Your Life Won’t Go Exactly To Plan (And That’s OK)
Illustration by Ms Stefania Infante
Having a bucket list isn’t just a handy way to plan out life goals. It also gives a sense of pride when we complete one of those goals and tick it off the list with the satisfying flourish of an imaginary quill pen.
But what if something unexpected gets in the way, like fallen freight on a busy road, and throws us off course? Maybe we get saddled with responsibilities such as ailing parents a lot sooner than we expected, and our dream of rowing across the Atlantic fades to become nothing more than a “what if?”.
Not achieving our goals can leave us feeling a bit of a failure. Or worse.
My client, Clive, had one of the biggest life goals any of us can have – to be a dad.
“Even when I was a kid, I looked forward to having my own kids,” he told me. “I could never see my life stretching before me without children. The picture just wouldn’t look right.”
Yet Clive and his wife, Sam, were struggling to have a family. After their second unsuccessful round of fertility treatment, they decided to adopt.
“Being the biological father isn’t the most important thing to me,” said Clive, a few weeks into our work together.
“According to Dr Sigmund Freud, when our hopes are dashed, we need to mourn: an important emotional process of letting go, which the inventor of psychoanalysis called ‘work’”
It was obvious Clive loved kids. He was attached to his three nephews and nieces. But he desperately wanted a child of his own.
We worked together throughout the year as Clive and Sam went through the tough process of being approved as adopters. Finally, Sam and Clive were accepted by the adoption panel as suitable parents.
“We’re so excited,” Clive said, a couple of days after they got the news. ‘This is really happening!’
Yet Clive couldn’t see the elephant in the room.
Two months before they were approved, Clive landed a smart new job as the director of an international media agency. The role meant regular trips to Europe, sometimes for three or four days at a time. I gently asked Clive if this was a good move when he and Sam were about to become parents.
“It’ll be fine!” Clive replied, sounding genuinely excited by his new job and its fat salary, which he saw as crucial for affording the expense of a new child. Yet he was not, it seemed to me, fully aware of how much of an impact this job would have on his dream of becoming a dad. That is, until Sam dropped a bombshell: she told Clive she no longer wanted to adopt.
A few years older than Clive, Sam was self-employed as an artist. She felt Clive had been driving their wish to adopt. She was worried she’d be stuck at home with their child while Clive would be away on business trips just when they needed to be together for their new child. “Sam just thinks we’ve got this the wrong way round,” said Clive.
“She feels, if she had the big job, this would make more sense as being a parent is far more important to me,” Clive told me, holding his face in his hands as he felt his dream of becoming a dad falling away.
Reluctantly, over the next few sessions, Clive admitted he could see the sense in what Sam was saying.
According to Dr Sigmund Freud, when our hopes are dashed, we need to mourn: an important emotional process of letting go, which the inventor of psychoanalysis called “work”. If we don’t admit to feeling sad, angry and hurt, being stuck with these feelings can make us depressed.
Together, we uncovered how Clive felt angry at himself for taking this job, which luckily he was also having a great time doing. Not surprisingly, Clive was angry with Sam, too.
We started to see each other less frequently as Clive’s job started to take up more of his life requiring him to travel more often. Until the day Clive dropped a bombshell of his own.
“I’m going to have to end our sessions in a couple of months,” Clive said. “My company has offered me and Sam the opportunity of moving to New York. We’ll be leaving in two months.” He could barely contain his excitement.
“Living in the States has been on my bucket list for years,” he said, explaining how Sam would be able to get a work visa, too. “I’ve just realised, if we had adopted a child, we’d have had to turn down this amazing opportunity. It would have made this move impossible.”
I received an email from Clive a month ago. He and Sam have never been happier; New York is working out for them just great. One door may have closed, but another swung open. And, luckily for Clive, he was able to see a life beyond the first item on his bucket list.