I feel like there’s been a common theme threading through everyones’ lives the past couple of years. One where no matter who you are or where you are in life, you nod your head in agreement. If you are one of the few that can’t relate, count your blessings; because when the world flipped upside down, the one thing I kept hearing and seeing over and over again was simply this: “Life doesn’t look like I thought it would.”
To be fair, I’ve been thinking this exact thing for years- literally.
One of the downfalls of being a writer (or at least what I believe is a downfall) is thinking ahead. When I’m writing a story, I play out the entire storyline in my head; I know the who, what, when, where, why, and how. To be honest, it’s why I take comfort in Hallmark movies; I already know how the story will go. At no point in the hour and a half am I taken by surprise or thinking, “Their life doesn’t look like I thought it would.” When writing fiction, or writing in general, this ability to go from beginning to end is so helpful.
The problem arises when I try to do this with my actual life.
At 16, I thought I’d graduate college and be married with a kid or two by 25. The reality? I’m a few classes shy of an AA, and at 25, I was walking through anxiety that affected me physically, mentally, spiritually – very much single, very much without children.
I thought by the time I was 30, I’d be settled in my own home, done having kids, and maybe I’d have a side gig writing my heart out. I’m 28, and if I’m completely transparent, I don’t think any of those things will happen anytime soon.
Literally, my life doesn’t look like I thought it would.
In some ways, I’m grateful.
After helping watch my cousins’ twins for the last 10 months, I’ve learned I still crave adventures. To hop on a plane and explore someplace new without kids to think about. And while I still think about finishing up those classes so that I could at least achieve my AA, I’ve also built my own company working for myself and helping some amazing women in their businesses. I also get to write as a side gig, which God is slowly turning into something bigger.
It’s true, my life doesn’t look like I thought it would- in some ways, it’s better.
But there’s a part of me that looks around and gets heartbroken for the ways I thought my life would look but doesn’t even come close.
So what do you do when life doesn’t look the way you thought it would? I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t think I was the best person to answer this. But then I realized that I fall back into the same five things whenever I’m overwhelmed with the thought that life doesn’t look like I thought it would. Fair warning, it’s not a quick fix. In fact, there is only one thing on this list of five that truly allows me to let go and trust Him. The other four are ones that maybe won’t apply to you but will hopefully inspire you to find your others.
5 Ways to Combat the Thought “Life Doesn’t Look Like I Thought”
#5 – Write out a gratitude list. I know people think this is silly. Or maybe you’ll tell me, “but J, I know I have a lot of things to be grateful for.” And to that, I’d respond with, “Do it anyway.” Because there is just something so therapeutic and healing as you recognize that you are so incredibly blessed. So, if you’ve been sitting there thinking life doesn’t look like you thought it would- write the list. And for the love of all that is holy (my religious exasperation), please use pen and paper.
#4 – Go for a solo drive and cry it out with Jesus. Some days I do it in silence and just let my tears speak for themselves; others, I talk out loud, and then there are days I just drive and listen to my favorite worship songs (click here for that playlist on Spotify). Now, crying it out usually leaves me with a big headache, but for some reason, after that, I’m ready to keep going. Sometimes you really do just need to cry and lay it all at His feet.
#3 – Work out and eat healthy meals. One of the things that I learned as I was dealing with anxiety that affected my body physically, is that food and exercise help a lot. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t give you all the technical and medical terms, but something about endorphins and nutrients. (If you could see me right now, I’m shrugging my shoulders because I really couldn’t tell you lol). Basically, do what 1 Corinthians 16:19-20 tells us and remember that our body is a temple, and we should treat it well. (Check out my Pinterest recipe board for some favorite recipes).
#2 – Unplug. Delete the apps from your phone, avoid going on them when you’re on the computer. Instead, listen to worship music, play encouraging podcasts, read the Bible app if you have to be on your phone. Use the time you would be on your phone to journal, pray, or read an actual book, you know, the ones where you have to flip actual pages. 😉 Now, I’m pretty sure this is the part where you would ask, “And you do this?” To be honest, no. Unplugging is the one that, because of my job, I can’t delete the apps. Instead, what I do is I set time limits, and I set “downtime.” Every Monday- Friday, my phone “times out” the social media apps on my phone at 9:30 PM. If I go on, I have to decide to ignore my limits. And while there are still days I ignore the limit, I abide by it 90% of the time. The same goes for the time limit I set on the apps!
#1 – Spend time with Jesus consistently. Go ahead, roll your eyes. Because I do the same thing sometimes. But the honest truth is that this is the only thing that gets me back on track. When I dive deeper into the bible study I’m doing, when I pay attention to who He says I am, when I remember that He works all things together, when I’m reminded that His plans for my life are far greater than any I can dream up. And when I’m focused on Him, I forget everything else. So make the time in your daily schedule, whether that means you wake up earlier than usual or you go to bed a little later, spend time with Him. (If you’re looking for bible studies or devotionals, click here for some favs you can find on Amazon and here to shop with one of my favorite small businesses Daily Grace).
There are two specific times a year, I can guarantee the “life doesn’t look the way I thought it would” mentality takes over my mind. Every year around my birthday and every Thanksgiving/Christmas season. So these five things I have to reprioritize twice a year.
Now, there’s a chance that this is only me, and if that’s the case, then please share your secrets below! But I have a feeling I’m not the only one who struggles at least once a year, wondering why life doesn’t look like I thought. So if that’s you reading this, I want to leave you with one last thing,
I have to remind myself of those two words multiple times a day, several days a week. Because it really is okay that life doesn’t look like we thought it would. You know that ability that I mentioned initially, playing the whole story out; guess who else has that?
God. And His is way better than mine.
In fact, in my stories, I change the storylines when something doesn’t quite add up the way I want it to. I erase and rewrite, and sometimes (as my sisters will tell you with the hundreds of stories I started, let them read, and never finished) give up.
But God never does. He’s already written the whole thing out, and He’s not surprised that we are where we are. Not for a single second does the thought, “life doesn’t look like I thought it would for [insert YOUR name here].”
Instead, He walks beside us and reminds us when we need it most, “the plans I have for you are GOOD… to give you a future and a hope”.
So, yes, friend. It is okay that life doesn’t look like you thought because it looks exactly like what God has planned. Keep on going; you’ve got this.
P.s. Like how God works? It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written anything, but this is what He laid on my heart to share at the end of this crazy year, right as people are making their New Years Intentions… maybe these can be yours?