If the plan comes unstuck – well, that’s life!

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. I love this quote by John Lennon. Well, how many of us love making plans? From complex plans for our future lives to detailed plans for our travels or even simple plans for our daily agenda, people have a natural tendency to try and shut out the uncertainty the future holds by making a plan. When we have a plan we feel safe and assured. The only problem is that a) things happen differently and b) to what we expected …

Even an unspectacular plan like spending a quiet evening curled up on the sofa with a book can come unstuck if somebody knocks at the door or phones me demanding my attention. You can’t plan for life! So why bother making plans? 

Life time is valuable

Now perhaps you might object that it’s important not to float through the day without a single plan in mind because time is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted. And I would completely agree with you. This is why I believe it’s vital that we do turn our thoughts to how we spend our time and what we want to accomplish with it. And this sometimes includes planning ahead. Even so, we should never forget that the main characteristic of the future is that it is never predictable and thus can never be really planned. Nobody knows what the next day or even the next hour will bring. Life always holds some surprises for us in store – wonderful moments of happiness or terrible blows of fate. They can knock us off our course but as challenges they can also reveal unexpected opportunities. 

Life is stronger than any plan

In my own life from earliest childhood there’ve been a whole series of surprises, both positive and negative, which I’ve learnt to accept as part of the fabric of life. One of the most tumultuous for me was to witness as a child how the building of the Berlin Wall and the establishment of the “death strip” on the frontier between East and West Germany could drastically change the lives of millions of people from one day to the next.  

In Berlin at that time, from one minute to the next, people decided to jump from the third floor window of a building with nothing but the clothes they wore into a blanket that people down below were holding – to jump into a new and totally unknown life in the West. Others stayed behind and for decades remained separated from their friends and relations in the other part of the city and the country. For my father, who came from Berlin, this meant the loss of the family home. The house which he and his parents had built many years ago in the eastern part of the city and in which I had spent so many unforgettably wonderful summer holidays with my grandmother was now gone. 

YOLO – You only live once

To see how families and friends were violently torn apart and how a whole country was divided was a deeply shocking unsettling experience for me. Is there anything that’s certain and safe? This was precisely the question I asked myself back then. How can someone deal with, come to terms with such a drastic change? People in other countries and continents are confronted with such circumstances much more frequently than we are, again and yet again when they are caught up in wars or stricken by natural catastrophes: extreme realities created by life through no fault of their own and which no plan can possibly prevent. 

Now obviously, we can’t go around with this kind of awareness permanently at the front of our minds. Even so, I still find it important that we don’t get lulled by the supposed security of a plannable future of the kind we’ve seemingly become accustomed to over the past decades of prosperity and peace. Because, after all, insecurity is part and parcel of what we call life! This is why it’s advisable to have your own personal compass which helps you navigate the waves of unpredictability in the ocean of life. Because it’s precisely this life and no other which we can only live once.