The last thing you expect

William Durant preferred carriages, but took another road and changed history. Visitors enjoy a December evening at Colonial Williamsburg, 2004

Durant preferred carriages, but took another road and changed history.
Visitors enjoy a December evening at Colonial Williamsburg, 2004

“The last thing you expect or want in life is often the first thing to take you on your journey to life.”  – Timothy Shriver

Not long before he died, John Lennon wrote a song that popularized (although it did not originate) a much-quoted truth: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” I know I’m far from alone in being able to say unequivocally that in my youth I never imagined what the next forty years of my life would be like.  I hope I also have lots of company in feeling no real doubts about where I’ve ended up.

I’m reminded of yet a third quote, from one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire. It’s the (mostly) true story of Eric Liddell, who refused to compete in the Olympic race that would require him to run on Sunday, a day he held sacred.  In the film, despite pressure from friends, coaches and even the Prince of Wales, Liddell remains steadfast to his principles even when it means sacrificing the opportunity of a lifetime.

Near the end of the story Eric is in the stands watching the final of the 100 metres – the one he was supposed to run in.  His friend asks: “Any regrets, Eric – that you’re not down there with them?” Eric nods and replies: “Regrets, yes – no doubts though!”

If you’ve seen the film, you know that Eric Liddell went on to run in a different event for which he had not trained, and he won the gold.  He also set a new world record; an astounding feat, under the circumstances.  But today he is most remembered for holding firm to his beliefs. The loss of one dream became the now-legendary fulfillment of another.

Sometimes we choose our calling, but often, our calling chooses us, and we may fight it, thinking we have better ideas.  But some of the greatest achievements have come from people who started out with other plans.  Matt has a page-a-day history calendar with an interesting tale each day, usually about lesser-known aspects of famous people, places or events.  I was fascinated to read just recently that General Motors was begun by a man who didn’t like cars.  William Durant was a high-school dropout who found success manufacturing horse-drawn carriages, but it was his applications of lessons learned there to a different pursuit that would change history.

It’s a familiar pattern.  Babe Ruth was a record-setting pitcher long before he left full time pitching at the age of 22 and became the legendary home run king.  Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star newspaper for not being creative enough.  Fred Rogers was an ordained minister who went into television programming because he didn’t like television, and decided to try making a difference there.

It’s a good thing to have plans, hopes and dreams.  It’s also a good thing to be open to the possibility that your destiny may be something you never wanted or expected…and it may take you to a future that’s beyond anything you can now imagine.  I wish you few regrets in life, but whether or not there are regrets, I pray you will one day look back and feel no doubts that you did what you were called to do.


  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Years ago, during a time of musing about the zigs and zags my life had taken, I was watching an old movie on television. A character in the movie read a quote from a book that rang so true that I reached from my chair and wrote it down on the first available piece of paper, which happened to be the inside cover of my address book (a strangely appropriate place to write it, I now realize). It said, “The life of each man is a diary in which he plans to write one story, but writes another.”

    • Wow Judy, that’s a great quote! Thanks for sharing it. In all the thousands of quotes I have read over the past year as I’ve been putting these blog posts together, I have never come across that one. And it’s so true. You’re right, the address book is a very appropriate place for that quote. Oddly, writing fiction is like that too, at least for some of us. We sit down planning to write a certain story, but if our characters become real enough to us in our own minds, they start doing things we might not have planned. Jeff finds this hard to believe. “It’s your story, you can write it however you want.” I tried to explain to him that Dickens could not have made Bob Crachit an ax murderer even if he’d wanted to. Bob Cratchit just didn’t have it in him. We could create characters who will do what we want (rather like robots) but most of us get lost in the story, I think, and follow where it leads. Life is like that too.

  2. HarryS

    Amazing reflection as I look back on my late life calling of the last 27 years.
    Just added proof that ‘life is what happens when you think you have other plans’.

    No regrets, just 🙂

    • Harry, I’m so happy that you are able to have no regrets. That is one true definition of success, isn’t it?

  3. Raynard

    Using my time and talents to be a blessing and encouragement to others. If one person walks up to my wife at my funeral and says something nice( I might be worried if at my repass if she will be serving “Chicken& Potato Salad and if she put the color pink on me. I did tell her”I want a smile painted on my face like”the Joker from Batman”.. lol

    • I just recently changed my facebook photo because it was a good one of Jeff, but I looked like the Joker on Batman for real in the photo! Did you ever hear the Bill Cosby routine about funerals and “didn’t he look like himself?”

  4. merry

    Good morning, Julia. Hope you enjoyed a restful night.
    Regrets but no doubt…if you had asked me 40 years ago where I would be now…I couldn’t fore seen this time in my life. Is it better than I expected? yes….how? I’m not as stressed with so many of life’s decisions. Most have been made and now I live with the results.~/

    • Merry, I am finding that to be an unexpected blessing of getting older. One would think we might have regrets about all the ambitions that went unfulfilled and all the things we were NOT able to do, but there is a great freedom in letting go of some of these notions, even if we are forced to give up due to circumstances beyond our control. As my friend Ashleigh Brilliant has said, “I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope.” 🙂 Or more poetically, as Eric quoted in the comments on the “About” page linked at the top,

      “Though much is taken, much abides; and though
      We are not now that strength which in old days
      Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
      One equal temper of heroic hearts,
      Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
      To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

  5. Dear dear sister, this is probably your most uplifting and inspiring post to date! Which is saying a lot, by the way. Thank you! “See you” tomorrow!!!

    • Carla, I’m so glad you like it! I find it interesting to study the lives of famous people; so often, their stories are revealing and encouraging. Thanks for being here and I’ll look forward to “seeing” you tomorrow!

  6. Carolyn

    I am very happy with what I have done with my life and the way it is now. I am a wife , mother , mimi, and I have many friends and I’m a Christian most of all. Sometimes it scares me to think, what if I had taking the other road, so proud that I did’t. Love to all.

    • Carolyn, it is wonderful to hear you say this after all you have been through during the past year. A lot of people would be feeling sorry for themselves and asking “why me” but you are kicking cancer in the bum simply by refusing to let it define you! Thanks for your shining example which is a daily encouragement to us. Love to you too!

  7. That photo – what a lovely composition!
    How true! Coming from a family of teachers and maths lovers I had made up my mind to be ‘unique’. But destiny brought me to a land where an expat woman has to be either in the teaching or in the medical field. My initial disappointment soon turned into the most pleasant realization in my life – teaching is what I was called to do. Now I am the only teacher in this generation ( 29 cousins and 2 siblings) of our family. And thus I declare myself ‘unique’. 😉

    • Bindu, this is an interesting story, as I don’t know of any family that large that has only one teacher in the midst! In our combined family, there are several teachers. So you truly are unique in where you have ended up, and something tells me that your parents and their generation are (or would be) well pleased to have at least one family member to carry on the academic tradition.

      When I was growing up in the 60’s, much was made of being an individual and “marching to the beat of one’s own drummer.” I never wanted that; I wanted only to belong, to be liked, to be part of the crowd. Instead, to my deep disappointment, I found that the more I tried to fit in, the more I felt like a misfit. And it wasn’t just my imagination; I was too often ridiculed and excluded to be mistaken. This struck me, even then, as more than a little bit ironic. Everyone who was proclaiming “do your own thing” was actually joining a mass movement of individuals who were mostly behaving the same way, while I, who wanted only to belong, was on the outside looking in, different without wanting to be so. So this business of being unique is paradoxical indeed!

      Somewhere during those years I came across a quote that has stuck with me in all the decades since: “How glorious it is – and also how painful – to be an exception.” (Alfred de Musset). I gradually realized that there was nothing to be done about my strangeness except to embrace it, to whatever degree I was capable. But it’s been a process, and an arduous one at that. All this to say, being unique is sometimes over-rated! But you have achieved that in the best possible way; by realizing that what seems ordinary on the surface, is anything but common, and is indeed a gift! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here! I always enjoy hearing from you.

  8. John M.

    My life took the most interesting of turns in my early 30’s when, after a failed attempt to become a titan of the entrepreneurial world, I ended up working again for my first boss right out of college. I had a new family and was desperate for a job, a job of any kind that would pay the bills and provide a little hope. Fifteen years later, we had been acquired twice, first by a Dutch company, then by a Fortune 500 company; I had quite by accident (Providence really) been the beneficiary of the company’s good fortunes and as an additional blessing, had circled the globe many, many times. All of this because I had made an impetuous, careless decision that almost wrecked everything I held dear in life. We plan, God laughs, and in the end, fate has a delightful way of revealing cards we never thought we’d held.

    • Thanks for sharing that happy ending! Maybe this means it’s really true that we all worry far too much. It’s always reassuring to be reminded that things really do have a way of turning out for the best. I appreciate your visits here, and your comments!

  9. Augh you made me give it away: I planned to talk about Eric L, a hero of mine, in the current series on GREATNESS. I hope your own dreams have seen light.

    • Thank you so much! I really need to get back over to your blog; I enjoy reading what you write. I’ll look forward to reading your posts about Eric, who is also a hero of mine. His life after the Olympics is even more inspiring! Have you read some of the eyewitness accounts of his bravery in the wartime concentration camps, where he chose to stay with his fellow believers? Truly a man worth honoring. Thanks for your comments!

      • I plan to mention him in an upcoming post. He had such a beautiful spirit – even (esp) in the camps. I have not forgotten the essay you last told me about. When I get a breather, I plan to procure it.

        Since you say you’d like to pop on back, I think the Missing Woman and the Smarts posts might speak to you, J.

        • WOW, I need to do more than “pop on back” — I need to set aside quite a few hours to read more, more, more of your stuff! I did love the posts you mention. The Missing Woman post resonated with me, as I imagine you knew it would. But the second one was astoundingly well written and profound. I shared it on Facebook alongside the video I posted of the interview with the equally thought-provoking and readable Malcolm Gladwell. What you have written in that post has been proven true for me by my nearly 30 years of rearing sons whom most would see as residing on opposite ends of the “ability” spectrum (and the words about intermittent reinforcement are sorely needed; it’s a common-sense concept that seems lacking, for reasons I’ve never been able to understand). I am flattered that you are reading this blog at all – and thanks so much for your comments!

  10. I love your last line ~ so true. ♥

    • Thank you! It’s a thought that is comforting to carry into the uncertain future. I appreciate your visits here, and your comments!

  11. Great Article. Inspiring Post.
    It said a lot true to very wording.
    Man proposes God disposes.

    • So true, and although we don’t always like God’s omnipotence, we eventually learn to see that it works for our benefit. Thanks for being here!

  12. Gee, I’m not sure if my ‘un-written’ plan is going as I anticipated or not? If you asked girlfriends in my teens, “who’ll be married with children and who’ll be a career girl?” They most likely would have pointed at me for the former. It didn’t work out that way for many reasons and people I haven’t seen in years are sometimes surprised. I feel like I’m living a life authentic to me but sometimes I wonder, “so, is this it?” If there are more surprises down the road, I hope I manage them well but you never know what’s around the next corner.

    • Same here, although in the opposite direction. In college a group of my girlfriends made predictions as to who would marry first/last. I was predicted to marry last of all, and in reality I ended up marrying first, even before the one person among us who was already wearing a diamond. Life is funny! And yes, full of surprises no matter how old we get. I think all of us wonder at some time or other “is this it?” but that’s part of the process, it seems.


  1. Watch with glittering eyes | Defeat Despair

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