I’ve worked so hard to build a beautiful life for my husband and kids, dedicating myself to creating a home environment that is warm and inviting and welcoming to all.
I’ve spent years crafting a career that I felt was worthy and purposeful, going above and beyond in my education so that I modeled for my children the benefits of a lifetime invested in continuous learning and self-improvement. For thirty years, I have been a dedicated volunteer in my church and community, devoted to sharing Jesus message of shalom and inclusion and helping all those in need. I have cultivated friendships I treasure and enjoyed travel, dining and cultural and sporting experiences with my husband, family and friends.
It has been a good life, a happy life, a positive life by all accounts that I’ve had a large hand in creating.
But a small, barely detectible, cancer tumor in my right breast forced me to reckon with the fact that no matter how hard I try, I am never going to be 100 percent the architect of my own destiny.
Why? Because life, by its’ very nature is spontaneous, and we humans spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out ways to sabotage that spontaneity. Without thinking, we all work tirelessly to reign spontaneity in, so that we can control it, manipulate it for our own purposes, and get angry at it for disrupting our plans. I am a master at it.
I love to fight with spontaneity.
How dare you trample on my life’s blue print! It’s my life spontaneity, not yours!!!
In my own defense, it is not that I am closed to spontaneity. Far from it. A lot of people tell me I adapt well to changes and can catch a curve ball better than most. I like “different” and enjoy the mix of planned and unplanned in my life so spontaneity isn’t such a foreign concept.
But that being said, going off-script can still bring on a case of the tummy butterflies. It sometimes seems unnatural, against the grain of how I was conditioned by this world to view a well-planned, orderly life.
I guess it would be understandable if that logic was applicable only to something as serious as cancer. But truth be told, despite wanting to embrace the “idea” of spontaneity, I can only take impromptu “go with the flow” for so long before I am rounding up the cattle and putting them back in the pen. Spontaneity scares the hell out of me because the world doesn’t like it. No wandering little doggies running roughshod over our master plan.
I am wired by this world to take all of the loose ends of life and create some semblance of order and balance I can comfortably live with. When the pendulum swings too far out of the norm, I’m anxious. When the pendulum stops swinging, I’m anxious. It’s hard to find a happy medium in the spontaneity game when all we do is fight it.
I am not alone in this. Embracing spontaneity sounds great and all, but if social media has anything to say about it, spontaneity is just a buzz word for flaky, unmotivated, undisciplined chaos?
At least that’s what we are force fed to believe. Oh, not necessarily by our parents or even by anyone related to us, but everything from schools, to employers, to just about every aspect of marketing in this world leads us to believe that success is akin to having our lives planned out, every “I” dotted and “t” crossed, and failure is akin to leaving life up to chance.
We pack our lives so full of “must do’s” that there is no time for discovery, possibilities, opportunities. We have forgotten that while spontaneity can bring on such things as cancer, it can also bring the cure, in the form of unexpected blessings, things we never imagined.
Cancer showed up spontaneously one February in my life and I discovered that my constant mapping and remapping of my life plan was not a match for good ol’ spontaneous cancer. If I was going to beat this disease, oh not physically beat it, the medical professionals were on top of that, but emotionally beat it, I was going to have to rewire my mind to think differently about what it means to be absorbed with controlling my life path and leaving nothing to chance.
I had to think of spontaneity in new and different ways. I had to stop fighting it and do two specific things:
Accept that Spontaneity doesn’t just happen without a lot of hard work
While I was going through a boatload of pencil lead crafting my life plan, I never once thought about how spontaneity would fit into my narrative. The blanks on my calendar made me nervous, less self-important, less everything. So, I filled them in. That is why spontaneity requires a lot of hard work. Hard work because we are hard wired to over plan, over schedule. Open spaces on a calendar equals vulnerability. Vulnerability equals the possibility of failure and well, as I said earlier, failure isn’t a popular choice these days. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The reality is that spontaneity isn’t calendar driven. It doesn’t wait around for those days when we have nothing to do. In fact, more often than not, it shows up when we are at our busiest.
Because the funny thing about spontaneity is that when it doesn’t work out, somehow, someone or something comes into our lives spontaneously to help us through it. You and I both know it’s true. The internet knows it’s true and it’s why we all scour and search for those feel good stories everyday where we can click “like” because deep- down we really want to believe. Maybe that’s a God thing, some sort of divine intervention or better yet, maybe it doesn’t need a label. But I can tell you people keep coming into my life spontaneously over and over again that make a difference and I’m betting it’s happening to you too!
Getting Real with Spontaneity
I didn’t have to do anything to “get cancer.” One day I didn’t have it and the next day I did. It was the reality of my world. A spontaneous blotch and initially I fought it.
I fought it with everything I had emotionally. I had unrealistic expectations about spontaneity being only good things, and suddenly waking up one day with cancer fueled my anger and frustration and disappointment in all things impromptu. For those initial first months, it was like being on a never-ending emotional treadmill and I was losing steam.
Fighting spontaneity took over my life. I closed myself off from everyone. Went internal, self- absorbed with my own importance and control. My behavior was stifling my ability to move forward, to take new paths, and caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time wallowing in my problems and in a lot of ways, gaslighting new opportunities.
But after a bit, I grew sick of my own self-importance. I became curious if the pendulum of my life only swung one way. Negative! My calendar was full, but my life was not.
What if, I opened myself up to being blessed spontaneously in a positive way? What if, I had no idea in what form or from whom those blessings would come, but I would remain open to it?
It was time to take the boxing gloves off and let spontaneity have its’ way with my life.
As a start, I focused my energy and attention on people, places and things that brought me joy. I made a conscious effort to not make plans, but be open to plans, spontaneous plans. I had to push aside the fear that something would go wrong. I had a lot of blanks on my calendar.
Literally, over-night, so many doors opened for me. Invitations to do all sorts of things just materialized. Impromptu fun with friends, trying new restaurants with my hubby, opening the front door to a neighbor with an extra loaf of the best fresh baked bread I’ve ever had.
On impulse I booked a vacation to Texas, a place my husband and I had never been, to attend HGTV’s, Chip and Joanna Gaines, “Silobration” in Waco. It turned out to be one of the best unscripted vacations my husband and I have ever had and was a beautiful reminder that one of the things that drew us to each other back in college was our mutual love for unplanned adventure. Without much thought, I agreed to visit an Indian Mission in Oaks, Oklahoma with an acquaintance from church and this morphed into a beautiful friendship between us that I will always treasure and a new opportunity for me to make a difference in the lives of children half way across the country.
Again, and again, I challenged myself to see both sides of the spontaneity coin. Bad stuff was going to happen, but good stuff was happening too…a whole lotta good stuff. I had to keep my heart open and stay out of the boxing ring.
I began to meet people, almost daily, in my cancer journey that inspired me. People who helped me see the best in me and who seemed overjoyed that I was in their life. I wrote a poem to my radiation team as a thank you for their kindness and it now hangs on the wall of the radiation center. I opened up about my cancer with family, friends, my church, not in a Debbie Downer kind of way, but in sharing all of the positive, unplanned things that kept happening to me spontaneously despite my health issues.
It was as if spontaneity was a fuel that was propelling me forward. Past all of the angst of surgery after surgery. Past all of the negative side effects and uncomfortable days. Opportunity after opportunity to be blessed.
Sunday, Father’s Day, was my three- year anniversary of my bi-lateral mastectomy. It could have been a depressing day, a reminder of all I had spontaneously lost. Instead, I went out and played an impromptu game of frisbee golf with my family and damn, my muscles are sore as hell, but I didn’t suck at it. Not at all.
So, I’ve decided to permanently hang up my boxing gloves and make peace with spontaneity. It is welcome in my life.
The fight is over.
I have won. You can too!
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Great post 🙂
Thank you for sharing this, Anne! I really love your words here.
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Thank you Nathan. Welcome to PositivelyAnne and wishing you the best in your life journey 🙂