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When Your Plan Has Other Plans: 3 Mantras for Navigating the Unexpected

by Kelley Sullivan

It was 20 minutes before my best friend’s wedding when the bridal party heard a ripping noise and we all froze in fear. The delicate stitching attaching the strap to the front of the bride’s dress had ripped and the beaded strap popped off leaving us all with our jaws open in shock. Meanwhile, in the other room, the matron of honor was panicking because her three-month-old just had a full diaper blowout–front and back–and they didn’t have a change of clothes.

As the guests were seated out in the courtyard, we scrambled to the bridal suite and luckily found some needle and thread while someone rushed the few blocks back to the rental house for a new baby outfit. Sweating in the South Carolina heat and hearts beating, we audibly exhaled as we finally lined up to walk through the reception space out to the courtyard… and that’s when the bride noticed the venue had put out all of the wrong centerpieces. All I could think was “we just have to make it to the cocktail hour”… thank goodness it was an open bar.

Now, this isn’t a cautionary tale about wedding planning. Rather, the whirlwind of the weekend was a humble reminder that oftentimes in life your plan doesn’t go as planned. Sitting at the airport (since I’m the type who has to get there hours in advance) allowed me plenty of time to people-watch in the terminal and reflect on a few grounding mantras for navigating the unexpected–all those things in life we could never anticipate.

Mantra 1: Qué será, será.

Translation… “what will be, will be”. It’s natural to want to feel in control, but it’s unrealistic and exhausting to think you can control everything. Recognizing that there are things you have no power over can make you feel vulnerable at first, but with practice it becomes liberating. Try focusing your efforts and energy on the things you can control. If you find your head is always swirling thinking of things you can’t control, start by practicing mindfulness and being present in the moment.

When you’re able to “go with the flow” as plans unravel you’ll be able to stay in a more positive mental state. If you’re getting married or hosting an event, you can’t control the weather, but you can control having umbrellas on hand or a rain plan. And most importantly, you can control your thoughts and mindset should the weather or another aspect not go to plan.

Mantra 2: It’s not as bad as it seems.

To accept this one, you need to realize that no one cares. And I mean that in the nicest way possible, it’s never as bad as you think. As humans, we have a bad habit of catastrophizing and going to extremes. If something doesn’t go to your plan, the majority of people either won’t notice or won’t care. Was it frustrating that my friend spent hundreds of dollars on centerpieces and the venue someone put out the wrong ones? Yes. However, none of the other wedding guests knew what the table settings were supposed to be. 

I used to give the same advice to my students when I taught public speaking courses. I would tell them that “The audience is ignorant.” They don’t know what your speech is, so if you mess up, you’re the only one who knows. Try your best not to show it.

Mantra 3: Trust the process.

Easier said than done, I know. However, at the end of the day, you have to let certain things run their course. If you put in the work to prepare for the big day or the major presentation, recognize that you ARE ready and embrace it. You have done what you need to do to prepare. Then if road bumps come up, remember the message behind the previous two mantras: control what you can, and recognize that others probably won’t notice or care in the grand scheme of things. 

Overall, remember it will all work out. In college, a common saying during times of breakups and drama was “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” 

Did multiple stressors pop up the weekend of my best friend’s wedding? Yes… and I didn’t even tell you about the power going out during rehearsal dinner. 

Was it still an incredible wedding and the best day of her life? Also yes.

So as you move forward through life and make your plans… remember that your plan sometimes has other plans. And when the unexpected pops up, because it will, remember these three mantras:

  • Qué será, será.
  • It’s not as bad as it seems.
  • Trust the process.

And as for me, with my own wedding in a few weeks? I will definitely be packing an extra needle and thread for my big day… and if anyone needs a diaper, it is NOT my responsibility.

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