When Your Life Plan Goes Off-Course

Restart Your Career

Could it be true that every decision you make in your teens and twenties can affect the rest of your life? Some young people not only believe that this is true, but they live their lives in a constant state of stress and panic over whether or not they’re choosing the right path and doing everything they’re supposed to be doing to have the future they want.

recent interview with clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay, published on, discusses this topic at length. According to Dr. Jay, too many young professionals don’t plan enough. She suggests creating a timeline that maps out the future you want by the time you hit those ‘landmark ages’ and then focusing on making that timeline a reality.

We absolutely loved the article. We thought “YES! This is what we’ve been saying! Young people SHOULD have more life plans and roadmaps to help give them a clear view of where they want to be and how to get there.”

But it was only when we scrolled down and read the comments that we saw things from a different perspective.

“As someone who just turned 26, this article really bothered me,” said a woman named Lydia who posted a lengthy reply to the article criticizing the mentality of planning for the rest of your life. Lydia was diagnosed with cancer in her 20’s and described her pre-cancer life as “Endless lists, goals, benchmarks, ruthlessly striving and networking and focusing on the career and life that I wanted for myself, thinking that if I did everything just so, it would all work out by the time I hit 30.”

Though Lydia had planned her life carefully, nothing could have prepared her for what happened shortly after becoming the person she so desperately wanted to be. Just as she was starting to settle into her first corporate job, she discovered that she had a tumor on her spine, which required difficult surgery and a lengthy recovery period that involved relearning how to do simple, everyday tasks. So far, her recovery has taken eight months. She is still three months away from going back to work, and she’s not able to return to the high-stress corporate environment that she was in before.

According to Lydia:

My habit of planning actually became a hindrance in finding resiliency and adaptability when the plane veered so far off course that I couldn’t save it. I spent my first month in the hospital honestly worrying more about what people like this author were going to think of me than focusing on the difficult task of literally starting over. It was just a huge wake-up call that this is not a healthy way of thinking for anyone, at any age.

Important questions for young professionals are—what do you do when everything you have planned for is suddenly derailed? How do you cope with a tragedy while still retaining your self-worth, your happiness, and being able to make a living?

The answers to these questions are certainly not easy, but the most important thing to remember is that whatever you’re going through, whatever tragedy has significantly altered your life plan, there is always someone out there who has gone through something even more disruptive and come back from it.

Lydia believes that feeling like a failure just because your life path doesn’t fit some cookie-cutter version of success is nonsense.

Putting those thoughts inside 20-something’s heads, that they are lacking in worth or importance in any way if they fail to fit the norm, is just asking them to be anxious, neurotic, and unnecessarily stressed out with a low sense of self-worth once they do hit their 30s or 40s. It’s just not the right type of motivation.


To avoid this mentality, practice positive thinking. Keeping a positive attitude can go a long way when dealing with tragedy. Don’t tell yourself that your career will never recover from an absence due to illness, injury, or a grieving period. Instead, keep reminding yourself of your skills, talents, aspirations, and adaptability. We can help you just contact us for counseling.

If something has happened to throw off your life plan, tap back into the motivation that helped you map out the plan, to begin with. Then, start over with a new plan. Remember, just because it’s different doesn’t mean it has to be worse. Odds are you’ve come through your personal tragedy with a renewed sense of who you are as a person and what is important to you in life.

When you are ready to jump back into things, don’t keep your struggles a secret. Be open and honest with people. If anyone asks about the gap in your school or work history, focus on how getting through the tragedy has made you a stronger person. Talk about how it has improved your coping mechanisms or given you a better idea of what you want your career focus to be. No one can plan for a tragedy, but you can control how you deal with it and how you present it, and yourself to other people.

So what’s Lydia’s advice? From someone who has lived through a personal tragedy and is coming out the other side with focus and determination, she says:

If you really want to stay in a healthy state of mind in your 20s, just stop listening to the endless chatter telling you what you should have by age X, Y, or Z. It’s YOUR life, and life is going to be random and throw in some serious curve balls no matter how hard you plan otherwise. Go live, learn, love, explore, and don’t listen to anyone else’s priorities on where/what your life should be.

Regardless of what you’ve been through, remember that you have control over how you think and how you live your life. Go ahead: live, learn, love, explore, and try to find joy and value in every minute—no matter where life takes you.

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