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Leaping into the Unknown: Why We Don’t Always Need a Plan

“You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.” ~Mandy Hale

Wake up.

Wish I could go back to sleep.

Get up and ready for work. Tell myself that today I’ll leave earlier but then leave the same time as usual.

Walk to work. Pass all the same people I did yesterday. At the same time.

Arrive at work. Listen to the same people complaining about the same things. Complain about the same things myself.

Teach my classes. Tell people off for being late—the same people as yesterday and the day before that.

Go home. Try to work toward my dream life. Collapse from exhaustion after about half an hour and wonder what the point is.

Go to bed. Cry lots. Hope that I don’t wake up in the morning.

Wake up again and repeat.

This was my routine for a good number of months before I finally couldn’t take it anymore.

Did I have the world’s worst job? No, not really. Did I live in a hell hole? Not at all. In fact, you could probably say that I didn’t have any problems, yet I was possibly more miserable than I’d ever been.

I couldn’t believe it. How had I ended up like this? I’d tried so hard to change my life. I’d meditated, done yoga, followed my dreams, made a vision board, and bought lots of self-help books. I’d even read them, too!

What more was a girl supposed to do? Why wasn’t my life changing?

I desperately wanted to leave my job, but couldn’t. I wouldn’t have the money to pay the rent. I wanted to leave my apartment but I had nowhere to go. Not unless I went to stay with my mother and, I couldn’t do that—not at my age!

So I plodded on, I tried to be a good ‘spiritual’ person and accept my life as it was. I tried to make the best of things. And sometimes, it worked, but not for long.

Eventually the feelings of dissatisfaction would return. The feeling of helplessness. Feeling stuck. Wanting to escape.

But there was no way out. I’d be repeating this day forever. And ever.

Let It Go

Around this time, I was reading a lot about how we need to close one door before another can open. I was also seeing colleagues leave work to pursue a life of their dreams.

Rather than giving me hope, this made me feel more downhearted. It was all right for them; they had money, a partner, a new job, or an already-up-and-running business.

I was all alone. I was broke. I had no husband to support me. No rich relatives to bail me out.

Everything I’d done to try to make a living out of work that I loved had already failed. I didn’t even know what I wanted anymore. I just knew I didn’t want what I had.

I’d get irritated when I’d read about how I had to simply quit my job, how I had to follow my heart. What if my heart was only telling me what I didn’t want? What if it was refusing to tell me what was next?

What if I closed one door and the other one got stuck?

What then?

I was so afraid of what would happen, I held on for months, hoping for an answer to drop out of the sky.

Until the pain of staying where I was suddenly became too much to bear. I couldn’t take it anymore. Suddenly, what happened next didn’t matter.

I didn’t care.

I saw the madness of what I was doing: staying in a job I didn’t want to do, to live in an apartment that I didn’t want to live in, to stay in an area that I didn’t particularly like. Just to survive. And even surviving wasn’t much fun.

So I surrendered. I did what I’d felt called to do all along: I said goodbye to the security I’d been clinging to. With no idea of what was coming next. With no income and little money. And no idea where I was going to live.

But as soon as I made my decision, I felt a huge sense of relief. I wondered what had taken me so long.

Of course, it wasn’t long until the fear crept back in. I had moments when I wondered what I was doing and how I would survive.

But even in those moments of doubt, there was a knowing that leaving my present situation was the right thing to do.

All my life, I’d put survival first. Now it was time to put myself first.

My happiness. My sanity. My peace of mind.

The worst-case scenario may not be so bad. In fact, it might be quite good.

I was lucky. I was never going to be out on the streets. I knew I had the option of returning to stay with my mother until I sorted myself out. But I really didn’t want to do that. I was far too old for that now.

Besides, that would mean living in a town far away from anywhere, with no transport of my own. I’d be so lonely. I’d have even less chance of finding work I loved. I’d be even more stuck!

Despite my best hopes that something else would magically turn up, I indeed ended up returning home. I tried telling myself it would be fine, but the scary thoughts were still lurking.

However, within a couple of weeks of the move, I saw the new path begin to emerge—chance meetings with like-minded people, work opportunities in unexpected places, community events where I thought there’d be none.

And for the first time in months, I actually felt happy. Because for the first time in my life, I was truly putting myself first. And I was truly living in the present. Survival was no longer the name of the game. My own peace of mind and happiness was.

When the pain of being where you are is too much to handle, when life is shoving you in the direction of the unknown, dare to trust it.

As I said, I was lucky. I know not everybody can do exactly as I did. Not everyone has someone who can help them out while they make a drastic life change.

I also know how annoying it can be to be told to change your life when you simply don’t see how. But the point here isn’t to do what I did, but to let go where you can even if you have to face your own worst-case scenario.

When you begin to take care of yourself, when you follow what feels good for you and put your own physical and mental health first, you’ll find the path will begin to open up. You’ll find support from unexpected places.

You may even find that your worst-case scenario turns out to be the best thing you could have hoped for.

What I’ve learned is that having a plan is overrated. Sometimes we really do need to let go and see what happens next.

About Louise Watson

Louise Watson is a meditation teacher and writer who offers a range of classes designed to meet different needs, lifestyles and locations. Her classes are mainly taught over Skype and include a variety of techniques, ensuring you find a practice that works for you.You can find out more and read her words of wisdom at www.louisemwatson.com.

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  • Maria

    TinyBuddha has always been there right when I needed it and this post is no exception. I’m a recent graduate with 5 years of experience. I thought graduating would be the answer to all my so called “problems” but it wasnt. I have a job that gives me NO peace of mind and decided to put an end to it until July 7th. I still dont know where im going next I just dont want to be there. To add to that, my boyfriend broke up with me the day before graduation. Somehow before I graduated I thought I had it all pretty nicely only to be here today at this moment sobbing and wondering what happened and where am I going? –I’ve always told myself “its okay, this is all part of the plan” to keep me going. This post really did it for me today. Must let go…THANK YOU.

  • Louise Watson

    Hi Maria, so good to hear this post was helpful to you. I know how scary it seems when you thought you had things worked out (at least for the time being) only to have life throw you a massive curveball or ten. But so often when change has been forced on us, it turns out to be a blessing in disguise. I think you’ve done the right thing about the job; sometimes it can be difficult to see what’s next when we’re so unhappy so we really do need to lift ourselves out of that fog first in order to move on. Hope everything work’s out well for you (it will!) and thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Rich F

    This post could not have come at a better time for me! I have been in a job field that I have disliked for years. I have been recently (for the past year) struggling with a decision to ditch my 25 year profession as I was offered a job doing something that is my passion. I have been a volunteer Firefighter for many years and was offered a full time position (even at my age!) It is a lot less money and I was very scared. Going back and forth in my mind that it wasn’t a good idea, what if this and what if that. I decided to make some changes. I opened up my home to an exchange student for some extra money and will do some work on the side to recoup some more money. But the biggest thing is that I already feel relief. I am already happier just knowing that I won’t have to wake up in the morning dreading the day ahead and that I will be doing what I ENJOY doing and in the end, I will be a MUCH happier person.
    Thank you for your post. It is the icing on the cake that I DID make the right decision!

  • Louise Watson

    Yay! Congratulations, Rich. Such a great opportunity, I’m so glad to hear that you’ve decided to take the plunge. I know what you mean – there’s nothing worse than waking up every morning and not wanting to go to work, just dreading the day ahead of you. I also felt huge relief when I finally handed in my notice – I think that’s always a sign that you’ve made the right decision.

  • Beth

    OMG this is my life right now… well over the next six months. Here’s my new chapter in a nutshell: I applied to get into a masters of social work program about a month ago, after hitting the wall you’ve described so well in your article – I kept thinking to myself, it’s felt like I’ve been on a hamster wheel for the last eight years. Decent job, career opps, a very comfortable lifestyle but I keep hitting emotionally overwhelming brick walls of feeling like I’m wasting my potential, in a profession that ‘will do’, but isn’t something that is bringing out the best in me. I got into the program (start next week!), made the decision to move back in with my parents in a mid-size regional town early next year to take that leap into the unknown, and not be as restricted by financial burdens.

    Last week an old employer reached out to me, asking if I’d like to come back and work with them. I told them of my plans – I’ve negotiated a contract where I can work four days a week remotely, and they’re offering more money part-time than I’m earning in my current full-time job. I’ve resigned from what has been a very stressful job, and while I’m a bit scared about moving back in with Mum and Dad (I totally relate to feeling too old for that), I’m so bloody excited! Yay for putting yourself first!

  • Dana Leyland

    Yes what about health insurance???

  • Louise Watson

    Hi Beth! Big congrats to you – it all sounds very exciting. Re living with parents, it won’t be forever but I also think we probably make to big a deal of it in our culture – in my old job I worked with people from countries where there’s never a big thing about leaving home, and families are expected to stay together – one of my students was really shocked that I didn’t live with my mum! It’s all a matter of perspective, i guess, and if it helps you do something that is worthwhile to you, then it’s worth it. Good luck with everything!

  • So as I was reading this article, I was half expecting to find my own picture at the end (in the author’s section) because it sure sounded like my own story! I related so much to this article, it was unbelievable to me and in the end, while I’m now in a situation (living also at ‘home’) and about to take another leap, this seems like the exact thing that I needed to read today. Interestingly, I also started to put myself first when I left a terrible situation and moved home to readjust. I quickly saw that the belief that you ‘can’t go home’ certainly was true however, it allowed me to work out some old issues that started here and work on myself at the same time. Brilliant article! Thanks for the share!

  • Louise Watson

    Thank you, Michelle. So glad you liked the article. Congrats on getting yourself out of the situation you were in, and good luck with the next leap!

  • Yes to all of this! I am such an over planner, I have plans for my failed plans. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have some kind of plan. But I travel a lot and it forces me to let go of my plans and I can’t thank travel enough for showing me that more good things come out of not having a plan!

  • Louise Watson

    Yes, Taylor! Completely agree – I find plans never work out the way they’re ‘supposed to’ anyway. Have fun on your travels!

  • Rin

    I couldn’t have found this post at a better time. I feel so stuck in a rut right now but the fear is stopping me from doing anything. I know I’m making excuses on why I can’t quit my soul sucking job where I’m not advancing and go for my dreams, but it is so very hard to let go. I”m so used to having some sort of safety net and money worries are the worst. This article gives me some encouragement. I just hope I can someday find that courage to let go and trust my heart.

  • Rich c

    Wow this resonated so much with me…3mos ago I quit my job as a social worker as I am in grad school and class hours were keeping me from working full time. I was miserable and burntout at my job anyway. I remember the day I put my notice in it felt lik what took me so long? Fear of course, I became depressed for a couple of weeks after my job ended, and I was waiting for summer classes to start, i was anxious about everything, even though I have enough savings to live on, but I quickly began to trust and take care of myself (by eating right, excersize, reading, meditation, socializing) it was like I forgot how live like a human being while under all that stress. Sometimes we think if we don’t DO something things won’t happen, what I have discovered is that the mind has a way of solving problems if we let go. Great read.

  • Stephen Spodek

    Michelle, I just wanted to reach out and tell you that you are not alone. I thought I was entirely alone with respect to the scenarios described by Louise and yourself. But ever since joining this community and others, I have found that I’m not some strange abnormal person, that in fact there are others, many others out there. I also am now living at “home”. I spent the better part of my life bouncing from job to job never feeling fulfilled or gratified, and endlessly trying to figure out why? It was because I was pursuing a life that I thought was “expected” of me, not what felt right to me. It took all the courage I could muster to simply resign from my last job, also knowing that the only place I could go was to my childhood home! To live with the person who was responsible for most of my emotional and psychological problems! But I had no other choice, yet I knew in my gut that it would be better than staying in the situation I was in. I also had issues to reconcile from my childhood and my formative years that directly correlated to the reasons I was in this situation in the first place. And I knew that at my age, if I didn’t finally have the courage to address them and reconcile them that I would be forever lost. I am working on my “stuff” currently and making progress and hope to soon take my next leap into the world with a totally new outlook.

  • Stephen Spodek

    Great piece Louise. Thanks for sharing. I absolutely identify with your story. I share many of the same issues. I thought I was pursuing my passions, until years and years later I recognized that I really didn’t know what my passion(s) were? There such an emphasis to follow your passion, but some of us just don’t have a clue? I’m still confused about “what” I want to do? I also am now living at “Home”, trying to reconcile terrible emotional issues from my formative years and trying to reconcile what happened to me and why; and all the contradictions and conflicting sets of values that I was raised with. I also had to build the courage to walk away from my job, but it was the realization that if I didn’t take the time to find myself and reconcile my issues now (51 years old) that I never would.

  • Louise Watson

    Hi Stephen. Thanks for the comments – glad you like this post. I think many of us go through the same issues at some point in our lives. It just seemed easier to handle when we’re younger – when we get to a certain age, we tend to think that it’s high time we settle down and get on with it, happy or not. When i left my job, several people said how much they envied me – I think most people feel the same way as us, they just don’t realise they have a choice. I know what you mean about not knowing what your passions are; again lots of people feel like that, but i think there’s so much pressure to have a passion that we feel odd for not having a particular one. Anyway, hope everything works out for you and thanks again!

  • Louise Watson

    Hi Rich, that’s great news about quitting your job, good on you for putting yourself first. Yes, I also felt anxious after leaving work – like I was in limbo waiting for what the next step was, but your so right – the mind does have a way of working things out when we stop trying so hard. Thanks again and good luck!

  • Louise Watson

    Hi Rin, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. i hope you find the courage to leave too. Remember it doesn’t have to be all or nothing – perhaps look for a part-time job or temporary one to keep you ticking over financially until you can afford not to. Or if it’s possible, as your current employer for a break. i found that once I took the plunge, there was much more support around than I realised. it’s just so hard to see when you’re stuck in a rut. Hope everything works out for you and thanks again!

  • Stephen Spodek

    Thank you Louise! Unfortunately for me, many of my friends and family took a much more conventional attitude towards my decision; to them it was not pragmatic or practical, and it was immature that I wouldn’t hold out until I found another job first! They just didn’t understand how confused I was and I wasn’t going to just jump from one terrible job to another, I didn’t see the point, that completely would have consumed me once again and derailed me from going through the self discovery and enlightenment that I am gaining now and which will determine my new path. I never agreed with all of those old school attitudes, conventions and mores with respect to the professional world. In any event thank you again for your post and for your reply.

  • Wow! Thanks for sharing that with me! I honestly didn’t realize there were so many of us out there. I moved from place to place, job to job, etc and no place ever felt like ‘home’ – but I guess if you want to sort out an issue, you have to go back to where it started 🙂 Thank you again and take care!

  • Sarah Blinco

    Great piece thanks for sharing! I’ve moved abroad twice to live – not too much of a plan and diving very much into the unknown. These risks make your path more obvious; as you say, chance meetings, a new adventure. It’s something I’m passionate about sharing. Thanks for writing it up so nicely 🙂

  • Louise Watson

    You’re welcome, and thank you!

  • evie

    So what was the “dream” or did you not have one? What ended up working out?

  • Louise Watson

    Hi Evie, the dream changed over a period of a few years, but involved being self-employed. What’s ended up working out is my meditation classes, which started to be much more successful once I let go and stopped trying so hard!

  • Fran

    When I felt my situation was not healthy anymore, I prayed hard for guidance. I had no immediate prospects lined up so it scared me.
    No response.
    I thought maybe I needed to decide first before God gives me guidance. So I decided, I’m leaving. Again, I asked for a sign.. what I got was this: in the church that I am still rather new to, this woman just suddenly gave me a postcard. It was a picture of a girl sleeping peacefully in a big hand.
    I am going back home next month to my family, no plans just yet but I am thankful and open to God’s new blessings.
    Good luck to all of us!

  • Louise Watson

    Thanks for sharing Fran. And good luck!

  • Regina

    I love this article because it gave me encouragement to continue along my path. I have been undergoing a “career crisis” over the past 2 years now. I’m 40 about to be 41 soon. I’ve been doing more job hopping than I ever have in the last 2 years. I have a temp job right now that I’m looking forward to ending, even though it’s open to me somewhat indefinitely. But I don’t want to be here indefinitely. And yet, I have no clue as to what Ily want to do next. I’m burnt on trying to figure it out. I just don’t know if working a traditional job 40 hours a week is for me. Trying to figure it out is hard and I realize there’s only so much I can actually figure out. I’ve surrendered. I do my part and let God do the rest. That said, I pray a lot, I’ve been meditating a lot. I’ve been contemplating a lot. For sure, I do not know. I admit it. Can sound messed up to those around us, but I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I’m here for a reason and I want to venture to discover that reason(s).

    Thanks so very much for sharing your experience because it makes those of us going through similar things feel like we are not alone and that when we make scary decisions we are not the only ones who are making them.

    God bless you! 🙂 And good luck and blessings to all of us on this path.

  • Louise Watson

    Thanks Regina. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve decided I’m not cut out for the traditional working week either and right now I’m aiming for a mixture of having a job and being self employed. I don’t mind the routine of a job for a while- in fact, I normally enjoy it to begin with – but sooner or later it always becomes unbearable, which I know will sound pathetic to some but actually I think most people are that way, or at least a lot of people. I think that’s why so many people are unhappy at work and are just hanging on for the weekend – the difference is that they don’t think there’s an alternative and see a job as something we all have to do. But there are other ways, as plenty of people have shown. It’s a matter of finding what works for us and in many ways the dissatisfaction we find in our jobs along the way help us to figure that out. Good luck to you too!

  • Kate

    Thank you for the article Louise! I have a very similar situation, but still on the side of being stuck in the job… and I can so relate to this: “Go home. Try to work toward my dream life. Collapse from exhaustion after about half an hour and wonder what the point is. Go to bed. Cry lots. Hope that I don’t wake up in the morning.” Thank you for giving hope that there can be another way and light at the end of the tunnel. I’m so happy that you feel better too. Thank you again for the article.

  • Love this article. It really resonates with me since I went though the exact same thing several months ago. My job was secure but I couldn’t take it anymore. It was a toxic workplace and I could see it taking a huge toll on my mental health. I felt stuck and so unhappy. One day I just knew, I had to quit. So I did, without another job lined up. I’m sure a lot of people thought I was crazy. But diving into the unknown was so refreshing and I ended up taking some time to discover who I am again, so now I am freelancing and living a lifestyle I am so much happier in! You are so right, sometimes you don’t need a plan. Just have faith and sometimes the best things come out of it!

  • Aliyah Dignam

    Not sure if we ever need a plan to begin with, to be honest. Take a look at your previous version of yourself 4 years ago making plans, what’s the percentage that actually played out just the way you hoped for? What we need is a clear vision of what we came here to do, a purpose, an outcome we seek from each day. That’s all.

  • Louise Watson

    Agree – I’ve never been much good at making plans for the future – but in the past I normally knew what I was doing the following week/month at least. Not this time, and I agree it’s been much easier living each day as it comes.

  • Louise Watson

    Yay! So good to hear things are going well for you Cassie! Thanks for sharing!

  • Louise Watson

    Thanks Kate, and you’re welcome. I know it’s so hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel when you feel stuck, but it’s always there somewhere. Really hope things begin to work out for you soon!

  • CJ

    Louise, many thanks for this article. Your words and story are very meaningful to me, and I am glad that you have landed in a relatively happier place on the other side of this experience. I recently went through a similar situation I would like to share.

    After getting married, my wife and I decided to take some time off from our careers to fulfill a long-time dream of backpacking abroad for several months with the intention to explore new career directions upon our return. After an incredible trip and months of subsequent networking and job searching, I landed a position in a new field for which I was very excited. Unfortunately, it became clear that this new position was a poor fit for me. I hated the work, the organization, the process, the grind. I dreaded getting up and going there everyday, and felt like I was trapped on a moving train that I desperately wanted to exit. I was furious at myself, beating myself up for ending up in a negative situation after all that time and “life perspective” I was supposed to have gained while away.

    Initially, I was determined to follow the conventional wisdom and secure a new job before leaving my current one. Most of the people in my life – friends, family, etc. – are successful in their careers, and I recoiled at the thought of re-facing them as an unemployed person who voluntarily left something he worked so hard to get after all that time away. I did not want to be perceived as a “quitter.” However, the way I felt day-to-day made it increasingly clear to me that for my own well-being and peace of mind, I needed to close that door to get in a better place before entering a new one.

    I approached the leadership at my company and told them what was on my mind. They are nice people, and were supportive, appreciative, and respectful of my honesty and candor. We parted on very good terms. I am also extremely grateful for the support I had from friends, family, and most importantly my wife, after coming clean about this decision and the thought process behind it.

    Through this experience I came to miss the type of work I was doing before the trip, and am currently exploring opportunities to return to it. I am not sure that is what I’ll end up doing for the rest of my life, but I am excited about the possibilities and what the future holds. I also believe my experience of trying something new will ultimately afford me broader perspective, which – among other things – will help me cope with issues I previously found frustrating in my former line of work. At the moment, I am not 100% sure about what’s coming next, when exactly it will come, and what it will hold, but I am excited (and naturally, a little scared) about it!

  • Roldan Lozada

    I am in the exact situation right now. I am living for survival and not living in the present.
    I am happy that you’ve passed all these. Me? I am still stuck here – doubtful and too afraid to take risk. 🙁

  • Louise Watson

    I’m sure you’ll get there Roldan, just like I did. There’ll probably come a time when you simply have no choice but to go for it.