Facing the Unknown
Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
I guess God was laughing at me last weekend because my big plan didn’t work out. I’m very lucky that I live in a place where I can hop in the car and arrive at some of the most beautiful spots on earth within an hour. Last weekend we had a plan to wake up early and drive to a beautiful hike in the Rocky Mountains. When we arrived at our destination, we quickly learned that the only remaining parking was a good 2 miles down the road from the trail head. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to hike on the trail, not the road. So we made a split-second decision and decided to drive on to another trail head.
It turned out the road ahead was unpaved and had a ton of giant potholes, as those mountain roads typically do. It took us 30 minutes to drive just 4 miles. It wasn’t a huge problem, but I noticed myself feeling slightly irritable on this part of the drive.
This was the dialogue in my head:
I was excited to do that other hike. We had this one in mind for weeks. I thought we were beating the crowds… which led to… What has happened to the seclusion of the mountains? Ugh. It must be the overcrowding of Colorado. How long will it take us to drive 4 miles? What if the next hike isn’t any good? What if we arrive at that trail head only to find no parking there either, and we have to drive home? I better not have driven up here to only turn around.
All of the potholes and the what-if’s were getting to me, and I was spinning a nice little story in my head, filling it with assumptions and generalizations that were irrelevant and probably untrue.
I didn’t even know I was peeved until I tuned in to this unconscious dialogue in my head. You’ll never guess what happened next. We arrived, and everything was okay. It was better than okay. It was spectacular!
The new plan turned into a beautiful hike with the best wildflowers I’ve ever seen. We crossed over amazing waterfalls, meandered through mountainsides covered with flowers, and viewed majestic mountain peaks in the distance. And we were completely alone for the majority of the hike.
None of the things I worried about ever came true, so why did I even waste any energy worrying about it?
I know life isn’t always perfect, but things usually work out. The outcome is rarely the problem. It’s often the anticipation and worry that screws us. We have plans. We think we’ve made the best plan, and when it doesn’t happen the way we want, we can easily assume the worst. The Unknown can really send us spinning.
That’s exactly what plagued my dental career for so long. I had a plan. My plan to be a dentist didn’t work out, but The Unknown kept me stuck in dentistry for years. I was so afraid of not knowing what to do, what was going to happen, or whether things would be okay; that this fear left me paralyzed.
I eventually learned that sometimes you have to step into The Unknown to go somewhere.
When I finally made the move, I didn’t have most of the answers. I had a few plans and ideas, but I had to force myself to leave before I felt ready. I chose to move forward, knowing that I’d never feel ready, no matter how much I needed to change. I had to have faith that changing would be better than staying, even if my Plan B might be temporary. Although I wanted my exit from dentistry to be planned and predictable and perfect, it was nothing like that. As with my hike last weekend, once I arrived somewhere, I was able to look back and see that it was okay to have a little mystery along the way.
We rarely need to have the perfect plan to move forward successfully.
How do you face The Unknown? Are you allowing the discomfort and fear of The Unknown to stop you from creating a change that you really want in your life? Do you feel like you have to know exactly what is coming to make a move in your life? If so, maybe there’s another way. Maybe it’s okay to pick a new plan as many times as we need to.
Maybe if we can stop worrying and start wondering about The Unknown, we will find the power and freedom to move forward.