Non-Events: When Life Doesn’t Turn Out As You Planned

In conversations about reinvention and starting businesses at midlife, my clients often describe difficult experiences in earlier years which continue to bother them, in some cases still trouble them greatly.

These trying experiences usually involved significant life events like pregnancies & children, education & college, jobs and promotions, geographical moves or other life opportunities.

The problem is, these ‘events’ never took place.

They were life experiences people wanted. But they didn’t actually happen.

A pregnancy that didn’t begin because she wasn’t able to conceive a child.

A highly desired college experience that didn’t happen because he didn’t actually get the scholarship he needed from his preferred alma mater.

A greatly anticipated job promotion that never occurred…so the pay raise that should have allowed her dream house to be purchased, and the social status and perks that would have come with the job, didn’t happen either.

These circumstances or major disappointments are called Non-Events.

And ‘non-events’ can be – and often are – as significant as the life events we actually do experience.

They shape us, mold us. Cause us to question ourselves, to wonder what we did ‘wrong’ to not get what we expected. To ask “why” or “why not?”. Or “why me?” or perhaps, “why not me?”

Non-events often have a significant impact on our lives because they can turn us in a new direction, forcing us to select a different path than we expected to walk: propelling us down unexpected roads that may influence the rest of our journey, the rest of our lives.

Of course, non-events can prompt us to make new and different choices that we may later feel were even better for us than what we had originally hoped for.

But they can also detour us for years from our original path, or even make an irrevocable mark on us that some of us refer to as ‘scarring us for life.’

explore your life non-events in a written journalYou may want to get a pen and paper at this point, and capture some of your thoughts and responses to the questions asked below.

1. What ‘non events’ have you experienced during your life so far? When?

How have these events that have not happened affected you and the choices you made, once it became clear to you the ‘non-event’ you hoped for or expected was no longer available as an option?

• Did you get depressed? Get stuck and take no action?

• Did you get angry and find yourself marching off quickly in a different direction, just to get yourself going – or to keep going?

• Did you accept your second choice or alternate option, and pursue it with the same enthusiasm, ambition or drive that you would have had if your preferred goal or direction had been available to you?

2. Describe the choices you made when your desired goal or experience didn’t happen.

Did you have a ‘Back Up Plan’ or ‘Plan B’ to fall back on? Or did you need to create it from scratch when your anticipated event didn’t come through for you, and your life just evolved in a different direction?

• How did these non-events affect your sense of self? Your self esteem as well as your relationships with others involved?

• How did your life evolve differently because of the non-event?

• When this door was closed to you…what other doors or perhaps windows – became visible to you or available to you?

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” – John Lennon, 1980

3. Do you ever feel like you were denied these opportunities? Like something was taken away from you, that you lost out on something?

Did you require a period of time to cope with or recover from the situation, experiencing a process that may have been similar in some ways to grieving the loss of a loved one?

Or perhaps it was exactly like that, a deep and profound loss, and took a long time before you felt like you were back on an even keel.

• Is there a part of you – or perhaps every part of you – that would still like to go down the original path you envisioned? To experience what you originally desired?

Non-Events are greatly anticipated experiences that didn't actually happen for us in the past

Non-Events are greatly anticipated experiences that didn’t actually happen for us in the past

4. If you still wonder about it…is it still possible for you to do it, to experience it, now?

Odds are you wouldn’t be able to experience the exact situation as it may have originally occurred for you at a younger age. You’re not the same person you were years ago, and times have certainly changed. So the experience you anticipated back then would no doubt be different if you could have it now.

• Do these ‘non events’ provide you with any ideas that could be re-visited, or re-explored, with the benefits of 20-20 hindsight and the new vision you have for yourself and the new life you’d like to create for yourself – NOW?

5. What about non-events now – and in your future?

If non-events from your past aren’t of strong interest to explore, what about taking a look at “Retirement’ as you may have originally viewed it and anticipated it, as a non-event in your life?

• In what ways are your Retirement years going to be different from what you expected? What paths are you traveling now, instead of the path you envisioned earlier?

• What feelings do you have about the changes you may have had to make at this time of your life?

• What words do you use to describe this time in your life, where you are working your retirement years? Do you choose words that convey choice, opportunity, and enthusiasm? Or words that convey a sense of loss, disappointment, or confusion?

Non-events in life are like a blank canvas, a painting that wasn't painted.Remember: One of the keys to re-imagining the rest of your life is to acknowledge and mine your past for the guidance it can provide you.

Please share below:

What role have ‘non-events’ played in your life? 

And how can those non-events – and what you have learned from them – guide the choices you make NOW?

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