One year, my family flew to an island for a vacation getaway. We had worked hard to book a nice place, spent a lot of money, and lost sleep to get there. As you can guess by the title of the post, it didn’t go as smoothly as we had anticipated. One of our bags was lost on the flight, the room turned out to be in an undesirable part of the hotel, the weather started off poor (for me, that means anything other than warm sunshine!), and it was very loud (people yelling at 3am). Instead of relaxing on the beach, we found ourselves coping with misadventure.
It was interesting to watch the family dynamic as we reacted. One of us just fell apart, becoming discouraged/down/angry. One of us tried to keep a happy, cheerful attitude, and a couple of us just tried to keep our heads down and be invisible. It’s easy to get upset when plans don’t work out… especially carefully laid, expensive plans. Fortunately for us, the vacation improved and we ended up having a wonderful time. But in the heat of the moment, it was easy to lose perspective.
If you should find yourself in a similarly undesirable situation, try to tell yourself the following:
1. Careful planning doesn’t guarantee good results.
If you are like me – a meticulous planner – this is a tough reality. We want to feel in control, but we really aren’t. Planning is important as it minimizes unnecessary problems, and can equip us to “flex” when the unexpected happens, but we shouldn’t expect that our plans will always unfold as envisioned. More importantly, we shouldn’t consider ourselves failures when circumstances go awry. The world is a highly complex organism, and we are just a few cogs on the wheel. Sometimes the machine will run smoothly, and sometimes it won’t.
2. There is more going right than is going wrong.
Many people say “why me?” but I often think, “why not me?” Life isn’t fair – but most of the time (for me, at least), it isn’t fair in my favor. I’m not living in a war torn country. My children don’t have a fatal illness. I have plenty of food and clothing. I have a job (which I really enjoy), and I have people in my life whom I love and who love me. In the game of “unfair,” I have definitely been a winner.
3. We have the power to choose how we respond.
I know this is hard to believe, but it really is true. We can’t control circumstances, and we can’t even control our initial emotional response. We can, however, decide how we will act (what we will say &do) when facing a disappointing situation. This is important, because how we react often not only ruins our own experience, but can also cascade out to those around us.
For example, let’s say a birthday party doesn’t turn out quite as you expect: the gifts you carefully selected aren’t received with the joy you had anticipated, or the cake you ordered gets dropped on the way to the table. Yes, it might be a let down, and you might feel sad or even angry. But spending the rest of the day moping won’t make you feel any better, and will probably make others feel worse. Circumstances only have as much power on us as we allow them to have. Most times, trying to laugh at ourselves or the situation can be the best response.
4. Someday, this will make a great story.
Craziness, disasters, and nightmares often look humorous in hindsight. Furthermore, they can be a way for people to feel close as they reminisce about a wild, emotionally charged, shared past experience. Of course, true tragedies are never a joke. But if the situation is more tumultuous than tragic, it might end up being one of the “great family stories.”
One definition for being organized is, “Controlling the controllables.” Especially when we are planning a big event or traveling, there is a lot that we cannot control. No one ever plans or hopes for a disappointment, but if we can keep life’s uncontrollable bumps in perspective, we will definitely have a more pleasant ride.
How have you coped with an unexpected mishap or misadventure?