Published on June 4th, 2013 | by Joanna Holman

Rebuilding Life from Broken Plans

Back then, life was good. Not perfect by any means, but definitely good.

In 2011, I was attending one of the best universities in Australia. I was in my final year of a course I enjoyed, and my grades were high. I had settled on achievable career plans and was working toward them. I volunteered in a leadership role I loved in a ministry that meant a lot to me. I was single but assumed I would have a love story of my own in just a matter of time. I had a rough mental timeline of how the following few years would play out.

One day, I thought I had a good chance at a job I had applied for. The next day I found out I did not get the job. This rejection in the early stages of the selection process started a cascade of doubts. My life was suddenly not going according to my plan. As I wandered aimlessly around an unexciting shopping mall, I couldn’t stop the fearful questions. Having been wrong in my assumption that I would be offered the job made me doubt everything else I assumed would happen in my life:

What if I didn’t get any of the jobs I was aiming for?

Why hadn’t the hoped-for relationship happened?

What if things stopped going well for me?

Unfortunately, this afternoon of self-doubt would not be a brief existential struggle ended by an upward trajectory of life falling back into place. I had seen the troubling truth that day among the racks of discount fashion, and as much as I wanted to, I could not unsee it.

Not only did I continue to wrestle, but my fears started to come true. I missed more markers on my hopeful timeline, I plunged below my worst-case-scenario projections, and things still continued downhill.

I could not land a job to start the career path I’d originally planned. In fact, getting any job proved elusive. Although I knew that the economy was wobbly and the job market poor, it was impossible not to take the constant rejections personally.

The “some of my friends are dating” stage transitioned into the “many of my friends are getting married” stage and then into the “people younger than me are having babies and celebrating wedding anniversaries” stage, all while my love life remained void.

Disappointment after disappointment slowly wore me down.

I somewhat affectionately and somewhat sarcastically dubbed the experience my “quarter life crisis.” A friend was kind enough to point out that, based on average life expectancies, this was probably closer to a third-life crisis. Regardless of the math, it was not how I had pictured the next quarter/third starting!

Some days I was apprehensive to check my email, knowing it would contain yet another form rejection letter for a job I wanted. Some days the Facebook news feed full of engagement announcements, wedding pictures, and new job announcements was too much.

The steady loss of so many of my hopes, plans, and dreams has been exhausting. I’ve had to learn to live through many dark days where the loneliness, disappointment, and string of rejections loom large.

People told me my college graduation would be one of the happiest days of my life. It wasn’t. I spent most of the day only just managing to resist weeping from the feeling of failure and trying hard to fake a smile for all the annoying photos I knew would later remind me of a day I wanted to forget.

So these days, I find myself redefining a “good life.”

I’m trying to learn what it means to see joy in the presence of lurking disappointment and hope in the face of frustration. Some aspects of life are getting better, but it is still not what I planned.

I’m learning that sometimes the best thing you can do with pain is to feel it. I don’t mean throw a pity party, but be willing to sit still long enough to feel it and work through it and grow from it rather than being quick to numb it.

I’m also learning that in the absence of all the big pieces I’d hoped would build my good life, I can still build with smaller pieces: practicing hospitality, exercising creativity, learning, and service.

Photo by Joanna Holman.

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