Lessons learned when the clown doesn’t show up

Regarding the Journey

Lesslee Dort

I operate best with a plan. I don’t understand people who are comfortable waking up and allowing a day to unfold. Why would anyone chance missing an opportunity? Or let a full 24 hours run free? How do they know it’s a good day with no set expectations or goals to measure against? And if they don’t have a Plan A, they most certainly don’t have Plan B. I plan to plan! Seriously, scheduling planning time is a real thing.

My husband will laugh because I will invariably contact him mid-morning and ask if he is in the mood for some specific dish for dinner. He can’t think about dinner at, say, 10 in the morning. But I need to understand what’s for dinner so I can plan my lunch. I can’t eat my lunch with any satisfaction or assuredness it was the right choice without understanding what’s coming up for the end of the day meal.

Don’t think I haven’t considered my life may revolve a little bit too much around food. But that’s not the only thing I plan. I recently uncovered an old calendar from when my girls were quite young. When we would travel, I prepared a three-ring binder full of activities and supplies for each day of the car ride. I would detail out our multi-hour drives with a printed-out calendar, careful to add the right amount of variety laced with structure and some freeform time. Attached to this calendar was my plan for the trip and the kids. And my plan had alternate plans if x, y, or z, did or didn’t happen. (Tip for those new to planning — don’t use ink. Adjustments are necessary, especially with children. Strong sticky notes are wonderful!)

Some may say I was preparing for all circumstances. And I was. But I simply didn’t want to be caught unprepared. I wasn’t born this way. As with many of our human traits, I learned to be prepared.

I was caught unprepared once during my post-college internship. It left an indelible mark. I was in the final stages of receiving one of my credentials — Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. I was working at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in the spinal cord unit. I was put in charge of the July 4th Family Day afternoon activity for children and their families. This is a critical time, as you can imagine. Patients are scared and vulnerable. No one plans for accidents and children with life-changing injuries can be especially difficult. Families are lost, questioning. The team of professionals at MFB were trying to ease them into their new reality; help them see that life could be just as full and rich.

A clown was scheduled to appear as the big “aha” moment. The clown was going to help us reintroduce smiles and laughter. There were other games and activities to get them moving. But the pivotable, anticipated part of the activity I planned didn’t work — the clown didn’t show up. I had no Plan B. Nothing. My supervisor asked me what I was going to do to save the afternoon. I froze, and not just for a split second. I completely froze. Wide-eyed and suddenly panicky, I never in my wildest dreams anticipated the clown wouldn’t show. I didn’t have a contingency plan for the main act not showing. It just never occurred to me. I was greatly embarrassed and wholly disappointed in myself. I was caught off guard and unprepared. Worse, it was the children who I was letting down.

My supervisor let me dangle long enough for the importance of a plan to sink in. She didn’t save me, per se. She did tend to the patients and their families, but she also made space for me to learn a hard lesson. One that I may still be overcompensating for to this day.

I look back at that time in my life and see a light-hearted, albeit naive, individual who still thought the world spun around and things always worked out, or at least her little part of it did. But it didn’t that day, and children cried. That was my fault, and the clown’s, but mostly mine. And so, from that day forward, I manufactured Plan A, B, C and sometimes D, to my days and the days of those I loved (if they allow it).

My time spent in higher education, in helping others help themselves, also taught me that spontaneity and free time was important. One of my favorite responses during early job interviews was the one answering the question, “Can you tell us about an area of weakness you see in yourself?” “Why yes,” I would say with a smile, “I am a planner. So much so, that I plan to be spontaneous!”

Regardless of who you are or how much you plan, forces beyond your control will still throw a wrench in your plan. That’s OK. Life moves on every time. It may be different than you expected but try to be open to the moment. Expect the unplanned. Try not to get thrown off track. Move through the discomfort and on to the spirit of your day.

Lesslee Dort, a native of Northeast Michigan, is drawn to the outdoors to restore balance. A board-certified patient advocate, Lesslee firmly believes knowledge is power and learning is constant. She is always willing to help others help themselves. Reach Lesslee via email at regardingthejourney@lesslee.com. Read her here the third Thursday of each month.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today