A family bereavement has made me consider what we do when things don’t go to plan…
As Robert Burns said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley”. Or, more comprehensibly, “however well you plan, things will often go wrong”. Life always throws up the unexpected, that’s the universe for you, chaotic and unpredictable. So how do you plan for when things don’t go to plan, whether it’s at work or at home?
A funeral in Cyrus
This was particularly pertinent for me recently. My Dad died suddenly in August, and to get to the funeral was a challenge. Firstly, he lived in Northern Cyprus, a territory to which there are no direct flights. Secondly, Covid; travel is tricky, and three PCR tests needed taking. Thirdly, both my and my wife’s passports were missing and to be found nowhere at home or at work.
After an emergency passport application, spending half a day filling in forms, booking travel and Covid tests, I arrived in Cyprus on the last available flight to be at his funeral. I’m glad I made it.
Doing all this while simultaneously managing a heavy workload gave me some clarity on ways we can all manage stress and practicalities when life throws us a curveball.
Talk to people
I’m lucky to have amazing emotional and practical support in my wife, family, friends and work colleagues. I’m aware that not everybody has such support, but there are always people out there you can turn to; peers, Citizens’ Advice, and even professional bodies like the PDA.
The worst thing to do is clam up. People can’t help if they don’t know what’s going awry. It’s not about splurging all your problems onto people, it’s about saying ‘I could do with a bit of support’.
I had to tell my customers that there would be delays, and every one of them was understanding. Good customers will understand, and do what they can to support you.
One. Thing. At. A Time.
We all differ in how we handle stress, but mentally stepping out of the situation, what psychologists call ‘dissociation’, can really help. What I do is visualise that I’m taking a bird’s eye view, get the bigger picture, make lists of what needs doing, then rate everything in terms of importance and urgency. Important and urgent gets done first, urgent but not important can often be dropped completely.
To get to my Dad’s funeral I had so much to sort out, so I concentrated on just one thing at a time: passport, Covid test, flight, paperwork, pack, parking, client emails, get to the airport.
Focus on the positives
Whatever has gone wrong, there are always positives to look at.
My Dad died suddenly after a sunrise dog walk. As a very busy person, he would have hated a long illness or a partial recovery from his stroke – so he went in the best way for him, and I know he had a happy couple of decades in Cyprus.
A couple of family members were able to get out very fast to support my Dad’s partner and deal with practical issues. That was very positive.
We’ve found many old photos in his filing cabinets, good memories. I got to swim in the Mediterranean and visit the island of my birth.
It’s often the simple things that we take for granted; our own health, relationships, a good cup of tea, an ability to be active… Being grateful for all the small things is one of the secrets of a happier life and better mental health.
Have a Plan A, B and C
My Plan A was to find my passport, it didn’t go well. Plan B was to make an emergency application and pick it up, that didn’t go well either as the passport agency posted it with no guaranteed arrival date. Plan C was to wait for the passport to arrive and have everything prepped to book a flight if it did… Thankfully it did, with just a few hours spare.
If Plan C hadn’t worked, I couldn’t have travelled, so Plan D was to watch the funeral on livestream and support people as best I could remotely.
When life throws you curveballs
So what do you do when stuff doesn’t go to plan? Throw your hands up in the air, fling some good, ripe words into the sky and trudge off to the pub? Or do you talk to people, take a step back, work out your priorities, make a Plan A, B and C, focus on the stuff you can do – one task at a time and make sure you’re counting your blessings instead of focusing too much on the negatives? It’s your choice.