Plans fall apart. Let’s talk about how that actually feels.
Ah, the thrill of misadventure! The life-affirming joy of mistakes! The wonderful…
OK, let’s cut the crap for a second.
Yes. I firmly believe that when things go wrong, it’s a reliable sign they’ll turn out better in the long run. If mistakes are medals, seek to become highly decorated. Failure is how you learn what works, by way of what doesn’t. Misadventures contain the seeds of surprise, novelty, serendipity and true wisdom. All these things.
I’ll stand by this philosophy until my knees give way.
But none of that helps at the time.
It’s just past noon. I’m sat on the sofa in my Ma’s house, my rucksack propped up beside me, and I’m sipping my first coffee of the day. I’m hardly aware of it. I’m hardly aware of anything.
All my plans have fallen apart.
I’d just returned from Frankfurt.
If you’ve never been, you might say, Oh I Am Sorry To Hear That, Mike. Some people think it’s a grim, soulless place – usually people who haven’t been. It’s a city with a modern reputation built around money (“London, Paris, Frankfurt”) and you’re forgiven if you imagine skyscrapers and lifts and acres of glass and steel.
Well, take a look. Everything you can see in that photo is Frankfurt – including those low, traditional-looking townhouses. And the rest of the city also stretched behind me as I took this photo. And there’s more Frankfurt behind that skyline. On average, Frankfurt is not bristling with skyscrapers and it’s not brutally modern (the name dates from Charlemagne’s era; the earliest signs of habitation are Roman). There’s a lot to discover, and my three-day jaunt covering the Museumsuferfest for Must Love Festivals was frustratingly inadequate. I have to leave again? But, why?
Ah yes. Because I was going to New York, to learn to teach English as a foreign language.
It’s just past noon, I’m sat on the sofa in my Ma’s house, I’ve been home for half an hour, and I’m…trying to get my head round all of this.
Generally speaking, my mother is lucky to have survived the last decade. A little over ten years ago, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. One bout of major surgery later, she was given the all-clear for cancer but a red light for a number of other ailments. Cue a string of traumatic operations. Her last piece of major corrective surgery was April of this year – and was, against some very worrying odds, a complete success. “Lucky” doesn’t get close – for both of us, because while she was ill I needed to be around, and her recovery meant I could get on with my own life, could pursue my plan of getting other work to pay off debts and invest in my long-term writing plans…
In three days I’d be leaping on a plane to New York, to spend a month working through an intensive CELTA course with Teaching House – a qualification that would allow me to chase exciting teaching positions abroad, to earn some good money, to work 25+ hours a week while seeing a new corner of the world, and to have enough time and financial freedom to write the things I most want to write. It seemed too good to be…
The Stages Of Dealing With The News That Your Ma Is Ill Again And You Have To Cancel All Your Plans
1. Saying things like “It was all too good to be true.” Feeling cheated, victimized, bullied. Keywords: unfair, self-pitying, etc.
2. Numb. That weak feeling that comes from everything being too complicated, too messy to handle all at once, leading to your emotions browning out or blowing a fuse. I’ve felt it before, more than once, so I know the signs. Everything’s just too much, for a while. You’re not sad, you’re not distraught, you’re just…waiting for the lights to come back on.
3. On Your Feet, Soldier. You’ve no idea what comes next, but you recognise the value of getting up and acting like it, so, up you get.
4. Waiting. Until you find out what comes next, you operate in an existential twilight. I suppose this is the ultimate “living in the moment” experience because right now the moment is all you have, but it’s not as fun as that. There are many better experiences than this.
The great thing about ruined plans is you can miss them. If you don’t miss them – if, for example, you feel oddly unburdened and free for the first time in ages – then that’s great. You just broke out of emotional jail. Run like the wind!
But if you miss them, if you feel their absence, like a punch to the stomach, you’re re-appraising their worth. You know you truly want them.
So when a week later my Ma gets the news that her initial test results were a false alarm and she only picked up a passing virus, I’ve had plenty of time to think everything through again, in detail. I’ve thought about the work I’ve done to pay the bills, I’ve thought about what I’ve learned about myself and the work I want to do more of, and I’ve weighed up my tolerance for doing things I’m now certain are a bad idea for the career I want. I’ve had time to juggle all that, to reaffirm and re-prioritize. I can put my plans back together – but I’ve also confirmed why I’m doing all this. It’s not just a plan anymore – it’s my plan.
I want this.
So, in the short term, I’m sat here at the kitchen table or in various coffee shops dotted around East Yorkshire, clearing existing work and client commitments and writing enough words to make me sweat.
I’ve also just joined the team at Plansify (above), a really cool startup dedicated to providing holidaymakers with the valuable expertise inside the heads of long-term travellers, for a fraction of the price of traditional travel planning services. You can learn the basics here from Wandering Earl (he’s one of the founders), but I also went into a little more detail here on the new Plansify blog.
So, you’ll find me over there talking about no-vacation adventures and effective travel planning strategies, and all sorts of other stuff. That’s where I’ll be, a lot of the time. Or I’ll be working with clients for my storytelling consultancy work. Or I’ll be writing stuff, in all sorts of directions.
And some time just after the New Year, yes, I’ll be in New York – because the good people at Teaching House are letting me defer my course (they’re awesome like that). And now? Well, now I’m into the final item in that List Of Dealing:
5. Ah, How Wonderful It Is When Things Go Wrong. You learn all these interesting things about yourself. You nail down the big, fat Why behind everything you’re doing. And it’ll make a thrilling blog post at some point! And it’s easy to feel brave, to forget about the reality of misadventure actually happening to you, how the world shrinks and turns horrific. Easy and smart, because, why worry beforehand? You’ll deal with it when it happens (even though you’ll be convinced you can’t at the time). Every time, you get more faith in your ability to pick up the pieces, even if you don’t feel that faith at the time, it only works in advance, to stop you worrying and help you lean into uncertainty just a little bit more…
Ah, misadventure. I’m all for it.
Images: Victor Bayon; Mike Sowden.