Navigating the Unexpected


The last few weeks have thrown me some pretty hefty curve balls. Things that have put my schedule, plans, and intentions right out of the ball park. Navigating the unexpected is my current reality, as unanticipated events, accidents, illnesses and obstacles fall across my path, challenging my best-laid plans.

And, whilst this does feel like a strangely testing time for me, the truth is also that however much we may want to control, plan, and regulate our lives, we are never in as much control of what unfolds as our minds would like to think.

Change, chaos and the unexpected are defining aspects of the era we now live in. They are guaranteed to be a part of our individual, organization and political landscapes.

Having the skills and presence necessary to navigate the unexpected has never been so crucial to our well-being.

My first curve ball of the month was someone slamming their very large SUV into the back of my newly acquired car. I had stopped on a red light at the time, so the collision was unexpected, and shocking, to say the least. Once we had pulled over to assess the damage and speak to one another, I asked him – “What happened?” He told me he had been distracted and when I complained to him that he might have taken more care. His response was, “Stuff happens, lady”.

That sentence has rung around my being ever since. I felt so indignant when he said that to me, and got triggered by the seeming lack of responsibility that lay behind his words. But, the truth is, whether we like it or not, “stuff does happen”.

People do get distracted and cause accidents. Or, they fail to do what they said they would, or do what you never dreamt they would. Or kids get sick, or we get sick; possessions get damaged, we get hurt. We lose our jobs, our belongings, our relationships.  Accounts get messed up or clerical errors are made. Unexpected bills hit us, or political surprises happen. Work demands, flights are delayed.  The list is endless: “Stuff happens!”

And so, how we show up when stuff happens becomes crucial to our living and illustrative of our being.

Many of us find some solace in complaining, initially at least; and it may give some momentary satisfaction or a sense of being heard. But, I am increasingly finding it doesn’t really help; and when I do it, it only spins me into rehearsing negativity and victimhood.

Nor, I am finding, does resisting what is happening, do much good. My second curve ball of the month was my eldest daughter getting flu. She was due to spend some time with her Dad and I was due for some much-needed time away. None of that happened and instead I spent a week with her on the couch watching ‘90’s chick flicks, and clearing up her Kleenex. Initially I resisted, internally at least. I wanted my time away, I wanted what I had planned.

But life, it seemed, had another plan for me and once I gave into it all, I found a genuine sweetness in the opportunity. It became a cherished time for me to be with my daughter, time for her to receive some nurture and care. My daughter is older now, the whole trajectory of her being is a move away from my Mama care, toward a fierce and appropriate independence. This week of her flu brought me the unexpected gift of having her need and want her mother; I had not realized how much I have been missing that or her.

My week was not what I had planned, but I felt unexpectedly filled from our week together.

navigating-unexpected-memeThen, just as she got well, I got sick. My turn to work my way through the Kleenex box. Again, my first response was to resist: “I don’t have time to be sick!” I wailed to myself. But the truth is, I did, because sick is what I was. I had no choice but to cancel a full week of work and give into it.  I did not leave the house in a week and barely did more the week after. Friends brought soup, sent sweet messages, offered to help with the kids. For a week, I slept and watched Netflix.

It was a time of incubation, rest and healing. I’m not sure I know why it was needed but I have a sense it gave me something that the week I had scheduled simply could not have done.

Flowing with what is, is an easy thing to say, much harder to actually live. Surrendering to what is, rather than what we had hoped for or planned for, requires a deep letting go. Accepting what our day, week, month, year or even life throws at us demands that we trust life in ways few of us have garnered.

But how we respond to life’s curve balls is the truth of who we are. It is all the incidents and events of each day, planned or not, that actually make up our lives. And it is how we respond to those things that actually creates the everyday truth of who we are. An “I” perhaps very different to how we may like to think we are.

Since the flu, the curve balls have kept flying – all our possessions being held up in US customs, incurring unfathomable and extortionate extra costs; movers breaking precious items; a horse-riding accident leaving me hurt enough to be house-bound again, are just some of my current list. And, there have been times that it feels as if I am hanging on by a thread.

But as I reflect on who I am in response to all these unexpected challenges, I notice I am being kinder to myself than I used to be.

Less perfectionist, more accepting – of myself, life, and others.

And in this last month, I may have not got done all that I hoped for. But I have upped my game on asking for help and learnt to laugh a little more when things have gone wrong.  Best of all, I have been blown away by all the many ways people – both those that I know and those I don’t – have been kind and supportive.

Navigating the unexpected may not always feel the easiest part of living. But, if we are willing to accept our vulnerability inherent in the chaos, there lies ample opportunity to feel and receive the goodness in the world and others.

And now? Now I am off to call Ikea for the third time, chasing them for the delivery that has still not made it to our house. Stuff happens, lady!


  1. I’ve heard these moments called FOGs – Fucking Opportunities for Growth. I wonder if that fits with this experience(s) for you? I like to see it that way – it helps me every time, well ….. mostly, if I remember!

  2. “It is all the incidents and events of each day, planned or not, that actually make up our lives. And it is how we respond to those things that actually creates the everyday truth of who we are.”
    Very wise reminder…

  3. Thouraya says:

    Amazing piece, Susannah, and so full of wisdom. Beautifully written as always – you have such a flow in communicating your thoughts and feelings!
    The last month has definitely been exceptionally challenging and having read your piece (more than once I admit), I see myself taking excerpts and pasting them into my notes so I can easily refer to them to serve as a reminder :).
    “..Accept our vulnerability inherent in the chaos”: Love it!
    And yes, letting go and trusting the process (perhaps for the sake of the process rather than necessarily the end result) has been one of my biggest challenges. I have particularly found myself in the last few days wondering about a point that a client of mine raised once: when is it trusting and letting go and when does it become more of giving up?
    Thank you for sharing all that you share, I feel lucky and humbled to have this exposure.

  4. Wow Susannah. I just read this post now and it is so perfectly fitting and apropos to all that life has thrown my way. I so appreciate the reminder that these curve balls offer a beautiful opportunity to receive unexpected gifts from ourselves and others – gifts that we may not ever have received had the ball landed where we originally intended to throw it. xoxo

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