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Finding Joy and Adventure in the Unexpected Twists of Life

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Few plans survive first contact with reality. When things take an unexpected twist, as they inevitably do, some people are derailed, yet others turn adversity into an asset. How? Why? What are those who are able to adapt, doing things that others are not? What techniques do they use to pivot, repurpose, or change quickly and successfully? How could your life be better if you knew those techniques?

Our lives, however carefully planned, and our blueprints for success and serenity rarely unfold exactly as we envision. Unexpected detours, unforeseen challenges, and sudden twists of fate are certain to occur.

For many people, such deviations can feel like unwelcome disruptions. For others, the deviations are thrilling. 

For all, within life’s “not-to-plan” experiences resides huge potential for excitement, adventure, fulfilment, and an exhilarating sense of freedom. 

If we can embrace the unscripted parts of our lives and learn to play with the uncertainty, the hidden gems in the unexpected can be what make us.

Those who thrive in the face of life’s curveballs possess a different and useful perspective on life. They seem to have a mental toolkit of resilience and adaptability, which allows them to turn adversity into an opportunity for advantage. When life hands them a lemon, they set about making lemonade.

How do they do it? Here are some of the key techniques they use:

Embrace imperfection

Life is not a scripted play where each word, character, and line is cued up and predetermined. Most of us are making it up as we go along. Any honest parent will confirm that.

Striving for flawless implementation of some plan, fearing deviation from some arbitrarily created schedule or sequence, sets us up for disappointment and frustration.

When we accept the inherent messiness of life, the inevitable missteps and detours, we give ourselves permission to approach “not-to-plan-experiences”, of which there will be many, with grace and curiosity. The most inspiring lives and stories are often made so by unexpected twists and turns. Few of us enjoy watching a film or reading a book where we can predict the next few steps.

Harness the wind; don’t fight it

Holding on to rigid plans in the face of change is like trying to navigate a changing, stormy sea with a sail in one fixed position. Be flexible; adjust your direction and sails to make the best of whatever metaphorical winds are blowing. As the winds change, change your sails.

If we develop a mindset that welcomes adaptation and views change not as a threat but as an invitation to replan the journey, we can, as Bruce Lee famously said, “be like water”, flowing over obstacles and around unexpected bends, always finding a way.

Befriend uncertainty and ambiguity

Uncertainty and ambiguity can be uncomfortable companions on any journey, a source of anxiety and doubt. Befriending them allows us to tap into their previously invisible potential. Viewed as allies, they can become catalysts for creativity, an invitation to explore new possibilities, and a nudge towards breaking free from our self-imposed comfort zones. We know from research on high achievers that becoming comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity is a near-essential mental advantage on their route to success.

Be pivot-ready

Unexpected roadblocks can end your dreams or be a signpost telling you to change direction or method. Being “pivot-ready” means choosing to quickly assess your new situation, identify emerging opportunities, and adjust your course or method accordingly.

People who live the best lives are not the readers of the script, but the writers. Michael Crighton famously said, “Books are not written; they are re-written.” Rewrite your script as often as life demands it.

Find your silver linings

Every dark cloud, no matter how foreboding, has a silver lining, if and only if you look for it. Cultivate the habit of finding the positive in the midst of the negative. See unexpected situations and not-to-plan experiences as opportunities for growth, learning, and personal transformation.

In over 35 years of coaching, I have found this: “Happy people and high achievers don’t wait for the storms to pass; they have learned to sing and dance in the rain.’

Cultivate curiosity

View the unscripted parts of your life with childlike curiosity. Ask questions, explore possibilities, and be willing to investigate and experiment.

A sense of inquisitiveness opens doors to previously invisible paths, leads to unexpected encounters, and transforms even the most mundane detours into exciting adventures.

People can only discover new lands when they lose sight of the shore, willingly or otherwise. (Credit to Andre Gide for that insight.)

Enjoy the journey

Too many people say, “I’ll be happy when…” They are investing their happiness in the destination and missing the joy of the journey.

Enjoy the oops moments, the detours, and the delays as part of the grand adventure. Savour shared laughter with strangers about a missed flight, the joy of discovering a hidden gem off the beaten path, and the lessons learned from navigating unexpected challenges. 

What could seem to be in your way can, with the right perspective, be exactly the stepping stone you need to help you on your way.

By welcoming the unscripted parts of life, we open ourselves up to a world of unexpected possibilities, joyful surprises, and exhilarating adventures. We become the authors of our own stories, not confined by rigid pre-written scripts but empowered by the freedom to improvise, adapt, and create. 

The next time life throws you a curveball, you can pivot. Choose what to think about it and how to feel about it. Find the silver lining.

As an experienced author, I can share this with you: very often, the best phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters are those I never planned to write. That is the case for your life, too.

Harnessing the unexpected is about finding a balance between holding onto our vision and remaining open to the detours and surprises that life inevitably throws our way.

The next time someone (or something) rains on your planned parade, what will be your approach to singing and dancing in the rain?




Professor Nigel MacLennan runs the performance coaching practice PsyPerform.

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