Welcome to 2023: Here’s a toast to being open to the unexpected in the 12 months ahead

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the 20s have shown their fair share of surprises in the last three years, and let’s be honest, most of them haven’t been pleasant. I think, therefore, the need to get back to normal, to find our centre again, can be overwhelming. I also think many of us feel the need to somehow ‘get back on track with our lives’. I completely feel this too. However, I also feel like the rules of the game have changed a little and that perhaps we need to change too. The unexpected is scary and frequently unsettling, especially if you are someone like me who has always had a five and ten year plan. Even I have been thinking, however, that it is in that unease and unknown that some of the real opportunities for us all lie. So, below is my plea for why, in 2023, we should try a few off piste manoeuvres and be prepared to follow where they lead.

The girl with a plan

I always have a plan, I think it’s the gamer in me, or maybe it’s the reason why I found gaming attractive, but I need to know what I’m heading towards and why I’m going that way. I tend not to be able to play around the edges of things, and so if I’m going to do something, then I am going to put a heap of energy/time into it. I need, therefore, to understand the payoff and if it aligns with my values before I get too involved.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think this has some positive aspects. For example, it enabled me to submit my PhD a year early so I could have a clear year to study for FRCPath. The problem with this approach is that you can be so focussed on the end game that you don’t get to fully experience the journey or spend time just being present enough to really grasp the opportunities that come your way, that are not necessarily badged as such. I think the big things still stand out, the emails to contribute that are explicit, but by not taking the time to have the chats or low key communications you may miss out on things that might have developed into the truly wonderful. Having a plan (I believe) is a necessary way to attain clarity and purpose, but if it becomes too defined it can become a limitation rather than a support.

The joy of serendipity

This blog is one great example for me of something that just wasn’t part of the plan. It was an idea linked to something that I am passionate about and believe in, science communication and engagement, but the plan was about working towards a consultant post and this didn’t really tie in with that. In fact one of the things that I frequently got told was blocking my progress to a consultant post was that I spent too much time on ‘stuff’, that my interest in education and communication was a distraction and that I needed to be more focussed, not less. It is therefore a difficult line to walk, as in moments of stress or lack of self belief, it can be tempting to double down on the plan.

For this reason I think it’s so important to hear the thoughts of people outside of your work bubble and occasionally throw some feelers out to see whether it’s worth following through. One Christmas I just sat and talked to friends and this blog is the result. The very act of just having relaxed conversations with people who are less aware of or focussed on your plan can lead to space for creative thought. It can free your mind to hear new ideas that you just wouldn’t have considered on your own. They can stop you staring at your feet and lift your eyes back up to the horizon.

Sometimes it’s important to start something without knowing where it will lead to, without knowing how it will contribute. Taking risks sometimes on things that just speak to your values, or just stand out as important, can sometimes lead to places you’d never have imagined. This blog, although I’d not predicted or had specific plans linked to it, has grown to a place where it directly supports where I want to be. It’s not just the blog however, other things like my NIHR doctoral fellowship were the same. I started it believing it would be another step on the journey, whereas it gave me access and took me places I hadn’t even been able to envision from where I started. Even those things that you start thinking out are linked to a grand plan require being open to fresh possibilities along the way.

The limitation of blinkers

Change and opportunities come in all kinds of different forms. I’ve been thinking that the pandemic caused my plans to be on pause, as it was impossible to plan, there was no structure, every day was just some new form of change and chaos. I found this incredibly challenging but I wonder if it also opened up a new pathway, it made space for change. It presented a way for me to still feel like I was moving forward by allowing me to have a creative outlet, rather than an academic or professional one. I was searching for a way to centre myself and to support others, whilst at the same time also needing to have something that enabled me to process everything that was happening, and find some dedicated time for myself. It forced me to remove my blinkers and to use my expanded vision to find a new way forward.

Everything that has an upside has its downsides. I wonder therefore if it hadn’t been for the pandemic raising the blog up the priority list would I ever have made a second post? Would I have made it happen after becoming a consultant, and would it, therefore, have been a very different animal? Did the pandemic therefore create the level of disruption in my world that was required for me to be able to step away from the plan for a while and see the wide world of opportunities, rather than just the path I had laid ahead for myself?

Letting go of the map

This is one the key lessons that I’m trying to cling onto now that we are moving forward in the pandemic, it would be all too easy to revert to previous habits and put my blinkers back on. I had a coach who encouraged me to live in the now, to embrace living in the chaos and the unknown. That was in 2013 and I think that’s its only now, 10 years later, that I can really begin to understand what she meant. Sometimes I’m a slow learner. The thing is that the intention is not always as easy as the implementation. It requires bravery to move to living in chaos, not because that is the way the whole world is living but because you choose to. To still be comfortable living with some of that uncertainty, not because you have to, but because you see the possibilities that lie within that discomfort. I will never be the kind of person who can live moment to moment and just go with the flow, but I believe I can move to being the kind of person who is open to opportunities that don’t come fully formulated, or that let me develop in ways that are not just tied to professional me. I also think it’s important to be open to the mistakes and learning that might come from this unexpected pathway.

Being tied to the past you

One of my biggest challenges in all of this is the need to make sure not just that I don’t just revert to old habits, but also that I don’t let the other things linked with the job shut down routes to engaging with the unexpected. It’s far too easy to easy to get sucked into the inbox or the paper that hasn’t been written on a weekend, rather than using that time to develop and expand other aspects of myself. Sometimes the weight of the to do list means that looking at my feet feels like the only way forward. This is why taking time to actively reflect and be aware of my tendencies to manage both my workload and stress this way is key. I’ve not worked this one out yet but I’ve thought about working on things like putting in diary reminders, or trying to ring fence my weekends so as not to be tempted to fall into old habits. I think the fact that I am actively continuing to write every week will also help to ensure that I have dedicated time to ensure space for creative thought.

I’m hoping that you, like me, will try and find the courage we need to enter 2023 bravely, open to wonder and not let our conservative instincts overtake and limit us.

All opinions in this blog are my own

One thought on “Welcome to 2023: Here’s a toast to being open to the unexpected in the 12 months ahead

  1. Thanks GirlyMicro – 2023 is definitely going to be a year of change for me – it’s already started with my ongoing recovery from some mental health troubles. Thanks for the thoughtful blog – I’m embracing change and looking forward to new things I haven’t even thought of!


    PS: I know what you mean about twitter – everything I read seems to result in a flood of extreme opinion. It’s not what it used to be.


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