Change is the only constant in life. This true, albeit paradoxical assertion reminds us that sometimes things will not go according to plan. We can all think of a thing or 20 that have not gone as intended. The question then becomes, “What do we do in the face of plans gone awry?” We improvise.
We set out to do many different things in life. We are taught to set goals and to have a plan. We have learned that those are the keys to success. We are encouraged to follow our plan and to stay the course. I think these words of encouragement and lessons on success fall short.
What is missing is the part about navigating through life when the plan goes off script. Staying the course doesn’t mean it will be a straight and easy path. In life, there will be setbacks and delays, detours and standstills all in the form of some aspect of our experiences. We don’t write them into our plans, they just exist. They come about as a result of the constant change that occurs all around, between, and even within us. However, when we encounter these unscripted facts of life, our survival is in our ability to improvise.
We already do it on a daily basis, although we may not recognize it as such. Whether it is deciding to wear something different to work or school due to an unexpected change in the weather, making a toast at a celebration, or going through your fridge and pantry to put together a meal, it is improvising. Navigating the unplanned parts of our life experiences requires us to abandon what we thought we knew in favor of what we are learning in the present.
It requires us to get comfortable being uncomfortable and to pay attention to what is happening for us. What am I noticing? What do I need to learn from this place where I am right now? What do I have that I can I draw from to help me through this? We improvise and we keep moving.
It is okay if you have had to change courses a few times and/or take a timeout from your plan. Economic hardship, loss of a loved one, sudden illness, new job, falling in love, break-up/divorce, a new birth ... the list could go on and you can fill in the blanks. We will encounter problems and opportunities on our course. That is what we know for certain.
And, while our plans cannot be executed with absolute certainty, they are still wise to have. Life is about planning and improvising. My point is that improvisation is essential to all plans because even within the framework of a plan are those in between moments, the space where “stuff happens,” that will require us to respond right then and there — in the present.
I think this means that a more informed key to success in different areas of life involves setting goals, having a plan and understanding that you will have to improvise when life goes off script.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.