Forty Things I Learnt Before Turning 40: Lesson Thirty-Eight

I learnt that you can’t possibly prepare for everything. As much as we are taught when growing up that we should prepare for every part for lives, (what we want to study at University to launch us into our careers, showing a successful transition into adulthood), we can’t possibly prepare for everything. I am definitely a planner though; I think that is part and parcel of being a teacher. I remember being taught the saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” And when you have 30 teenagers in front of you, waiting for any small slip up, so that they can rail road your lesson, you learn very quickly to have not only a plan A, but a plan B, and C.

But one plan that a friend and I devised when I was living in Melbourne, was the ‘No Plan Plan.’ The idea was to head out with no plan at all and see where in the vast, exciting, bustling city we ended up. Very quickly, the theme song to our No Plan Plan became Ellie Goulding’s ‘Anything Could Happen.’

But now I’ve seen it through
And now I know the truth
That anything could happen
Anything could happen

This idea of going wherever the wind blew me was so invigorating and empowering; being new to a city, with so much exploring to do and a willing and ready accomplice who was just as keen to get to know her city. So many days that started out venturing to a new suburb to check out a new coffee spot and on the hunt for street art, often melted into watching the sky transform as the sun came down, perched at some rooftop bar, with a cocktail, sharing an assortment of foods, laughs and memories both old and newly created.

For someone who had become so accustomed to having plans mapped out well in advance, this really allowed me to loosen up, go with the flow and find the joy in the unexpected. There is so much to be said about the idea that one simple decision can change the course of a day/night, let alone a life. I remember hearing about the Butterfly Effect many, many years ago and feeling inspired by the chaos theory that suggests the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado; how small initial differences may lead to large unforeseen consequences over time.

Sometimes we’d be led by the sound of music, other times it could be to follow friends we’d made for the night, or simply getting lost down one of the tiny alleys that often house the most interesting and obscure bars. As Matt Haigh writes in ‘The Midnight Library’, “The thing that looks the most ordinary might end up being the thing that leads you to victory.” On our No Plan Plan adventures, we never questioned the small or seemingly ordinary things that would come our way, knowing or hoping that they would lead to something new, exciting and extraordinary.

A favourite movie of mine is ‘Sliding Doors’, which illustrates the alternate paths Gwyneth Paltrow’s character life could take depending on whether or not she catches a train. My brother and I often like to imagine what our ‘Sliding Doors Selves’ would do in a variety of situations, most times things that are completely against our character, but always a fun game to play in our minds. The idea of how our actions can have huge implications on the trajectory of our life is a theme well explored in ‘The Midnight Library.’ “Doing one thing differently is very often the same as doing everything differently,” could seem overwhelming, but also extremely exciting, depending on how you view it. Kylie Minogue’s song ‘Magic’ comes close to illustrating the feeling:

I feel like anything could happen
The stars look different tonight
They’re glowing all around me
It’s flowing through my body
I can feel it, I can feel it

The time is disappearing
This moment’s never leaving

There are no do-overs in life; time is the one commodity we are never able to be sure of. There are no guarantees of how much of it we’ll have and it’s well and good to have your five and ten year plan, but what’s the point if you’re always so conscious of every step you take on your journey for fear of falling of the path. A quote that I absolutely love, which a colleague introduced me to and uses on a regular basis is, “in every moment there is an infinite field of possibilities.” For me, keeping that in mind, it’s easier to deal with set backs but also helpful when making both big and small decisions. In her song, ‘Change of Heart’, Natalie Imbruglia explores this idea:

So I, I fall to fly and fly to fall again
And each losing hand will leave me to win
So all the doubt will be erased
Disappear without a trace

Again, in ‘The Midnight Library’, Matt Haig encourages us to not over complicate or over analyse life, writing “you don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.” If we spend too much time trying to work out why things have happened or calculate every single step of our journey, life is bound to pass us by, missing so many beautiful moments. “Every move you make opens a whole new world of possibilities…In chess, as in life, possibility is the basis of everything. Every hope, every dream, every regret, every moment of living…never underestimate the big importance of small things.” Saying yes instead of no, being open to possibilities rather than closed off, I think helps us to live a more exciting and fulfilling life.

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