The Life I Planned

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

–Joseph Campbell

Tell me about a time you did this. See if you can tell me the story of the moment you decided to do this—to give up the life you had planned—or that had been planned for you.


  1. Juli Richardson says

    My whole life I have given up the life I had planned for myself. I never once saw what my life is now as the life I wanted or was going to have. I had dreams. I had hopes. I had fantasies. Nothing I have is what I wanted or hoped for or dreamed of.
    Nothing is the way I would want it if I could change it. Nothing is what I thought. Nothing is everything

  2. Linda says


    Well – it’s a sign. I recently latched onto that exact J. Campbell quote while reading the wonderful book, Following Atticus (by Tom Ryan). I have, this year, begun the process of “giving up” the life I had “planned” or was expecting and have slowly started to let the life that is waiting introduce itself to me. I will try to come up with something more to post about this. Thanks for the prompt!

  3. Camilla Sørensen says

    It happend a cold winter night – my feet had taken me down town Copenhagen – it was dark – the wind so cold it riped through my body – but my feet kept going on this unfamiliar road – in the darkness – the only light coming from the cars passing by me on the busy road – I could see my breath in front of me – feeling my heart beathing in my chest – on this unfamiliar road – for many years my feet had been told where to go – where to sit – where to stay – that these feet of mine were damaged beyond repair – but on this dark winter night – I had decided to walk down this unfamiliar road looking at my feet all the way – I was scared – I did not know what was going to happen the next hour – who I was going to talk to – the only thing I had was an address – The Joan Sisters it said on the piece of paper curled up in my hand – counsling for women for free – I stopped – I look about me – I couldn’t see in the darkness – there should be a big house right about here – so I looked further down the road – it seemed I had to walk a bit further in the cold wind – so I did – Dannnerhuset it said – I stopped outside the building – here it was – I was freezing – shaking – in pain – I looked down at my feet – we had gotten so far – did we dare to walk the last meters – I tried to build up all my courage – looked down at my feet -let’s go I said to myself – I took one step – then another – and another – until I stood outside the door – Joan Sisters it said – I pushed the botton – exhaled – my body shaking – my breath fast – my heart beathing – the door opened – silence – I looked up and this women appeared in the door smiling at me – “come on in” she said – then I took the last few steps into the warm building…

  4. Ana says

    “…tell me the story of the moment you decided to…give up the life you had planned—or that had been planned for you.” Neither of these is true for me. No one in my family had a plans for me to really become anything, and I did not really think I would live past 18. The only moment this prompt brings to mind is the day I decided to take a serious turn with my life: I decided to live. I was standing on 28th and Park, ending an 8 year relationship. I kissed him on the cheek and said I love you…knowing in my heart that I had no idea what those words really meant from one human being to another. I figuratively and literally turned the corner…I was 32 years old. I turned the corner committed to two things: 1) Asking for help, and 2) not being in another relationship until I truly had a relationship with my-self. I began healing and spending quality time with myself. The most amazing 10 years of my life.

    • Ilana says

      Ana- I love how you tell us everything while at the same time telling us nothing. Your descriptions of the feelings say it all so the details of actual events become less necessary. Very cool!

    • Debbie says

      Ana – so glad you made that decision to live! The clarity of your two commitments has carried you forward. Thanks for sharing this moment of decision with us!

  5. Rachel Staples says

    I like to call this life I previously planned the My Happiness era. There was a time that I thought once it began that I had finally arrived. I was here! Everything that I had always wanted was my everyday life. A family with a great husband that wanted the same things and had the same plan, a home with bunches of kids, grandkids, dogs, cats, and extended family and friends that came over for dinners, parties and all sorts of reasons and celebrations!
    I had married a man that had been a part of this longing and love that we had waited a long time for. He had three children and I had three children, the Brady Bunch many had called us and don’t think that didn’t get old. We moved in together and our children were happy, we ended up buying the house that we lived in and bought a new larger vehicle to carry our new family. I loved each and everyday for the present and the possibilities. Then reality struck!! My husband’s ex decided that we had too much money and took him to court stating that he had never paid child support during his children’s life. This struck us four months after we had married so being the dutiful wife, I embroiled myself into this battle that was his and after four years and quite a bit of money and sacrifice. It was over and not without some scars and wounds.
    Strike two was our growing children and the other parental units. Not to say that we were the perfect parents or that we knew what was best, but if you know anyone with a blended family? It can be very difficult with two many fingers in the pie. We were raising men and women people!! The custody battles, the visitation, the children’s decisions based on adolescent attitudes! Whew.. it was a mess. But we got through it and yes more scarring and now, open wounds.
    Strike three? Menopause! The worst word in the English language, actually it could have been called anything and it would have been the worst word. This I had to carry on my own because it had happened at a young age for me. No need to explain what happened because at times this disease that most women go through had emotions that were warranted, unnecessary, sympathetic and volatile. Everything changed in my and our world. This lasted eight years and during the entire time I was working my way up the corporate ladder. Yep! Aside from that thing called life? I had everything that I had planned out for my life and wanted.
    Then one day the children were grown and gone with the exception of two, the menopause was under control and I was at the top of my game at work and so was he. Unfortunately, in building this life that we wanted, we lost us. The remaining wounds were severe and open with no medical attention in sight. It was the hardest decision that I have ever made in my life, but it was time to go. I had realized that with all the hits that we took and the eight years that I fought alone (when I say alone, I mean no one understood menopause, so I was crazy) to be me again? He had changed and we couldn’t get it back. So I left. Him, the house, the materials things, the money and even the great money making job. Most importantly my happiness that became my sadness.
    I now have a very different life and a freedom that I have never felt before. My creativity has come back and I remembered what I wanted to be! I am now able to pursue a new life, a writing life, hopefully as a travel writer and although I still flash on the good days with family, kids and my own home? I look forward to what’s waiting and hope that it becomes the life that is waiting for me.

    • Debbie says

      Rachel – when I read your post, I thought of how much of what I thought I wanted when young was inherited from my elders, like the family silver. Now that I am older, my wants feel more like “me” and more authentic. Your story reminded me of this – thank you.

  6. Ilana says

    I want to applaud all of you who had the courage to post such beautiful responses to this prompt. I decided right away what event in my life would appropriately respond to it. However, I could not remember how it felt to believe that those plans were right for me. Dutifully, I dug out my journal from that period of my life. That’s as far as I got. I have not yet had the strength to read it. I hope that I will before the week is up and we receive a new prompt. If not, I salute you all. IM

    • Terry Gibson says

      I hope you’ll read that as you feel able, Ilana. I look forward to your story when it comes but please take care of yourself too.

      • Ilana says

        Oh Terry, as always your caring means so much. Thank you! I had logged on because I successfully wrote my response but finding your comment was a gift indeed.

  7. Ilana says

    Lech l’cha. Go Forth.

    “Once or twice in a lifetime, a man or woman may choose a radical leaving, having heard ‘Lech l’cha—Go forth.’ God disturbs us toward our destiny by hard events and by freedom’s now urgent voice which explode and confirm who we are. We don’t like leaving but God loves becoming.” – from the Mishkan T’fila, A reform Siddur (MY siddur)

    So this was the plan finally coming together. Three hundred and seventy days before my boyfriend, Alex, had graduated. He moved back home to work in another state. We spent the year writing letters, e-mailing, talking on the phone and making trips to see each other once every couple of months.

    The best part of those trips had been the last two days prior, when the anticipation was at its height. It would intensify and become sweeter as that first, magical, moment of reunion drew nearer. The worst part was the moment we said ‘goodbye.’ I was left with another two months of wondering what he was thinking, missing him and knowing I didn’t deserve to have him. The visits were always the same. I think it’s written somewhere that if you have only two nights together every other month you must have sex the first night and the second if at all possible. If you didn’t ‘do it’ every chance you got then there was something wrong with you. I remember one morning I woke up to find him all over me. He had started without me. At the time I convinced myself that it was romantic. What better way to wake up in the morning to find your boyfriend making love to you? (A better way would have been to willingly make the choice but I knew nothing of choice back then.)

    It had been a long, agonizing, year but now it was over. Alex came out for my graduation and we traveled back to our home town where he worked. We moved in together. No more missing him. No more wondering if he was angry with me. No more counting the hours we had together before he had to go back home or I had to go back to school. It was still an intense ride, though. There were the highs of having pleased him. There were the moments of terror that he might be angry. Sometimes those ended with relief that I hadn’t done anything wrong. More often, though, it was the devastation of a well earned three days of the silent treatment. I had spoken out of turn or said something embarrassing in front of his friends. He always forgave me, though. He loved me and a few weeks he was going to propose. I was sure of it. I was excited. I was in love. And I was going to marry this man. I waited four months wondering what romantic proposal he was going to surprise me with.

    Then one day I heard it, “Lech l’cha—Go forth.” Marilyn’s fork broke. We were at a barbeque for his job and we were sitting with another couple; one of Alex’s co-workers and his girlfriend. I remember nothing about the woman besides her name and that on September 10, 1997, at that barbeque, her plastic fork broke and overturned her plate, causing the food to go everywhere. Her boyfriend apologized for the food that hit me in the face, cleaned up the mess and went back to the buffet to get her another plate of food. I was literally struck dumb; overwhelmed with relief. Had it been me I would be facing a lecture and at least two to three days of the silent treatment for the horrible sin of embarrassing him in front of his coworkers. In that moment I realized what kind of a future I had planned for myself. On the way out of the party I gave him the benefit of the doubt and asked him point blank. “If it had been me who had made that mess you would have been furious, wouldn’t you?” The bastard didn’t even bother to deny it. To be fair, he didn’t admit it either. He simply said, “I might but it wasn’t you so what’s the difference?”

    It took me a week to break up with him. It meant giving up the life I had planned. I was going to be his bride. I was going to be his wife, the mother of his children. But then all that was gone. When I told him that I was breaking up with him he said to me, in his usual superior wise tone. “I don’t think that is what you should be doing right now. It is not the right decision for you.” Fortunately for me, as always, I had no choice. This time, though, it was my heart that had dictated the next action, not him. I told him as much and sent him on his way; out of my life.

    To this day I remain grateful that Marilyn’s fork broke, grateful that I heard ‘Lech l’cha. Go forth’, grateful that I gave up the life that I had planned for myself.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Ilana, I too am grateful Marilyn broke her fork, and BRAVO that you were able to act on the clarity of the “ah-so” moment.

      Sometimes if seems that it only after something is over that we can see the handwriting that was on the wall along! I’m so glad you did!

    • Terry Gibson says

      Ilana, I am so happy that moment of clarity and reckoning happened for you too. I can’t stand the thought of anyone berating and trying to shame women, friends. You.

      • Ilana says

        As always, Terry, thank you for your caring. I truly appreciate it. I’ve never been in a community like this before. I love sharing my writing here but the support is a huge benefit I had not expected. IM

      • Bobbie Anne says

        I too can’t understand how someone can be mean enough to berate other woman. Our struggles are similar. We can help each other out and lend a hand if we can.

    • Debbie says

      Ilana – so glad you dove into the journal and then shared this story with us. Finding the courage to make such a decision, without anyone else to validate it – feels like it must have been huge for you – especially at that point in your life. Thank you for writing this week.

      • Ilana says

        Thank you, Debbie. It is strange how battles won long ago feel so simple in comparison to those we are still fighting. Though I remember, at the time, it was one of the hardest things I had to do. I’m glad I have these victories to look back on as I face the struggles of today. Thanks for helping me remember that. IM

  8. beverly Boyd says

    I don’t remember having plans. What good would it have been? I grew up in the early fifties when women were expected to stay home and be mothers. Fortunately that role was one that suited me well and being the oldest of five children was well prepared. I was the mother of seven children who grew up to be well adjusted actualized folks.

    I sometimes wondered why God gave me such a fine brain. I knew a number of really good mother’s who were more endowed with common sense than brains. I never actually sabotaged my schoolwork, but it would have been easier socially if I had not been one of the smartest kinds in the class. I loved college, but I went, not so much for what I could learn, but to assure finding a husband who could support me well and to have an alternative if something happened that I needed to support myself. I was not unusual in that post-WW II generation of women.

    When Betty Freidan’s book “The Feminine Mystique” came out in 1965, I sat in the rocking chair where I nursed my babies reading and cried… to learn I wasn’t alone. I found out many of my friends felt the same way, but we did not talk about it. We traded recipes and household hints, watched each other’s children, volunteered at school and our churches, played bridge and had Tupperware parties. We talked about scouts, little league and the PTA.

    One of my sorority sisters at Syracuse University was the only student in her pre-law class. She was one “tough cookie” and it was not easy in those days to find a man who could appreciate the kind of strength she had. She had a successful career but missed out on part of the life she wanted, which included a husband and children.

    Now that I no longer have people in my life who depend on my support and assistance, one of my ongoing challenges in life is to focus my energy on my own agenda, if in fact i know what my agenda is!

    The life I didn’t plan for myself was actually a good one. Fortunately I made good choices for the opportunities I had. I’m glad my children have grown up in a world that allows them more options, especially for girls

    Now I spend as much of my time writing as possible. I got rid of four boxes of music recently because I no longer plan to do more that sing in the choir or play the piano for my own pleasure. I am no longer be the chief cook for big meals. I avoid volunteering in general except for things I really enjoy and have a passion for. It isn’t always easy, but it is often exciting. Not bad at my age!

    • Debbie says

      Beverly – what I enjoyed about your post was the underlying sense of satisfaction you seemed to have gotten from many aspects of your previous “lives”. And now, you are well positioned to “try on” yet another set of life experiences. Have fun!

  9. says

    I waited until the sun rose and then took a break
    it was finally time
    Time to wash my hands of it all
    time to clean the rain gutters
    time to wish it were anew
    I think it is time now.
    It is time to give up the life that I had planned for the life that is waiting for me—and hoo-weee am I scerred! (wonder what’s out there, wonder what he’ll do..)
    suppose it might not be all bad
    suppose the dead may talk
    and the live may listen
    suppose my own ingenuity may have a say in it all (or will it)
    suppose i’m really scerred (i mean really s-c-a-r-e-d) what if I don’t make any money at whatever is planned for me; what if i fail; what if i lose my sense of myself; what if everything i’ve worked so hard for turns into a wagon (and gets carted away into the wilderness for someone else’s use
    what if, what if, what if…
    I suppose that’s what keeps us all tied–“WHAT IFFFFF…!”
    hmmm, what if i don’t fail??
    what if i’m—hah, happy??
    what if I meat the person of my dreams and ride into the wilderness and live a live of fancy fears and nothing elses
    what if
    what if my life turns to sour grapes
    what if the wrath that is in me never gets quelled
    what if my life that was, never is and never will be
    gosh golly, gosh darned “what if” hmmm
    what if I “succeeeeeeeeed!” yippee (same thing as “failing” right?)
    what if?
    i guess, here’s the story:
    what if I never life the life that is waiting for me and only life the life I planned? then I will never have lived at all
    here’s to you jc, thanks for letting us know

    • Debbie says

      I loved all the “what ifs?” – they truly do keep us docile and afraid of discovering our true selves. And my favorite line and, for me, the ultimate “What if”
      “what if I never life the life that is waiting for me and only life the life I planned? ”
      Thanks for the great post!

  10. Debbie says

    I finally could not stand it anymore. I had to ask. “Guess you remember this is our anniversary, right?”

    She turned toward me with a blankness to her expression that I found unnerving. “Yeah, I didn’t really do anything. Didn’t get a card or flowers.” Raising her glass of wine, she managed a feeble smile “Cheers”.

    I twisted my mouth into the mockery of a smile, struggled to answer her casual toast but found the words would not come. They were stuck behind the growing lump in the back of my throat. I sat there, motionless, for what seemed like an infinity yet in reality it was only a few minutes. I tried not to stare in anger and pain at the side of her face as she continued to watch TV. Seemingly oblivious to the implications of her nonchalant dismissal of what had, to this point, always been a special day between us.

    I thought of the long overnight flight from the west coast, the sleepless night willingly sacrificed to be back to our home in plenty of time for our normal celebration. Of the many, many anniversary mornings we woke up together making special plans or in exotic locations in honor of the years together. I frantically tried to get my bearings. I felt my heart shrinking back deep inside, running from the inevitable. I could not breathe. I had to get some air, had to get away.

    I stood up abruptly without really meaning to and was further amazed that she did not even react. Wrapping myself in the remnants of my tattered dignity, I walked slowly back to the bedroom. I pushed the door gently shut against the sound of the TV and waves of indifference coming from the living room.

    Walking to the mirror, I looked at the reflection there. It looked like me but all was surreal. There was no sign that my heart was breaking, my pride battered, or that the world had shifted into another dimension. Staring vacantly at the mirror, I noted without emotion the tears sliding down my cheeks. All was empty, there was only the void where once there had been a caring relationship.

    As I raised my hand to wipe away the tears, I noticed the rings on my finger. The sparkle of the diamonds suddenly seem garish, the weight of the gold band too heavy to bear. Mourning the loss of all they symbolized, I considered what, if anything, they now meant. Nothing, only cold pieces of gemstone and metal.

    Just before slipping them off my fingers , I paused. I heard her moving around in the other room and thought, wildly for just a moment, that she was coming to stop me, to explain it was all a mistake. Those hopes were dashed as I recognized the sound of her car’s engine heading down the driveway. Away from me. Away from our past. Away from any hope of our future.

    On the afternoon of what would have been my twenty-sixth anniversary, I took off the rings I had worn for almost half my life and put them carefully away in the jewelry box. Then I sank to the floor consumed by the knowledge that what was to come would be very different from anything that had been before.

    • Ilana says

      Debbie- I think you outdid yourself this week. This piece was extremely effective and evocative because of how gentle you were with it. I realize it is a true story but you could have told it with more violent language. Your choice not to made it all the more devastating and beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss but you are clearly a strong woman with many gifts. As a dear friend of mine and one of my precious sister survivors says, “Keep on Keeping on.” Welcome back. I missed you last week. IM

      • Debbie says

        Ilana – Thanks so much for your kind words. I almost didn’t post this week – not because I didn’t know what I would write but because I did – and wasn’t sure I could revisit that moment in time again so soon. Missed the blog last week as well. On to the next prompt today…

        • Paula Hill says

          Hi Debbie…..Your piece couldn’t have been more perfectly written. I felt your experience in my gut…..I, too, am sorry for your loss and pain…..

      • beverly Boyd says

        This was such a hard piece to read. Yet I read it three times savoring the way you expressed your story and trying to find the answers to my questions between the lines. They weren’t there and I suspect some of the answers you don’t even know.
        I loved some of the images: Wrapping yourself in the remnants of your tattered dignity and feeling your heart shrinking back inside.
        It was beautifully written and so raw and real. Thank you for your honesty. Hopefully your willingness to share and let us support you will help you move through your grief.

    • Debbie says

      Thank you all so much for your positive response and for your support. This blog, and the courageous women writers who contribute here, is absolutely helping me to heal. Every time you allow me to capture some of the feelings in words and share them with you – there is a little less of the pain, sorry and confusion inside of me. I am deeply grateful to you all on so many levels!! Let’s do some more writing together!

      • Ilana says

        Debbie- The feeling is very mutual. I am honored to be a part of this community, to support and be supported by all of you. Thank you all for welcoming me! IM

    • Terry Gibson says

      This is a beautiful piece, Debbie. I also loved the ‘tattered remains of my dignity” and other descriptions. I’m sorry for your loss and, being twenty years in a relationship, I understand what you describe. I’m really happy you decided to write what you wanted; I am enriched because of it.

  11. Bobbie Anne says

    I had planned all along on being the Godmother of one of my adorable nieces since their birth. They are sisters, so I thought since I got along well with them and I think I have their best interests at heart, I would be chosen to help as a guide along their journey thru life. One of them has difficulty reading, and since I have a degree in that, surely I would be picked. Yes, I have other sisters, but one said she doesn’t like children. The other one declined, and only one sister was interested. Guess what? My brother picked my sister and her 3rd husband. Then he picked my brother and his wife of three years. Yes, baptism is a religious Scrament. On the church website it says you have to be confirmed and a practicing Catholic. I fit the bill. Still, I did not win the popularity contest. Seems that “the best laid plans of mice and men” don’t always happen. Of course, I’m disappointed and sad, I called him up later and asked why. He said he didn’t know it was such a big deal. He said he did want a practicing catholic, and he hoped that my brother’s wife (he couldn’t remember her name) was one. By the way, I do not have a Godfather when I was baptized. The custom is to have a Godfather and Godmother. Most people in the catholic faith have two. I didn’t. My husband did and he is the Godfather to three children. Sometimes things don’t work out according to plan. Hmm, or maybe, that was the plan.

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