When I was a wee one I had it all figured out. I didn’t know it all (or much at all, really), but I had a plan for my life as if I did. I figured that by the time I was 27 I would be married, with kids, and have a year or two under my belt as a doctor.
Here’s the marriage-less, kid-less, MD-less update from the 30 year-old me: nope.
That plan was always half-baked, but I never fully let it go. As I grew older I still held on to the notion that I needed a life plan, a path forward. I kept putting pressure on myself to figure out “the way” and stay on track. I have never figured out that so-called way, but until recently I kept believing there was one and I needed to know it yesterday.
One of the things aging gifts you is a deep sense of calm. Most of that calm comes from seeing and living through more stuff, so you feel more prepared for what’s to come, mostly because you’ve already seen some of it in one way or another. You kind of get the rhythm of life. But some of it also comes from being OK with your stupidity. Let me rephrase that in a kinder way: it comes from being OK with knowing you don’t know and that you are still learning.
I recently understood the idea that having a life plan when you haven’t really lived that much is pretty silly. Yet we all do it. You start to craft your master plan as if you knew all the answers, all the variables, and knew all that you wanted. It’s fantastic to be driven, and to have goals, but you also need to include the very important assumption that most of your world is still a big question mark. It would be like asking an architect to start planning for a structure whose function, building materials, and location are still unknown. You can still dedicate yourself to building a fantastic piece of work by trying your best, but your focus should be on learning more about what you don’t know, not feeling like you have to start production right away.
So I just turned 30 and figured out at least this one thing: there is no plan. Whatever plan you and I built for ourselves (or let our elders build for us) is only a sketch, it’s a shitty first draft. It was drawn by crayons on construction paper by our wee selves, and then edited by our young minds who were still figuring themselves out. There’s probably a lot of truth in it, and it’s not altogether worthless (our core never changes), but it’s not production-ready. It needs to be filled out, and thought-through, and there should be no rush to good work.
You might want to remember what the great strategist, general, and President Eisenhower once said: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” To me this means that while looking for the all-answering, flawless plan is looking for dissappointment, what we do to do a great job is essential. What you do is more important than what you chase. If you do good, try to be better every day, and never stop learning, then good stuff will happen. You may not be a doctor by the age of 27, but you may still have a life that is full of blessings and hope. That may not have been in the plan, but it’s still pretty damn good.