When you are a young adult, (as many of you have been, and many of you are) people are fond of asking you about your plans. What is your career trajectory? Where do you want to be in five years? Where are you going to live? How are you providing for the future?
I have a handful of friends who are still finishing up college, and at this point these questions have grown tiresome to them. Every time they say hello, there’s another expectant face asking about their plans. And here’s the thing- in a surprise to no one- most of them have no idea. “I’m twenty years old, leave me alone!” “How the heck am I supposed to know? I’ll get a job? I guess?”
I think the questioning is well intentioned for the most part. Elder counterparts of those just joining the currents of the proverbial real world want to help others avoid their mistakes or wasted time, or they happened to do well out of the gate and they want to push others to do the same. Either way, there seems to be a disconnect. It feels like an unfair question a lot of the time. How in the world am I supposed to know what life looks like in ten years? I may have a direction, but directions change, don’t they?
Most Americans change careers several times in their lives. Most everyone changes relationship statuses at least once. People move. The economy tanks. The economy skyrockets. Opportunity comes and goes. Buying into a horse and buggy business sounded great until Mr. Ford came around. Some tides can be predicted, others simply can’t. And yet, there is a pressure (not just for college grads, but really everyone) to have their entire life laid out. It’s as if we’re giving orders to a maitre d’ at a fancy restaurant.
“Excellent choice of career changes, sir. Would you like to pair that with a vacation home in Nassau? And when will you be dying this evening?”
Dwight D. Eisenhower put it best, I think. He said that plans are worthless while planning is invaluable. I have to agree with him. I think stating it in this way takes out a lot of the ambiguity and pressure.
I may or may not be a smart guy, but one thing I’m not for certain is a fortune teller. I can’t write out my plans, etch them into stone, overlay it with bronze and then never divert from them at all. Life just isn’t that stable. But here’s the thing about plans that doesn’t get said nearly enough: they can change, and that’s okay. Going into uncertainty with a good plan is infinitely better than winging it all of the time. And yet, since there is uncertainty, there will always be variables we couldn’t have accounted for until we found ourselves immersed in them. That’s when we pull out the pencil, erase a few lines and call a few audibles.
I write about this today because I feel like I see a lot of frustration. I’ve even experienced it myself. We make these grand, ornate plans, but then life just doesn’t want to cooperate. When we try to grit our teeth and refuse to budge on any aspect of our ten points to success, usually nothing happens, we fall behind, and we get depressed. Oftentimes this is when people simply quit. I’m reminded of a much less famous quote (alright, my brother said it), “You’re only stuck if you don’t move.”
I see frustration the other way as well- friends who have never bothered to really sit down and make an attack strategy, and then they wonder why things never work out. In short, it’s pretty difficult to nab an opportunity when you have zero idea of what sort of opportunity you’re aiming at. Learning to plan is great, because if you do it well you’ll be doing it your entire life. There’s a change in the wind, but we can throw our papers in the air with a smile, because even though we need to write a new plan, we’ve done this dozens of times, and it’s gotten easier. Refusing to make plans simply because life shifts and we might have to change them is like not taking a shower because you might get dirty later.
Life is beautiful. It’s full of things that I can’t control- and yet I can control the decisions that I make. The way that I interact with the variables will always be shifting, but I can adjust too. I’m not saying to give up on your dreams or to abandon your purpose; I’m simply saying that most sure roads wind quite a bit. (Or we might even say they’re anfractuous, if we’re feeling particularly erudite.)
I have some very clear goals in my life that I have no intention of changing, and yet the way I see myself getting there has changed several times. The world shifts, and so does my strategy. And yet my resolve and my purpose remain firm. The reed that bends does not break, correct? And yet it’s still rooted in the ground.