When I was a teenager, I set my sights on winning the presidency of a national organization I belonged to. I arrived at our convention armed with campaign “buttons” made by cutting sticky shelf-lining paper into my initials and a full page of my “platform” ideas. No one had ever taken an election so seriously, but I was eager to win. In my mind, there were things that needed doing and I was going to make them happen. The girls had never seen such an organized and forceful candidate, one who articulated such a clear vision of what we could do together, and I won. I fully expected to embark on a year of bringing my ideas to reality. But as the old saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
Soon after the convention, I arrived at the office of the Executive Director, an older man whose wisdom I learned to treasure and whose presence in my life I often miss, who summarily informed me that none of my ideas were possible. In my arrogance, I was angry, since I was sure that my ideas were fantastic. And I was completely deflated. The girls had elected me to do something. How could I let them down? All of my dreams of accomplishing something big suddenly seemed foolish and I felt completely adrift. But as Helen Keller once remarked, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” Fortunately, our Director didn’t let me waste much time looking at the closed door. He immediately redirected me to something I could do, something that our members could accomplish, and we proceeded to do something big – and important – through the year.
I have to admit that if it had been up to me, I would have dug my heels in and tried to move forward with my plans anyway. In all likelihood, I would have spent a year working furiously to accomplish very little.
Our doors are sometimes opened by tragedy, such as when Candy Lightner’s 13 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 1980. Candy started the organization MADD, whose efforts now save 17,000 deaths each year. At other times, it’s adversity that challenges us to see the possibilities in life. The four year old daughter of a friend of mine was diagnosed with diabetes. Through her sadness, my friend saw that this illness and the personal responsibility it demanded could be a source of strength for her daughter, who is thriving as she confidently takes charge of her life in ways that are unusual for those in her generation. And now, my friend is working toward a doctorate in nursing, using her life experience to create a research project that supports adolescent diabetics by connecting them with nursing students. In other circumstances, the challenge might not be so great. Growing up in Wisconsin, our plans were frequently the casualty of the unpredictable weather. On one day that my mother had planned a picnic, it decided to rain. So she spread the tablecloth out on our green shag carpet (yes, it was the 70’s) and had a picnic anyway.
To paraphrase John Lennon, life is what happens to us when we’re busy making other plans. I often get so attached to my plans and ideas, even when it’s clear that they won’t work. As a result, I get frustrated, angry, and spend way too much time banging on closed doors. That’s not to say that the effort is completely fruitless, since I learn a lot from the process and from my many failures. But we should always ask ourselves when we’re staring at the closed door if there might not be another one open for us.
So my question is, what doors have been opened for you lately?