Laughable Plans: Finding Control When There Feels Like None.
If you Google search “top 10 most stressful life events,” there are a few repeat offenders that pop up on list after list. Death of a loved one. Marriage. Divorce. Starting a new job or losing a current one. Financial problems.
And then, there’s MOVING.
For the last few months, this one’s been my Stressful Life Event de Jour. And not just moving. Buying.
(*and yes, it’s admittedly a HUGELY privileged Stressful Life Event to even be able to buy — especially in New York City, which has been touted as one of the hardest places to buy due to its many….uh…let’s just call them *quirky* barriers to entry.)
But this letter to you today isn’t about buying a home: it’s about everything else it’s been bringing up for me, and I suspect life has been bringing up for you, too.
PART 1: LAUGHABLE PLANS.
Let me give you some context: I am no stranger to moving. For the majority of my adult life, I moved almost every single year. I think my own personal record was around 2009-2011, where I somehow fit four apartments into a span of 2.5 years. And then I met Jeremy and started living in apartments for 2-3 years at a time. Apartments that didn’t feel like a “place” — they felt like a home.
About a year ago, we decided that after all these feelings of “home,” it was time to actually make moves and buy one of our own. Knowing a more permanent situation was on the horizon, we decided to take advantage of the “Covid deals” in the city and rent one last time. I don’t have kids (well, human kids — Frankie totally counts!), but I imagine the mindset we had was similar to that of pre-parents who take a “babymoon” before life changes forever: our plan was to have an “adventure year” in an area of the city we’d probably be priced out of during any other moment in time, while saving a bit more in the meantime. You know. Have one last “hurrah” before a new chapter began. Especially because, of course, things in the world would “get better” soon.
Well, there’s an old Yiddish saying. “We plan, God laughs.”
So, you’re welcome for the comedy show, God/universe/whatever you want to call it.
Without getting into all the nitty-gritty details of every single not-exactly-hurrah-worthy event, what I’ve finally realized is that after two years of SO much uncertainty and lack of control over the state of the world, I think we thought we could “control” our way out of it all. That we could put a surplus of concrete plans in place like in “before times” and it beat the system.
What’s ironic is that the surplus of plans we put in place actually worked in the opposite way we wanted them to. Instead of providing us with more security and ease, they made us more on edge and unsettled than ever. We weren’t loving our neighborhood. The pandemic was faaaaaaar from over. Buying was proving to be even harder than the “hard” we thought it would be. Maybe in a different time it would have all panned out differently, but we don’t live in another time. We live now. Everything began to feel fragile and calculated.
What’s even more ironic is that it all felt exponentially harder to work through mentally and emotionally than in 2020, the year so many of our lives literally changed overnight, and so many of us felt like we had the most uncertainty.
PART 2: AFTERSHOCKS.
If you’re nodding your head, I want you to know that you’re a) human, and b) not alone. When you have so much uncertainty thrown your way for so long (and two years is definitely so long!), any opportunity to seize control can feel like not only a lifeline but the rarest of opportunities.
It’s not that uncertainty is the enemy, though. Or control, for that matter!! It’s not as simple as good vs. bad. Both certainty and uncertainty have their pros and cons, sometimes in the same breath.
But as a recovering perfectionist AND recovering self-help junkie, I’ve historically had a tendency to either think that you need to totally control every aspect of something in order for it to “work out,” or you need to completely let go. The latter being a favorite of self-help culture: everything happens for a reason, blah blah etc etc.
This is obviously not how life works. You can’t just always have one thing all the time.
So what do you do when you feel like you have no control at all and everything’s spinning haphazardly?
The answer to lack of control, I’ve learned, isn’t total control. It’s finding a way to feel (and stay, even?) grounded while the floor shakes under you and the aftershocks keep rolling. And I’m from Southern California. I KNOW earthquakes. When I was seven, an earthquake hit our city so big that entire houses fell off of their foundation. My friend Joey’s whole house was flooded. My aunt (pregnant with my cousin Ben, so also, my cousin Ben) had to literally climb out a window to get out of her house because the doors were blocked with debris. Phone lines went down, electricity went out, and parts of the freeway collapsed. People died. This was 1994 pre-social media, when all we had were newspapers, TV, and radio — the latter of the two you might not have had access to if your power had gone out. So for days, so many of us….just….didn’t know….so much.
And the aftershocks kept rolling.
But we got up. We got creative. We did what we could. We helped where we could. We climbed out windows and rebuilt freeways and mourned the losses while we moved forward, knowing very well the ground could start shaking again at any moment.
Whether it’s an earthquake, a globally traumatic event, a relationship beginning (or ending), a job ending (or beginning), or a move, there are times in life that present us with what feels like more not-knowing than we can handle.
Whenever I feel like “nothing” is certain and I start to not only fear but expect the proverbial aftershocks of a moment in time way outside of my control, I do ONE thing that IS.
Whether it’s moving my body in the warmth of my little living room on a cold day, or being intentional with my words during a difficult conversation, or doing that one thing I’ve been putting off for weeks — that little thing ALWAYS brings me back to myself.
No, it doesn’t fix the situation at hand. But it reminds me I have a sliver of agency, during a time when I often forget I do — and that control isn’t an all-or-nothing event.
PART 3: THE DANCE.
I said earlier that there were multiple “not-exactly-hurrah-worthy” events over the course of the last year. But what I didn’t mention is that there were plenty of “hurrah-worthy” ones, too. Going to the theatre more than ever. Cooking so many new, delicious meals. Home workouts (who knew they’d become so fun?!). Weekend mornings uptown. Midday coffee breaks in Madison Square Park and Washington Square Park and Fifth Avenue. Runs through the streets of Chelsea and Soho. Multiple big work WINS. New friends.
The thing that all of these moments have in common is that they weren’t in the plans. Even the things I DID expect to happen and DID plan for didn’t happen on the timeline I’d set for myself. I had control in the moment, but that control didn’t come from a strict guidebook I was following. The uncertainty actually enhanced these experiences, come to think of it. I appreciated them more. And eventually, allowed myself to go with the flow with the other stuff rather than fighting the tide.
I have no new news to report on the homebuying front, other than the fact that I’m finding peace in doing what I can and then letting the rest be. Like in life. Sometimes control will be there, and sometimes it won’t. Trying to force everything to line up perfectly isn’t the answer — but neither is letting go so much that you’ve lost the hope and joy that comes with expectations. You’ll be able to control certain things, but not all the things. Internalizing and accepting the presence of both those things as simultaneous truths is key to making the moments matter. An investment in both the attachment and non-attachment. An ability to move forward with plans and accepting they might not work out but moving forward anyway.
So many times we try to control our way into the fullest, truest life we can imagine.
But a full and true life isn’t about being in total control.
It’s about controlling what you can, then letting the rest unfold.
A dance between knowing and not-knowing.