Have you ever opened a gift that you’d been waiting for a long time, certain you knew what it would be once you tore off the wrapping? One of my favorite movies, Love Actually, contains a heartbreaking scene where a wife who’s expecting a sentimental Christmas gift from her husband discovers something entirely different. Her snooping around prior to their gift exchange leads her to a necklace in his jacket pocket. On the night of their gift exchange, she eagerly opens the same flat, rectangular-shaped box she believes to be the necklace. The package turns out to be a CD. This unexpected gift brings with it the realization that her husband intended the necklace for someone else–his presumed mistress.
I’ve never been one to shake the gifts under the Christmas tree, trying to guess what my loved ones purchased for me. I like to be surprised. Or, at least that’s what I tell myself. I’m OK with being surprised on birthdays and other special occasions. I’m not as free-spirited when it comes to being surprised by events I’ve been planning for. What do we do when the gift/achievement/blessing we’ve been waiting for comes in a form almost unrecognizable to us?
In my daily counseling work, I encounter people who have torn off the wrapping paper of their jobs, promotions, marriages, and even parenthood—and are discovering the hard work required to build and maintain strong relationships while handling increased responsibilities. If we had the ability to see into the future all we have to endure in advance of (and beyond the moment when) dreams are fulfilled, I suspect some of us might be inclined to say, “No thanks, I’ve changed my mind.”
When you find yourself in an unexpected place, or the fulfillment of the dream you’ve been waiting for looks different than you expected, ask yourself the following questions:
•What can I attempt to learn from this experience?
•In turn, how might what I learn during this experience impact my significant relationships (i.e. how might this situation cause my relationships with my spouse, significant other, kids or co-workers to improve)?
•Is there something unique that only I can bring to this situation because of personal experience, talents or abilities?
Regardless of how you process the unexpected, you have a choice about how you will respond to it. Ultimately, the choices are acceptance or resistance. Resistance can turn to despair if we linger too long over what we think we “should” have had. There is meaning to be found on the other side of acceptance.
I’d love to hear from you. Please share your story below about a time when something unexpected (or even unwanted!) turned out to be something of value in your life.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 14 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members.
She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.
Disclaimer: This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004 or visit our “Let’s Get Started” page.