous?
Do you like making specific New Year’s resolutions or looking at life more broadly?
What comes to mind when you read that quote?
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