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I seldom end up where I wanted to go but almost always end up where I need to be

Mazy Road by Evgeni Dinev - Free Digital Photos

Image: Evgeni Dinev /

The title of this post comes from Douglas Adams’ 1988 novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Regardless of the book’s plot and Adams’ intentions on writing the line, it has a resonance about it that, for me, at least, rings true on several counts.



Some years ago, whilst on a temporary leadership contract at an expanding primary school, I was asked to cover a class for a teacher who was expected to be off sick for a few weeks. When colleagues heard of this, I was greeted with tut-tuts, sharp intakes of breath and wagging fingers. They’re the class no one wants to teach, I was told.

As I walked into the classroom, I found out why.

Imagine a classroom environment where learning seems to be the lowest priority, where children are much more inclined to poke each other and try to get each other into trouble, where trying to get the sustained attention of the whole class seems an impossible task. That’s pretty much the environment I walked into.

As I went home that first night, I tried to make sense of the tumbled thoughts in my mind. Was this really what I wanted to be doing? How long was this likely to last? How was I going to manage this class as well as the other leadership roles I was tasked with? How was I going to get this ‘unteachable’ class learning? I suppose I could easily have become bitter about the decision to put me in that class and I could have spent my entire period with them resenting the decision and resenting them. However, at that moment, I decided to do something I usually find difficult: to ’embrace’ the experience and make the most of it.

As it turned out, the weeks turned into months and I saw this class through to the end of the academic year. By then, thankfully, they were a different class – so much so that the headteacher said she was ‘no longer concerned’ about them. By then, I had also undertaken some considerable reflection on the experience. What gratified me most was the pleasure the children took in taking responsibility for their own improvement: they could see the difference and they liked it. And what gratified me almost as much was the pleasure I myself had received from the experience of being part of the change. That experience, that journey, wasn’t what I had planned but I decided that it was what I had needed. It had been unplanned and unexpected but unforgettable. It was indeed not where I had planned to go but, without a doubt, where I needed to have been – and, indeed, glad to have been.



Adams’ pithy line speaks of plans that, by their nature, are liable to change – and often for the better. At its very simplest, consider the early morning alarm that you slept through, only to reflect at a pragmatic level later on that your body needed the extra sleep. On a less mundane level, you could be laid up for a week, unable to work, but realise on your recuperation that your body simply needed the rest and that contracting whatever it was that laid you up probably did you some good.



In the workplace, we are all used to the experience at the end of the day when we reflect on the plans we made for the day and realise that few of them were accomplished. However, rather than beating yourself up about it, consider what you did achieve and how important that was.

I seldom end up where I wanted to go but almost always end up where I need to be.

My personal experience of days that don’t go to plan usually involves unexpected conversations with colleagues that are actually more important than my agenda for the day. I imagine that if I had stuck rigidly to my personal plan, I may have either lost an opportunity – or someone’s trust and respect.



How often do meetings run as expected? And how often do you walk out of a tough discourse feeling that, although it was hard, it was actually good? Meetings rarely run to plan if minds are engaged and everyone is invited to contribute. For such to happen, there must be an environment of trust that allows people to disagree without being disagreeable. This facilitates a highly functional discussion which is likely to open new leads and take minds in directions they hadn’t planned to go. This isn’t always easy and it can be painful but it is often energising, cathartic and highly productive.  Members may not have ended up where they wanted to go but they have, perhaps, ended up where they need to be.



In my particular experience in the education sector, I often come across children whose lives, unfortunately, have not had the best start and are on a trajectory which could well lead them into trouble. However, amongst this number, I have also come across children whose tragic lives have been transformed – often through interactions with one or two very sensitive and talented human beings. The transformation is not painless but it is productive and it is often the case that the child in question gains unusual and particular emotional strength and empathy as a result – able to support others in a way that others perhaps more fortunate could not.

A new child walked into our school one day, having recently said goodbye to a mother who had moved out with her younger sister on the return of a father who had just been released from prison. The girl’s story was a sorry one and she wasn’t ready to engage with learning. She spent much of her early days at the school with her head in her arms and was practically unreachable on an emotional level. However, with the gentle and expert guidance of  a wonderful mentoring team, the child began to respond to those who were attempting to reach out to her. To cut a long story short, two years later, the child stood in front of 400 other pupils and sang unaccompanied – and beautifully – in one of our school talent shows. Needless to say, those who knew what she’d been through felt that lump in their throat and the tingles in their spine.

I’m confident that that girl, wherever she is today, has probably ended up where she needed to be, having started on a journey where it was clear she was not going to end up where she wanted to go. She will, without a doubt, be right where she needs to be: instrumental in touching others who are going through what she experienced.



In one of the Rolling Stones’ many classics, Mick Jagger sings, ‘You can’t always get what you want / but if you try sometimes / you get what you need.’ Whatever inspired such a line of philosophical thought, who knows, but the sentiment runs deep. You can’t run from life – you have to run with it, like the strong current in a deep river. Try and turn against it and life will overtake and even overrun you. Swim with it and you will, indeed, almost always end up where you need to be.


And I thought I’d finish with a handful of quotes that seem to resonate with the theme:


The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything, they just make the most of everything. (Unknown)


Bloom where you’re planted. (Unknown)


And something a little more pithy:


Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. (Unknown)




This blog post is written as part of a ‘blog buddies’ group, the idea being that we each write a weekly blog post on a chosen theme. To read the other posts on this theme, please visit:

Luke’s blog:

Wendy’s blog:

Nicola’s blog:

If you would like to join our blog buddies group and share in this writing adventure (no obligation to write, just join in when you are able), please e-mail