Expect the Unexpected: Releasing Expectations for Authentic Joy

 All images and video in this post c/o  B Family Films
All images and video in this post c/o B Family Films

Post written by Lilly

I sat in a fluorescent lit conference room, posture erect and J. Crew pencil skirt freshly ironed. I was 25 years old. The executive director of the nonprofit I was interviewing with asked me the dreaded question. 

“So, what’s your five year plan?”

My five minute plan was to say anything possible to ace this interview and get out of the personal hell that was my current entry level job. I also liked and respected the woman asking. I took a breath and performed with the answer I thought she was looking for. 

I got the job. And with it, for some reason, the five year plan I had created on the spot to impress my interviewer. 

And I was off to the races, doing well at my job, acquiring mentors, gaining recognition. To get my next goals, I looked around me. Who was being promoted next? How were the titles of my peers evolving on LinkedIn? What boards did people on the same track as me sit on? What did they do with their free time? 

I had an expected outcome. I wanted to be an executive director of a nonprofit by age 30. I’d have my baby at 29 so I could transition to my larger role with complete focus. This was all working perfectly. 

The Best Plans

At 28, I was completely burnt out in nonprofit. Even though this plan was locked in my brain, my soul was doing everything it could to interfere. I finally left, knowing that there would be no way to stay in my role while I had a family, due to the 24-hour response nature of the work and the culture of my department. My best option was an offer in the wellness sector from a company that I already frequented as a customer where I had made a good impression. 

Even though looking back this job offer was a miracle, I was in turmoil for weeks. I’ve never cried so much or felt like such a failure over getting an offer to work with people I knew I liked, to be able to by myself more at work and to enjoy promoting something that I loved. Despite this abundance, the simple fact that my work was changing in a way that I had not expected completely threw me for a loop. 

Who was I if I was not the person my LinkedIn profile said I am? If I wasn’t waking up to live out my hastily selected five year plan, WHAT WAS THE PLAN? 

I did finally embrace my transition, which led to another test for me and my attachment to outcomes. All of my life, I’ve been excited by event planning. I love the excitement of creating a sensory experience that surprises and delights another person, whether it’s having a bagpiper show up on my Mom’s front porch on her birthday (#neverforget) or pulling off an event for a brand I’m working for that leaves such an imprint on its guests that authentic loyalty follows. 

The longer I worked in event marketing, the more able I was to imagine and pull off larger events. My prep sheet would end up five pages long, each with different vendors and their locations, arrivals, needs and expectations. I was sometimes planning and executing three events in a single day across the state. There was a huge feeling that this kind of work lit me up, to wake up each day and know I had a good shot of making someone smile. 

Then there was the anxiety. I wasn’t operating from a mindset of doing my best and hoping for the same. Instead, the vision was specific, with any alteration of the plan indicating failure. After nailing down the details of an event, I spent almost every moment until the end in total anxiety, obsessively going over all of the ways that things could go wrong and trying to intercept and plan around them before they had a chance to happen. In my mind, my professional reputation hinged on my events being better than my competitors, flawlessly produced and exactly like I imagined them. 

At the time, I was bringing this energy to everything – home projects, family celebrations, my future plans and even the rhythm of each day. My plan was the right plan and it was my job to make it happen. 

Something I didn’t fully understand at the time was, being in control of the entire universe is exhausting. There’s so many decisions – from where my three-year-old will attend college and how to promote Thanksgiving sales at work, down to what shirt my husband needs to wear to our friend’s house on Saturday. In this mindset, nothing was allowed to be determined by anyone else because the story’s only allowed to go a certain way to be good. My brain was broke.

Finding Something

Now my soul was on my case again, and my body was too. My skin was a mess. My hair was falling out. My body constantly ached. I had always been known to have an attractive energy, but I felt myself repelling people. The light was out. 

I had a panic attack at my desk and decided to drive. My hands were visibly shaking on the wheel when I heard a voice say, “What would you do if I told you everything you want is on the other side of your plan?”

I texted Markus once I stopped driving, and two days later I put in my notice at my second five year plan. 

It still took a long sabbatical to unravel my tendency to imagine specific outcomes in my life and attach onto them over my peace. 

This summer, I was home with my daughter almost full-time. To be honest with you, I got my ass kicked. Each day had so many changes, so many conversations, requests and activities. It was hard to plan as far out as the next day. I had to have a loose plan to steer us out of complete anarchy, but to cling to it over my intuition was to set myself up for exhaustion and dramatics – from both myself and the five-year-old. 

Scrolling Instagram one day, I saw a nostalgic, summer camp inspired, beaded bracelet from a designer in New York I couldn’t afford. A little light went off, and we stopped at the bead store on the way home. We spent the afternoon each making a bracelet like the one I saw with our names on them. 

The next week, we were still wearing our bracelets with pride and making them for friends. Markus and I stayed up that night to talk. I shared how, with my work to learn and understand more about myself and healthy relationships, it could take me so long to learn something so simple. It was almost like every big concept I needed to work on – trust, hope, grace, self-love – could be boiled down to a two or three word phrase. Like a little stack of bracelets. If only I was a creative bracelet maker. Too bad I was just a Mom on an incidental break from employment feeling washed up at home with her kid this summer. 

The next morning, Markus went to leave for the day. He kissed me on the head and said, “Make those bracelets. I can’t wait to see them tonight.”

My bracelet stacks went from something that brought me joy to make, to something that brought me joy to photograph and share. That brought joy to others – that surprise and delight I was always after in my work, but with a deeper connection from bringing up vulnerable topics in the designs. 

After a really fun summer of using and sharing Beautycounter, my mentor encouraged me to gather interested friends for an opportunity to learn more about safe skincare in person. As passionate as I was for the cause, this topic as the programming alone didn’t feel like something that I would be excited to be invited to when considering breaking my family evening routine. What could I offer my friends that would excite me? 

Following Bliss

We made bracelets. I laughed hard, stayed up late with friends and started a mini phenomenon of my Mom friends going to the bead store, returning selflessly to their needlepoint and, in general, taking back the importance of unproductive, creative time. 

It had all started from my only focus being on what felt fun. But then, the requests came in. Could I come to their house and teach friends about making bracelets? What about their children? 

From there, Camp Crafty Parties, my new business that brings guided crafting to your home for events, was born. 

The rational me who makes and sets a plan in stone did not see this coming. There’s risk in starting a business. There’s risk in every party. I have no idea how this looks long-term. 

I know when I’m helping someone reconnect with their creativity, I light up. I see a change in a person’s mindset by that fifth or sixth bead, going from “Am I doing this right?” to “I’m doing this!” I see parties of women filled with encouragement instead of self-consciousness or gossip. I see children dive into craft supplies without a photo of an expected outcome to guide them and it surprises me every time. The only thing I know for sure is when I’m invited into your homes to create, I’m in bliss and I feel it permeate the room. That’s more than I’ve ever expected from my work environment before, or really from my life. 

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time. – Joseph Campbell

The plan was never to be a business owner. My passion has always been to help others dream big and bring their concepts to life, which I now do in the form of floral arrangements and painted rocks. When I released my plans, my real plan chose me. I don’t know what to expect these days beyond a feeling of fulfillment and joy. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

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