Your "Unexpected Self" and the Bigger Picture

Fireworks, photo by Yasemin K on Unsplash

Fireworks, photo by Yasemin K on Unsplash


New Year’s Eve inspires personal reflection along with that glass of Champagne. And at my house, it also means we take down the paper calendar (yes, paper!) and put up a new one. We’ll look forward to filling it with planned activities in the days and months of the new year. 

Thoughts of personal renewal are especially appealing come December 31st. We like to feel that we’re moving forward, and I consider having options at all to be a gift. I can make lists, dream big and write out the “perfect” world—if things go as I’d like. And this list is fluid; I’m conscious that circumstances change. But to list is to hope


New Year’s Eve is also a time when I think about friendships and my tiny space in the broader human experience. This idea comes right as the news outlets recap the major stories of the year. I get especially philosophical as I witness the masses of people gathered in the dark and cold all over the world celebrating the arrival of another year. We build on a collective excitement, even when things seem a mess. And in my little corner of the world, I’m enamored with the sense of being part of a whole.

One of my favorite movie characters of all time is Forrest Gump, an amiable yet simple man whose life unfolds in wondrous directions. As events and people come into Forrest’s life, his story becomes part of major events in human history, including the Vietnam War, Watergate and the emergence of AIDS.

We are all woven into each other’s story. Ant it’s simultaneously comforting to feel that none of us is alone, and daunting to think that our actions cause reactions beyond our understanding.

Even though our lives might not be as influential as Forrest Gump’s turned out to be, we each have times we’ve felt part of a bigger story. Perhaps this is why people often remember where they were during major events such as 9-11, the fall of the Berlin wall or the Kennedy assassination. These significant times remind us that we are in the mix together.

One trivial but funny example of this is my link to the story of the 2016 election. The presidential candidates made frequent visits to Iowa during the run-up to the election and were often coming in and out of our airport in Des Moines, where I was working.

One day in 2015 as I headed south on Fleur going toward the airport, I began to move to the right lane to make a turn. All the sudden I heard a siren behind me from a black SUV. I looked, but wasn’t sure what to do. Then I heard a male voice over a speaker tell me to slow down and stay away from the right lane.

I remember being frustrated because there was road construction on Fleur at the time, and I think my only option was to turn left, which took me completely out of my way and ultimately made me late for work. Later I realized it had to be a motorcade taking Hillary Clinton to the airport, because she had just attended some event in Iowa. Maybe my interference that day with her SUV caravan was one more thing that resulted in her political loss. We will never know.


With thoughts of connection and self-improvement, I remain aware that it is the unplanned events that I also need to consider as opportunities for growth. While I’m busy planning the person I want to become each year—thinner, kinder, more organized and just generally “more”—life throws curve balls challenging me to become something I had not expected.  These pivotal milestones and tragedies require quick adaption, but the unexpected growth turns out to be wonderful (though difficult sometimes, too).

This year for us, it was a health event that challenged us to transform. We needed to step back and consider what is truly important and then change behaviors accordingly. In the process, I’ve learned I’m more of a caregiver than I realized, which was another welcome space for growth.

 As you shift into a new year, do you use this as a marker to reflect on connections and plans? What “unexpected selves” have you become that you originally thought had nothing to do with your plans?

Happy New Year, and Wishing You Wonderful Growth in 2019!