Life Is What Happens

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.


Carl Schurz Park after Winter Storm Jonas



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. 



Sunrise on the Great Lawn



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.



Central Park Reservoir after Winter Storm Jonas



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.



Central Park 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.



Imagine Central Park




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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18 thoughts on “Life Is What Happens

  1. I really loved your thinking out load today, even though I come from a different standpoint.

    As a working mom not planning is not an option – and really I’m a planner by heart. My mind is more at ease if I have a calendar where I can “contain” the planning. It allows me to concentrate on the things that matter.
    But I do think that the phrase has an important point: even if your personality thrives on planning you shouldn’t get lost in it. Plans are for the future and we live in the present so we should give the present the attention it deserves.


  2. I used to be a hardcore planner, until I realized that life kept laughing at my plans and doing it’s own thing. So I gave up with the plans and just started going with the flow. Am I in a place now that I thought I’d be in 5 years back? Definitely not. But it’s a good place and I really wouldn’t change anything about it. I think one of the most valuable lessons in life is to learn how to make the most of whatever is going on in your life at any given time. That way it’s always a good life πŸ™‚


  3. Life is CRAZY, and I’m so thankful that God has directed me through 22, almost 23 years so far. πŸ™‚ I think that I’ve learned that the more flexible I am the less stressful life is.


  4. As a fellow INFJ, obviously a lot of this rings true for me. I sometimes wonder what the 12-year-old Hanna, and the 22-year-old Hanna, would think of me now. What’s so weird for me to think about is that I actually have a lot of the things I wished for as a teen/college student: independence, my own apartment, a relationship, life in a city, a job that doesn’t suck. They didn’t happen the way I thought and they didn’t feel the way I expected them to feel when I was wanting them so badly…and yet, here they are. I subconsciously worked for and got the things that were *really* meaningful to me without even having to try. Like your beloved lyric about life happening while we’re making other plans, one of mine has always been the famous Rolling Stones’ “you can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” It’s been true in my life so many times.

    I’m approaching New Year goals the same way as you: just trying to live life one day at a time and focus on what’s in front of me instead of getting ahead of myself. This is a big deal for us INFJs, as it’s a significant step outside our comfort zones. But we can do it!!


  5. I’ve been asked about where I see myself in five years a couple times recently, and it always bothers me when people ask me that. Obviously I think it’s good to have goals and things you want to work for, and maybe the people asking me that question have been looking for a vague “better than I am now” answer, but having concrete plans for five years from now? I can’t fathom doing that. Five years ago, I don’t think I could possibly imagine how my life is right now, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if five years down the road my life will be quite different than it is in this moment. I LOVE planning, and wish I could map out my entire future, but I’m not in control of everything that impacts my life, meaning I’m not in complete control of my future, either. That’s part of what makes it fun, though – I think my life has often turned out better than my “plan” had it turning out anyway πŸ™‚


  6. I am a definite planner. I used to be bad at that, but having two work schedules kind of forced me to learn how to masterfully plan my days. When I hear that quote it reminds me of romance. The girl who spends her time trying to find love when her best friend may actually be that guy. Ok, I should stop watching Love Actually =P


  7. I am still a planner for the most part, even though literally every single thing of significance in my life and everything that’s led me to where I am now, happened while other plans were being made. I don’t understand why I cling to the planning! But when I think back on the past 10 years, “life is what happens” is exactly what happened and I planned very little of it.


  8. I’m definitely with you on that “life happens while you’re making other plans” quote! I supersuper plan to the max, have a tendency to make a bunch of specific goals, and to-do lists rock my world, butttt med school has made me a lot more adaptable, so I can roll with the punches when they’re thrown at me! Tis a better way to be, I think! I needed more spontaneity in my life anyway! πŸ˜› I like to think things will work out for the best too!


  9. So true. I’ve never been much of a planner–and there are definitely downsides to that. (Like, one of these days I should actually start applying for summer jobs. Oops. : P ) But my mom always used to have a saying, when we went on family trips. What she would say was, “This could be the best part.” And what she meant was that so often, we plan for this one really exciting moment or thing (a movie you’ve been waiting to see, a wedding, Christmas day, etc.) when so often, it’s the things that happen along the way that are actually the “best part”–and it’s good to remind ourselves of that before it’s too late to fully enjoy them. I totally encourage you in your semi-resolution–sounds like a great one!


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