816 Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: Life lessons of 2014 weren’t all in the plan

It’s that time of year again. The End of Year Recap.

I think it’s Rule 36.7: If you can imagine it, there is a Recap List for it. People We Said Good-Bye to in 2014. Top 100 Songs of the Year. Most Viral YouTube Videos. Top Lies and Hoaxes. They all answer the question: What have we done this year?

These lists are quickly followed by another question: What does the next year promise?

Last December, in an attempt to make a promise to myself and after considerable reflection, I came up with a motto for 2014. I printed out an illustration and hung it above my desk to motivate me: an outhouse, with colorful words instructing me to get things done, or stop trying.

Did I try? Sure. Could I have tried harder? Probably.


I don’t know.

Our plans, hopes and resolutions for the New Year are born of the best intentions. We energetically and optimistically start down the path, dreaming of putting a gold star next to that completed promise ...

… only to come to the next December when we tack it back on the list for the upcoming year.

What happens to us? Why can’t we do exactly what we planned and prance to the completion of our goals?


This past year life got the better of me for a while. I do consider myself a failure for not achieving the message of my motto. All the positive self-talk and pointing to where my missteps occurred won’t change that. The year is over. As far as my specific plans of 2014 go, I’m still sitting on the pot.

But it was a whole year! 365 days of living and I didn’t advance at all?

Au contraire. Planning doesn’t always mean success, and success is often outside the plan.

This past year I did have successes, but none were successes I could have predicted a year ago. The only way I could identify them was to recap the whole year of lessons learned from adventures down wrong paths. From that list, one revealed itself as my most important personal success of 2014: Resilience.

I wanted to know what other people learned in 2014 so I conducted a completely unscientific, totally skewed and biased Facebook poll and asked my friends to recap their own year and tell me what they learned.

“Your job is not your identity. Keep yourself separate from it.”

“Endurance. That we have the ability for personal greatness.”

“The power of kindness.”

“Be flexibly stable and stably flexible.”

“Life is better when you don’t pigeonhole yourself.”

“Don’t let work fill all your time when your kids move out. …there are so many better ways to spend your time.”

There were several versions of, “don’t take anything for granted,” and quite a few about prioritizing life and saying, “no.”

I don’t have enough space to list them all, but I know that each of my friends’ lessons was hard learned and came from times when things didn’t go according to the plan.

When they got knocked down, they learned to get up.

When they took a wrong turn, they learned to explore the new scenery.

When life came crashing down, they learned to dig out.

Am I going to have a motto for this next year? A promise I can give myself a gold star for accomplishing when I recap 2105? Yes. It’s going to be based on this from a wise friend:

“I don’t have to figure out the grand plan for my life. I just need to keep doing the next right thing.”

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.