I used to plan for everything. In high school, I started planning for my pre-med college education in 10th grade. In college, I planned my summer internships before leaves even turned brown. When I applied to grad school, I prepared for it for almost a year and half to make sure I checked off all the boxes that would get me in. Then as soon as I got in, I began networking like a crazy person to try to get summer internships and jobs for post-graduation.
My motto was always that “fortune favors the prepared”. I’d always believed that one can never over-prepare for anything, and being obsessive about it made me feel safe — like I would be less prone to failure.
This was also my approach to life. I planned meticulously for it, pined for the perfect person to walk into the picture any time now, wistfully sketched in my head the perfect family living in the perfect house eating perfect dinner and sleeping in perfectly made beds.
Which is why, in contrast to all the perfection I thought would eventually take hold in my life, I used to always see my current situation as….just temporary. You know, that weird, but persistent feeling of lack of roots accompanied by a weird, but persistent feeling of mild anxiety? That you’re living in a rented apartment with Ikea furniture and even though you own it all it doesn’t in fact feel like it’s yours? That you’re simply “parked” here for the time being and everything you do is enveloped in an air of impermanence?
That you somehow never thought it actually counted?
As soon as I left school, I realized that my neurotic planning no longer worked. My friend put it in an alarmingly simple way recently. We were sitting on my bed chatting about career advancements and the value of MBA degrees, when he picked up one of my grad school textbooks the size of a brick, flipped to the table of contents, and said, “Look, school is like a textbook. You have your beginning, your end, your chapters, your notes. Everything is structured, and black and white. Real world isn’t like that — shit explodes in your face all the time, and you throw HUMANS into the equation and it’s all just a huge mess.”
It sounds super cliché, but recently I finally realized that life isn’t really about the planning but the doing. You can plan all you want, but “shit explodes in your face” anyway like it’s all a part of some natural evolution of the universe. The key to focusing on — and enjoying — the present, is to first come to terms with the fact that life will never be perfect like the way we’d imagined it to be when we were younger, still bright eyed and full of unknowing. Our worlds were too structured back then, too black and white, too safe. The simplicity of it all was a blessing, but the associated ignorance a curse — a curse that prevented us from experiencing all the complicated emotions we never even knew we could feel, let alone appreciate.
It’s true that it doesn’t get easier from here, but we do get stronger. Disenchantment is jarring, but often it also represents the start of a transformation. Stop waiting for your life to begin the way I have all these years, and start investing in yourself. Live simply, be well.