Shauna Neiquist’s Advice For Not Having a Plan

This week we’re sharing an article we come back to repeatedly from Darling Issue No. 4 — probably because it’s an article written by one of our favorite authors, Shauna Neiquist. You probably know her from her books “Bittersweet,” “Bread and Wine” or, most recently, “Present Over Perfect.”

In “On Wind and Wondering” Shauna gives us permission to ease into a season we’re sure everyone is familiar with: the season of not knowing. When put in her wonderful words, we can rise above the chaos of charting a course to crave the beauty of the adventure.

Enjoy.

On Wind and Wondering

By Shauna Niequist

I grew up on the water, spending all my summers on a tiny lakeshore town in Michigan. From morning till night, we ran the beaches, soaked up the sun, picked blueberries till our fingers were stained. We shucked ears of sweet corn on the porch before dinner and caught crayfish with bubblegum and safety pins and string, and sold them for ten cents each to the bait shop.

This is what we did on regular days. But if there was wind, we sailed. We dropped everything, changed our plans. The corn could wait, dinner could wait. My mom would pack up a huge canvas tote with drinks and snacks and sweatshirts and towels, and we’d race down the marina—wind! There’s wind!

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Both my grandfathers had sailboats in that little marina, and later my dad and brother, too. All our friends in that little town are sailors, equally happy to drop it all if it’s blowing. There’s a vernacular unique to sailors, a shorthand or code language that I’ve been hearing all my life. The phone rings: “Dad, Jim wants to know what the lake is doing.” “Tell him it’s blowing 10 offshore.” “Tell him it’s screaming out of the north.” My favorite: when it’s really windy, they call it DOC—blowing so hard it could blow ‘dogs off chains.’ “It’s DOC from the SW. Get down here, dude.”

The wind dictated everything, all summer long. It still does. Our kids are totally accustomed to naptime on the boat, mealtime on the boat, running down to the boat with a moment’s notice, another generation chasing the wind.

Sailors are crazy when it comes to wind because the whole venture depends on it. If you’re a power boater, the wind means almost nothing to you. It might make things wavier than you’d like. It might make your guests spill their drinks. But for a sailor, the wind is everything, the most important thing, the center. If you want certainty, you don’t sail. If you want to be in control of what’s happening, you don’t sail. If you want certainty, you get a powerboat, and you stick to engines instead of wind.

I can feel that tension in myself right now: the tension to trust the wind or control with my own engine. I want to be a sailor. I want to trust the invisible power that’s moving all the time even though I can’t see it. I want to be patient, grounded, faith-filled. But in my fearful moments, I can feel the impulse to fire up an engine and create some motion, to pick a spot and head there fast, to burn some fuel instead of waiting around for the wind to do its powerful but invisible work.

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I’m a firstborn, a planner. I’m a saver, a list-maker, and I already have a running scrawl of restaurants I want to try on an upcoming trip to London. [Next year.]

Planning and preparation are my jam. Except for one little thing. Except for the fact that I’ve decided for the rest of 2013 to be guided by prayer and listening, instead of planning and preparation. I’ve decided to learn my way into the future instead of planning my way there. In this season I want to live by the power of the wind and not the engine.

I’ve decided to learn my way into the future instead of planning my way there. In this season I want to live by the power of the wind and not the engine.

For many years, I’ve had a clear path, an engine. When I was twenty-nine, I signed a book contract. The same week I found out I was pregnant. Now, seven years later, I’ve written three books and given birth to two lovely, funny boys.

During these last seven years I was often tired and a little overwhelmed by the amount of things that had to get done in a day, a week, a month. But I didn’t find myself asking those fundamental question: “What am I here for? What am I made to do?” I knew, at least temporarily, the answers. I had a path. And I powered along the path, and it kept me temporarily safe from those questions.

But now for the first time in a long time, I don’t have that path. I don’t have that certainty. I’m intentionally choosing to not know what’s next. I know it’s the right thing for me in this season. It feels a lot like going back to my childhood, being willing to drop everything for the wind. For the last several years, I was too focused on working out the details of my plan to drop everything for the wind. I was a power boater. I liked the safety and predictability of it.

sailboat girl

But I miss the rush, the freedom, the feeling of letting the wind take you wherever it will. I’m ready to drop everything for the wind again, to leave a mess, to walk away from the plan for the day—for the year, for my life, maybe, in order to feel the wind again.

This is what I know, both on the water and in my life: the wind is where it’s at. If you’ve never sliced through the water on a boat powered only by wind, you can’t even believe how oddly quiet it is—the only sounds are hull slicing through water, wind humming in the shrouds. You have a sense of getting away with something, almost, like creating something from nothing. It’s exciting and calm at the very same moment, which I find is true in our lives as well.

When you trust the wind instead of pushing through with an engine, when you wait for life to lead and unfold in its own timing instead of shouting out your answer, when you create space for uncertainty instead of pushing for a plan, the feeling is the same: exciting and calm in the very same moment, one of the best feelings in the world.

… when you create space for uncertainty instead of pushing for a plan, the feeling is the same: exciting and calm in the very same moment, one of the best feelings in the world.

I also know this: You can trust the wind. The wind takes us places we’ve never imagined, and it often knows us better than we know ourselves. It brings us to futures we longed for but couldn’t even say out loud. I believe God is that wind in my life, that he’s working all the time, and that he’s good and loving. I know that spiritual journeys are circuitous and personal, and that God’s presence can look all sorts of different ways in all sorts of different lives.

I also know how scary it can be to give ourselves over to that beautiful terrifying wind, how it can be to trust the journey, but I also believe that it’s worth it, that when you trust, you feel alive and free and you want that feeling over and over for the rest of your life, like a drug, like falling in love.

When people ask me what’s next these days, as they often do, I tell them it’s all about the wind and not the engine. I tell them I’m practicing not having a plan. I tell them I’m trying to re-learn how to not know, how to wait for the wind, how to trust the silence. It’s awkward, and it’s great. For me, these days, it’s all about the wind.

Like this? Enjoy the rest of Darling Issue No. 4, available for instant digital downloading HERE

Images via Jory Lee Cordy

This post is brought to you by the Darling Team! To learn more about who we are, please visit our Meet Our Team page.

8 COMMENTS
  • Victoria September 19, 2017

    I love everything you right. This is equally loved as well and just where I am in life. Recently, I crossed off a big plan on my list, moving into a home with my boyfriend, and now I have no other plans in sight except to live. To simply enjoy what is coming to me and revel in the happenings that present themselves. Being a perfectionist this can be pretty challenging at times, haha. But I do think it is so important to just let yourself go sometimes–to give into the wind and let it steer you.

  • Kelsey September 5, 2017

    Love this. It reminds me to forget the plans, what I think will be good for me, and the checklist of “to-do’s” before such-and-such age. Learning to lean in to the wind, and trust prayer and listening.

  • Saana September 4, 2017

    Oh my, what an incredible article. This was so much needed, thanks for sharing this! I can relate to these thoughts so well. I’ve always considered myself as someone who pretty much requires a clear plan to survive. It’s so scary to think about going to the unknow, isn’t it? However, I’ve decided to try live a bit more spontaneously and so far so good!

    For starters I decided to move abroad in order to study a masters course. I have no clear vision of how the year is going to be, what I’m going to do once it’s over, but I’m feeling so good about it. I know, it’s a sort of a plan (as I know where I’ll be living and what I’ll be studying etc.), but I have no idea what I’m about to see and experience there. I must say it’s quite an amazing feeling after all, not knowing everything beforehand!

  • Leann September 1, 2017

    Wow what a gorgeous article. I so needed this right now, as I’ve decided to not have a plan for the next few months. It’s terrifying, but also the best thing I can learn right now. Thank you.

  • Charity August 31, 2017

    This is much needed and exactly where I’m at in my life right now. I welcome the reminder to desire and wait for the Wind.

  • Briana August 31, 2017

    I loved this post so much. It really resonates with where I am in life right now and with my Type-A, planner personality. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Shauna 🙂

    Briana | youngsophisticate.com

  • Anonymous August 31, 2017

    Beautiful reminder. Thanks for sharing this gem!

  • I need to be more like Shauna in this aspect. I feel so uneasy without the plan, but it’s always good to remember that the best moments are spontaneous!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

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