By Debra Butler, MSW, LISW
|Introduction – Planning for the Unexpected|
|A First Step: Facing the Facts – Kendra’s Story|
|Lean Into Change – Sam’s Story|
As we move through life stages and transitions, it seems nothing is more predictable than change. Although there are many positive things we can do to “get ready” for parenting, marriage, empty nest, growing older, we can never know exactly what the future might hand us. Lifespan planning involves anticipating and planning for one’s future needs. These may be health needs, financial needs, or retirement needs for you and your family.
However, sometimes we must cope with life’s unexpected challenges. We need to create our life plans with a “reality check” – knowing that we may need to adjust them or ourselves to face the unexpected.
Have you ever noticed that some of us seem to be able to “go with the flow” much better than others? What are those strengths or assets that these people possess? Can we begin now to develop these characteristics in ourselves in order to face life’s startling surprises? Here are some ideas to do just that.
Kendra’s life plan never included parenting two toddlers at age 60. Yet, when her grandchildren were removed from her son’s home, she had a big decision to make. With much ambivalence, and a lot of heart, she took them in. Needless to say, her plans and expectations of life in her 60’s changed dramatically.
The first thing Kendra did was to face the factsâ€¦.she knew this was not going to be easy and that she would need help. The first words of M. Scott Peck’s bestselling book, The Road Less Traveled are “Life is difficult.” When we write our life scripts as though everything will be smooth sailing, we can be devastated by trouble and difficulty. Kendra had learned a long time ago to accept both the good and bad of life.
When challenges come, many of us fight against them. Think of the time you learned your teenage daughter was pregnant, or your parent had cancer, or that you did not get the job you had counted on. Initially, we want to run from changes like this. But when we can learn to lean into reality, no matter how painful, we are often in a better position to handle the challenge.
Sam had been working for this job opportunity all his life. He just knew they liked him at the interview and was really excited about moving across the country. Then the call came. He was shocked when they turned him down. Sam went into an angry depression. How could this happen to him? He isolated himself – stopped eating much and slept very little. He found it hard to believe this had happened.
Fortunately, with the help of others Sam began to realize that he could either stay in this dark place forever, or that he could pick up the pieces and move on. Yes, it was a painful disappointment, but he wasn’t going to let it take him down for good. He started talking with friends about how hard it was. Then he began to think about his current options. He still had connections. This wasn’t the only company in the world. His wife agreed to support them financially while he searched for the next opportunity.
Once we face whatever it is that has interrupted our life plan, we can realize we do not have to go it alone. Some of the brightest, most capable people are those who can ask for what they need. Kendra and Sam learned that their success or failure depended upon themselves and those gathered around them who could help. Highly trained, professional social workers are among those who can provide guidance and support to help individuals cope with difficult situations like Kendra’s and Sam’s.
Social Workers are professional team members who have special skills to share that can make life transitions more successful. We offer empathy and support, but we don’t stop there. We have studied ways you can use to alleviate real illnesses like depression or anxiety that can show up at times of distress. We know of other resources in the area that can benefit you. For Kendra, it was a Grandparent’s Group that met at a local church. We can help you adjust your life plan to fit your new situation. But social workers know we are only part of the team you will need. We realize that family, friends, community, church groups, and others will be vital to your success.
Make your life plan, but don’t hold on too tight. Prepare that the unexpected will come. When it does, face the facts, get support, and lean into change. The best of life is still waiting for you!