In a world that is unpredictable, it is so much more important to decide who we are going to be, than to plan what we are going to do.
Plans can go awry, what we do may change, but we can always, always stay true to who we choose to be.
This week, I found out that a friend I worked with years ago to set up a local mum’s networking group when my daughter was 6 months old, died aged 45 after being diagnosed with lung cancer only a couple of months ago. When she was alive, Carol was tenacious, defying expectations, bringing life to so many projects, people and communities. Even in the face of death I’m told she earned herself the name “warrior princess”. And for those of us who knew her, her legacy lives on strong.
And in Manchester, when a fun night out turned into the most horrific nightmare, an attack intended to create terror and strike fear, brought the city out in kindness, resilience and hope.
Sometimes when you don’t know what’s ahead, or when your plans go completely out the window, the only thing that’s left, the only thing that matters is how you show up – who you choose to be in that moment.
I’ve heard so many stories.
The taxi drivers who drove all night, taking people to safety, reuniting loved ones.
The businesses and residents who offered warmth, shelter, food, cups of tea.
The homeless man who went from beggar to carer – rushing to help, pulling nails from the arms and faces of injured children
The nurses and doctors who went straight to work – some after taking care of their own kids who were caught up in the incident.
There’s something strong, heroic and humbling about the way these huge events can bring out the best (and yes also sometimes the worst) in us.
But I think the same can also be true of the little things, if we choose to.
When your boss lands a surprise request on you at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon. When a colleague lets you down. Or a customer complains. Or the IT system fails again.
When your kids drop a bombshell at 8 in the morning about what they need for school that day. When the house is a state or the car breaks down again. When a friend or a family member lets you down. Or you find yourself at the blunt end of someone else’s frustration.
We have a choice.
We can choose to react with frustration, a perfectly natural reaction. Frustration comes from the gap between what is, and what we think should be. It comes from mis-matched expectations.
But frustration has a way of widening the gap, rather than closing it. It makes us feel more helpless, more hard done by, more frustrated.
Or we can choose to be the person who brings something else to the table. Calm, clarity, humour, kindness, even forgiveness perhaps.
The carer who asks “how can I help?” or acknowledges “I know this isn’t easy”
The peacekeeper who says “shall we take this offline?” in an email or “let’s take a break” in a meeting
The teacher who says “it’s ok to make mistakes” or “dude, I messed up”
Or the guide who shines a light with “ok here’s what’s possible”.
Our words and our actions have the power to change the atmosphere and experience of any event. You can be the person who encourages and builds up, who speaks strength and peace and hope into those around you.
Of course, do make plans, but if your plans get scuppered, remember the power isn’t in the plan. It’s in you – who you choose to be in that moment.