Published: Oct. 1, 2020 By

How to move forward when the world throws a wrench in your plans

Blank notepad and crumpled papersThis is the last of a series of three articles written by ASSETT’s Student Technology Consultants to support CU students, especially in uncertain times. Check out our past articles that help you understand where you are now, and thinking about and planning for your many futures.

We can plan for the future as much as we want, but inevitably life will turn in a direction we never could have envisioned.

Maybe you realize that you would hate medical school even though you’re on a pre-med track. Or, you have a bad semester and your grade point average (GPA) drops, affecting your academic career. OR, maybe a global pandemic closes down the campus, shifting classes to online, canceling plans you were excited for, and dramatically changing what your next year will look like. Lots of hypotheticals here. 

When a disruptive life event will impact your future, and you need to adjust your goals and plans in response to it, the event can take an even greater emotional toll. The feelings of anxiety and fear of the unknown can often be overwhelming, but being caught in those feelings can make the emotions so intense that they prevent you from moving on and towards a future you are excited for. This is a surface level guide to progressing past disrupting events. There is no right way to continue after a disrupting event, but here are somes steps we suggest; reframing it, learning from it, and incorporating it into your future as a place to start. 

Naming how you feel about the situation

When something doesn’t go according to plan in your life, it usually comes with a cloud of emotions that can make understanding the situation difficult. 

Begin by sitting with your feelings about the event and naming them. Clearly understanding and accepting how you feel about the situation will make thinking about the next steps easier. 

Ask yourself: Are you feeling upset at yourself? Do you feel upset at the world? Are you excited about this change? Are you nervous about the future? Do you feel apathetic? Note that you may feel multiple ways and that your feelings may change over time as well, so checking in with yourself regularly is important. 

Take the time to understand your feelings and don’t rush through this important step. It will inform your actions. 

Living with extreme emotions is exhausting and can quickly take over your life. If a de-stabilizing life event is causing extreme distress and symptoms, seeking professional psychological help is your best option. These symptoms can include, but are not limited to, changes in sleep, appetite, motivation and declining interest in activities you previously enjoyed. 

FYI: CU students are entitled to free counseling sessions (no cap on the number of free sessions during the pandemic) with the Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS). They offer specialized workshops and psychology counselors depending on your need. Currently, most are done virtually. Links and more information on CAPS are included at the end of this article. 

Understanding and reframing the situation 

The initial feelings we get when life is disrupted often affect our perceptions of what happened. The first step, understanding how you feel emotionally about the disruption, helps you understand how your feelings have affected what reality looks like. 

Detangling your feelings from your perception will help you accurately understand what has happened and in some cases make it easier to reframe a situation to prompt action. 

For example, if you feel ashamed about a disruption (receiving poor grades, for example), you may not want to seek help from others or you may believe that you are better off addressing the situation on your own. Being ashamed makes neither of those true, but it certainly affects your understanding of what happened and will affect the actions you take in the future. 

Or, if you feel overwhelmed by uncertainty (e.g., global pandemic), you may not want to make decisions, since it’s difficult to imagine how the world will look in the future and since your decisions may not pan out. 

Once you understand how you feel about a disrupting event, the next step will be reframing the event in a way that allows you to think critically and accurately about what happened. Do not confuse critical thinking with criticism and self-judgment. When we think about negative experiences or failures, it is easy to get into a spiral of self-judgment that is difficult to move on from and produces a skewed understanding of the event. 

Start by asking yourself what you learned from the experience about yourself, about others, and about the circumstances surrounding the disruption. Try to think what factors came into play with the disrupting event, and categorize them into factors that you could have changed and those that you could not have changed. 

What factors played into having a low GPA semester? Was it affected by the course difficulty, something that you couldn’t have changed? What about your non-academic life, something you could have influenced? Did multiple factors feed into each other? 

Now, reframe the situation in a way that allows you to move on. Use what you learned from the event to inform how you envision the future. Some things you can not change, but you can use your new understanding to inform how you approach them next time. 

Do you need to change your study techniques next semester, or prioritize school work more? Do you want to explore a new major or career path? 

Even if something hasn’t worked out the way you envisioned, knowing more about yourself and the subject is a positive outcome and you can use it to better inform future directions. 

In our previous article, we discussed how you have many futures in front of you. See if you can incorporate this change into one of these futures, or see how this change might make a new one. 

Taking action that incorporates what you learned from the life disruption and that moves you forward is the best outcome. You don’t need to go through this process entirely alone, and outside input might bring support thinking about the situation and moving on from it. That brings us to a final tip. 

Use the resources available to you

The wonderful thing about being at the University of Colorado is the vast amount of resources available to students. When a disrupting event has changed some aspect of your life, getting support or outside input can be incredibly helpful. We’ve put together a list of resources available to CU students that might help you in your academic and career paths, support you personally, and provide a space to pursue new interests and communities.

Academic supports

Writing Center: The writing center is free to all students and gives advice on all things writing. You can schedule a one-on-one appointment with a writing coach, get advice in a drop in writing workshop and learn about grammar, style and composition. If you’re struggling with a written assignment for a class, come here. 

Student Academic Success Center (SASC): SASC supports low income and first-generation college students with tutoring programs, specialized courses, academic resources and scholarships. 

Academic Success & Achievement Program (ASAP): If you are living on campus (in the dorms) ASAP is included in your room and board fee. They offer small tutoring sessions in a variety of subjects and are currently in digital webinar form. 

Internships and post-grad job support

Career Services: Looking to get an internship or land a job to kick-start your career? Career Services offer a variety of services to CU students and alumni, meaning you can still get support free of charge after you graduate. It may feel awkward (or like something your parent would pressure you to do), but getting support from seasoned experts on interviews, vague job positions, and applications really gives you a leg up.

Community and mental health support

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS): CU’s mental health hub. They offer one-on-one counseling sessions in addition to general workshops to help students manage anxiety, teach healthy habits, and even diffuse COVID-19 specific feelings. Subsets of CAPS offer more specific support for learning disabilities, trauma and substance abuse. 

Center for Inclusion and Social Change: The Center offers an inclusive and supportive space for students exploring their identities with community building programs, educational resources, and opportunities to be an involved and informed citizen with many cultures. The Center has offices specific for students of color and first generation college students, women and gender resources and an office for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and allied students. 

International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS): ISSS provides support and resources to international students and researchers, including academic support and scholarship support. 


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