By Olivia Land
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] like to plan. When I lie in bed at night, I list my to-dos for the upcoming day the way other people count sheep. I keep obsessive track of every assignment, sports game, and appointment in my planner. I look forward to Sunday nights as “planning time,” when I take stock of the week ahead and envision how each day with go. My internal monologue this past week, for example, went something like this: “Get to school, go to class, email so-and-so, go to practice, finish paper...” and so on. Some people might feel bogged down by this hyper-organization, but for me it’s the opposite. Weirdly enough, the rigidity helps me feel liberated.
For years, my commitment to planning applied not only to my present life, but to my future as well. When I was 11 or 12, I started making “life timelines,” on which I listed specific milestone down to the month and year. These ranged from academic accomplishments, like graduating high school and college, to more extreme examples, such as when I would get married (December 2027, for those of you wondering). I was equally obsessive over my future career, and spent hours ruminating over what life would be like once I achieved my dream of being a magazine editor. My goals had their positives (I was certainly motivated to work hard), but there were harmful side effects, as well. At the time, I was young enough to believe that there were only two paths I could take: One, on which all my plans came together beautifully and I lived happily ever after, and another that routed me directly to the realm of abject failure.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
Now, I’m all for a good Robert Frost quote, but my high schools years have been nothing if not a lesson that there are far more than just two diverging paths. Rather, life is made up of winding roads full of bumps and curves. I spent years hugging the curb, creeping along cautiously in case a pothole might dismantle my carefully arranged ambitions. Even my cautious navigating, however, couldn’t protect me from inevitable detours. This past spring, for example, I was turned down for an internship I’d pined over for months. With a mere three weeks before the start of summer vacation, I struggled to move on the from the fact that the next three months would not pan out as I envisioned them.
I’m embarrassed to say how long it took, but I eventually adjusted to my life’s “sudden left.” As it turns out, sometimes a change of plans (or, better yet, no plans at all) is just what the doctor ordered. Instead of interning at a prestigious arts institution, I spent the summer working seven days a week at two very different but equally inspiring jobs. Not only that, but I spent a weekend at an amazing conference in New York City, reconnected with old friends, and even started writing for Feminist Wednesday. None of these experiences were part of my original plan, but they were what I needed.
It wasn’t until this fall, however, when I reflected my summer and everything that happened, that I finally started to realize the incredible things that happen when you finally let go.
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I chose to call this article “Clueless,” and not just because it’s the title of my favorite movie. Releasing myself from one concrete vision of my future means getting comfortable with ambiguity. I don’t know where I’ll be next month, let alone in the next decade or two...and this scares me. Whenever I start feeling stressed and directionless, however, I try to remind myself of just how many possibilities exist out there. I can go to college at the school I set my heart on a year ago, or I could take a chance on a place I’ve only just visited. I could follow my original dream of being an editor, or I could write documentaries.
Or, I could spend a year after traveling Europe with a small suitcase and a notebook. The options are endless, but I’m not feeling pressure to make any choices just yet. For now, at least, I’m enjoying the ride.