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How to Cope when Your Plans Don’t Go as Expected

Jillion Caldwell, LSW, 360 Youth Services

My Timeline Has Changed…Now What?

Change is something that has always come with different responses. Some change can be uplifting-bringing us happiness or relief, some can feel difficult- bringing anger and disappointment, and other times it’s somewhere in the middle- leaving us confused, in denial, or just not knowing how to respond. There is no doubt that now we are all facing many changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic including missing school, birthday celebrations altered, future plans changed or subject to the unknown. So what do we do now?

This is most likely not the first time in our lives that plans have not gone as expected. Maybe you didn’t make a team on the first try out or maybe you didn’t pass that one class. Now I’m sure many people, especially youth, have feelings about their plans changing for things like spring break, prom, and even graduation. We all have had important things change for us, plans not happening as expected and when we wanted them to happen. Life still goes on, but there’s a process.

It is ok to be upset, sad, and disheartened.

When things don’t go as we planned or when we planned them, it’s ok to not like it. Don’t feel like you have to put a smile on your face and move on immediately. Suppressing emotions does not make them go away no matter how hard we try. So blast your music, punch a pillow, or cry with friends who can support you, as they might be feeling a loss right along with you.

While it is healthy to feel, try to limit and control the intensity and duration of your hurt emotions. Don’t let them lead you down a path that is unhealthy.

Acceptance is key.

Accepting that your plans have changed or that they won’t happen when you want does not mean that you are happy about it, and it definitely doesn’t mean you agree it’s the right thing to be happening. It mostly means that you are seeing reality for what it is. In some cases, sure, we don’t have to accept things as they are, but that decision is based off our ability to create change. If you can’t change it, or at least not in that moment, acceptance creates space for us to look forward.

It’s all about being flexible, adapting, and looking forward.

Now that we’ve felt, and accepted what is, our minds can now look forward with new possibilities. When you were a kid, did you always take no for an answer or did you look for a compromise? If your parents wouldn’t let you eat ice cream before dinner…maybe for dessert? Now what’s happening now is bigger than ice cream before dinner, but it’s the same idea. Who’s to say what you want now can’t happen in the future? Some events can be rescheduled, plans can be rearranged, time will go on and so will you.

When we are flexible, it allows us to get creative and do things in a different way we never imagined. We also have the opportunity to learn and grow and find ways to do something better.  Some things also repeat themselves and are sure to come around again. Never is rarely definite. I’m sure many famous people were told they would never make it, when actually just not how they had planned.

So in this time, sure, things can feel yucky and some things we will not be able to experience again.  After you take time to truly feel that and process it, look towards how you can be creative and flexible? Can you challenge yourself to see what’s beyond what is in front of you…the bigger picture? As life goes on we will find more things that excite us, more things that give us joy. The key is being able to live your life and move forward.

360 Youth Services in Naperville, IL provides substance use prevention education and counseling for youth and families, as well as housing for youth experiencing homelessness.

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