Coping With Misadventure

When plans don't go right
Photo credit: David Castillo,

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?

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20 thoughts on “Coping With Misadventure”

  1. Finding the fun in misadventures takes a lot of practice. We are out of practice as we expect EVERYTHING to run smoothly after the uncertainties of the last few years. I love all the strategies you have shared here. For our family, we have tried our best to keep calm and carry on. Easier said than done at times, but always top of mind.

  2. Seana- This post rings a familiar bell. Your point #3 about how we choose to respond spoke to me. We just returned from a wonderful vacation. But as you said, unplanned mishaps or ‘surprises’ will happen no matter how much you plan. That’s life.

    We had a challenging situation on the last day of our recent vacation. We drove to the other side of the island we were visiting to see a National Park. It was a remote area, and having a four-wheel drive vehicle would have been better, but that’s hindsight. As we turned the final corner to park and see the incredible vista, our car got stuck (really stuck) in the sand. No one was around and over a mile from people or help.

    First, we tried to rock the car out. That got us more stuck. Then we tried digging out. I used a conch shell, and Steve found some wood to dig with. When that didn’t work, I called for help from the car rental company. While it was happening, my mind ping-ponged from dark to positive ones. Mostly though, Steve and I thought about what proactive things we could do to get out of there and kept calm. We also noted the many things we were grateful for having a cooler with food, extra water, cell phone service, a cell phone battery charger, it NOT being at the hottest time of the day, having each other as support, and knowing that at some time soon, this would be a great story. While waiting to be pulled out, we walked to the edge of the cliff and ate our picnic lunch. The sea and the lovely breeze helped to calm us during the situation.

    1. That’s a perfect example, Linda. We simply cannot plan for every possible eventuality, and to expect this of ourselves is unrealistic. In the end, you will probably remember that fun picnic and the breeze more than anything.

      I have to agree that tallying your assets is also so helpful in a tough circumstance!

  3. Thanks for sharing your story! Whenever we’re planning a trip, my husband and I always remind ourselves that we can have a good time even if the weather doesn’t co-operate. So far, we haven’t been thoroughly tested, and I hope that continues!

    1. I tell this to myself all the time, even though I want full sunshine every day no matter where I go. My daughter is coming for a visit next week, and it is looking like a lot of rain. This is discouraging, as so much summer fun is outdoors. However, I told her the very same thing. We’ll have fun, no matter what!

  4. This past weekend we were in Geneva, NY, for a short vacation with my husband for my birthday. We wanted to make it a bike riding trip. So, we packed up our things and took them with us. While most of the trip was wonderful, and the weather was beautiful, we had one pretty wet day. So, instead of riding our bikes, we went to a winery and sampled wine, then to a BBQ restaurant where we had an amazing lunch. By the evening, the weather cleared, and we were able to visit a castle for dinner for my birthday. All and all, it was a wonderful trip, and I was grateful for the time away.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Complete Each Task -The Most Important Organizing AdviceMy Profile

    1. Happy birthday! Sounds like a wonderful trip, and you got to mix it up with a winery trip. That’s so much fun, and if the weather had been perfect, you might have had had that neat experience, right? Gotta stay positive!

  5. This is such great advice, Seana.
    My niece was married at an absolutely fabulous venue this past weekend. Friday was lovely and Saturday it poured for most of the day. The Inn had alpacas to feed (which were inside the barn and unavailable because of the rain), trails to walk (also not a good idea), and the house on the property which I had rented for my son Alex, his family, and me was a good long walk from the main Inn.
    We (Alex and family, and I) decided to make the best of it and borrowed umbrellas, took a trip to the local bookstore, and by the late afternoon the rain had eased off enough that the wedding events happened inside and out.
    No one can ever control the weather – we can only deal with it.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…8 Hacks To Make Household Chores EasierMy Profile

    1. It’s a tough one for sure. I always want full sun, and especially on a beach vacation, the rain can be a real mood killer. It’s so important to focus on the positives. After all, the rain doesn’t care if we are angry with it, so we might as well not let it ruin our vacation!

      Congratulations to your niece. It rained on my wedding day as well (sounds like similar timing to this event). Not outdoor photos, but we could walk out of the church in dry air, which was better than nothing. They tell brides it is good luck, but I mostly think this is to make them feel better about the lousy weather. On the other hand, I’m still married, so there is that!

  6. We learn a lot about friends when we travel with them, and things go wrong. I remember a trip to Ireland that I took with a friend. One of our rooms was particularly bad. We had fans brought in. We walked across the street and had a Guiness. We laughed at the absurdity of the situation. I have been with another friend who was always finding something that should be better. Guess who I would never travel with again and who I would go on a trip in a heartbeat.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…How to Create an Outdoor Kit for Your Summer FunMy Profile

  7. Hi Seana,

    Love that you are sharing a travel story, and glad that your vacation did end up to be a good one in the end. We have these kinds of things happen all the time (especially the bad weather and noisy accommodation) as even with planning as you said, you can’t really predict the weather or control other people’s behaviors. One trip to Iceland several years ago, in summer, it was cold and rained almost the entire two weeks as this was the big unexpected storm front and it was pretty miserable at times (especially since we were supposed to be taking lots of outdoor photos as part of our job) but we made the most of it. So it is all how you respond and handle it as you say and knowing how to make the most of whatever situation you end up in!

    Jessica recently posted…Vatican Post Guide: How to Send Mail from the VaticanMy Profile

    1. I know that you understand travel woes more than most, Jessica! Cold/rainy weather when you are expecting warm sunshine is one of the toughest. I’ve been there many times, and I really have to make the effort to put on a positive attitude. In the end, if I don’t, I’m really only hurting myself!

  8. Coping with misadventure is a hard one for me. My usual pattern is a huge (but momentary) internal meltdown, followed by a more practical “OK, what do I need to do to solve this?” and then a re-girding of my loins to shift my expectations. (I really don’t like a change of plans, so this takes a lot of internal work, meaning I do best when I don’t have to interact with someone else’s feelings on the subject.) #1 feels so unfair because the whole point of all that careful planning is to not have problems, but the biggest truth we have to face in life is that we can’t plan our way out of it or around it. If it’s a 10-10-10 inconvenience (will it matter in 10 minutes, 10 days, 10 years?) and it won’t matter 10 days from now (meaning, I won’t have to throw a lot of money at it to solve), then I can cope better. Lost luggage or delays are easier to cope with when you have an expectation that it’ll soon be resolved.

    And I love that you make the point that we’re already ahead of the game with the decks stacked in our favor; I mean, we’re having an imperfect time on vacation while so much of the world is dealing with X, where X is bad, and our situation by comparison is just a roll of the dice, because we could have just as easily been born into war or poverty or disease. It’s hard to feel that gratitude in the moment, but “why not me?” is pretty powerful! And yes, it’s worth fretting over, at least it’ll make great cocktail party conversation later on!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Paper Doll and Friends Cross an Ocean for Fine Productivity ConversationsMy Profile

    1. I think it is hard for everyone, especially if we have invested a lot of time and/or money to have a particular experience. At the same time, in the long run, if we allow circumstances to make us miserable, it’s like a double whammy. Attitude and mindset can help us come through in the best way possible.

      Agree on the “expensive” or “time consuming” fix types of situations. Yuck.

  9. So much so – and especially while traveling. My sister had a nightmare trip to California with her family in the spring. Well she just texted us that she’s on vacation in a rented cabin in the Poconos right now with her husband’s family, and her oldest got violently ill on the bed. So now she’s so worried about infecting all the other kids and adults, and cleaning the mess. That is a particularly gross misadventure (sorry to share) but we have all sorts of mishaps. I usually deal with a meltdown, followed by humor!
    Tamara recently posted…Stop and Smell the Roses (Rosies)My Profile

    1. We’ve had those stomach bug vacations. When we were scoping wedding venues for my daughter, we all went down with Norovirus, one at a time. You know, the one your hear about people getting on cruises. It was BRUTAL. A pleasure I definitely prefer never to repeat. Anyway, it cut short our venue shopping abruptly. Fortunately, we had seen one before it all happened, and that is the one we ended up using!

  10. I missed this one the first time around. Glad to see it now! It makes a good companion piece to my own blog post — “Always believe in yourself (and have a backup plan)” — and to all the other posts in the October 2023 Productivity & Organizing Blog Carnival.

    RE: #2, It’s so easy to focus on what’s going wrong. And it’s ALWAYS helpful to keep in mind that is going right. Good reminder. Thanks, Seana!
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Always believe in yourself (and have a backup plan)My Profile

    1. Sometimes our mindset is the best tool we have for getting through difficult times. It keeps us emotionally calm and alert to finding the best way through!

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