When What You Expect Is Not What Is

Change outside our control doesn't always equate to bad change. I learn that every day, whether it's a rescheduled boat trip or something much more important to my livelihood.
08/12/2014 11:24 am ET Updated Oct 12, 2014

I am a planner.

I am that person who adds every social gathering to my calendar, creates itineraries for upcoming travels, ticks to-do items off of checklists and even examines restaurant menus before heading to each restaurant. I love seeing my plans come to fruition and my expectations of those plans met. It feels gratifying, worthwhile and is -- I realize -- not always what happens.

A few weeks ago, I went on vacation to visit a friend in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Before my arrival, we mapped out an itinerary that included several treks to the beach and a much-anticipated all-day boating excursion. This being the Caribbean, the majority of our plans took place outside and, therefore, were very much dependent on the weather.

So, as any planner would do, I began watching the weather forecast like a hawk. I may not have been able to control Mother Nature but I could at least prepare for her and shift our plans accordingly. Luckily, our boat trip was scheduled for the day least likely to rain, so with my worries eased and my expectations high, I flew to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

Two days before the boat excursion, my friend received a phone call from the tour company telling us we had to move our trip up a day due to low registration. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, however the new date of departure also happened to be the day most likely to rain, according to meteorologists.

With visions of The Perfect Storm swimming in my mind, I knew there wasn't much I could do to control the situation, nor could I create a plan that didn't include canceling the boat trip altogether. Needless to say, the planner in me was not pleased and those high expectations had officially taken a nosedive.

On the morning of our excursion, dark, heavy clouds greeted us as we headed to the dock. No surprise there. Let's hope we don't get swept away at sea, I thought to myself, a tad histrionically. My mind had already resigned itself to the worst. But then something unexpected happened: while we were boarding the boat and waiting for departure, the ominous sky began to lighten, little by little. Clouds drifted away, the wind became calmer and, pushing through the darkness, a beautiful blue began to appear. By the time we were out at sea, the sun had taken over the sky, turning the water to a rich and glistening aquamarine. Not one drop of rain appeared the entire day.

So why share this anecdote? It seems so inconsequential in the grand scheme of life. After all, every day we make much more serious plans and occasionally our expectations of those plans are not met. Whether it's our relationships, our careers or just life in general, many of us know what it's like to have high expectations and equally high disappointments. I've realized, amidst my overly dramatic reaction to the possibility of rain, that sometimes we make plans and circumstances outside our control changes those plans, and when we expect the worse because of those changes, sometimes we're given more than we expect. Change outside our control doesn't always equate to bad change. I learn that every day, whether it's a rescheduled boat trip or something much more important to my livelihood.

From the trivial to the dire, each unexpected change also means we must make a choice: we can dwell on the negative as I succumbed to doing prior to my boat trip, or we can accept and adapt our plans and expectations. We can stay stuck on a path that is no longer what we know or we can change course and make sure we're still moving ahead. It won't always be easy. In fact, at times, it will feel impossible. There will be more high expectations and more disappointments, but sometimes what we think will be worse is not nearly as unpromising as we had imagined. Sometimes, the darkness we anticipate gives away to something beautiful underneath, leaving us appreciative of -- and perhaps even grateful for -- the things we didn't expect.