Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The best laid schemes o' Mice and Men

(I doubt this mouse had plans to catch the Froggy Express, but she's taking it anyway. Click for credit).

Since entering this great big blogging community (still can't quite get myself to call it the "blogosphere"), I've come across a lot of bloggers who seem to have their lives micro-managed and hyper-programmed to the point where they can tell you what project they'll be working on, on October 16, 2012 - and also, what they'll be having for lunch that day. I've met these sorts of people in real life as well: they are the people who set out their next day clothes the night before, and pack their lunches a week in advance. When I was younger, my mom tried valiantly to encourage this same habit in me. She failed. My argument was (and perhaps not so articulately put at age 8), How will I ever know what I feel like wearing until the day I'm going to be wearing it? Maybe I wouldn't know until right before I put something on, or even, only after. But of course, my other argument was that I wanted to spend those extra 10 minutes watching Nick at Nite. Both solid arguments, even today.

The same mentality carries me along now. It seems that most major plans I've made  - which college to attend, which career to pursue - end up changing significantly, either of my own accord or by some extenuating and impossible-to-ignore circumstances. If I had been too hung up on the "plans" I had made for my life at age 17, as a senior in high school, I would have likely missed out on many of the events, people, and places now woven into the very fabric that defines me. And there are just things you can't possibly know about yourself - what you want and what you value - until you're right there in the thick of things. It's not as if people aren't aware of this - but still we fall susceptible to the charms of planning (and as Robert Burns famously identified, it's a condition that apparently plagues humans and rodents).

That's why I love Alyson's recent post on dumping the five-year career plan, and instead working on defining a life mission. This phrase may sound more daunting at first but it really just means identifying what's important to you, what you want to accomplish in your life and work: plotting points and connecting dots as you go along; the shape only revealing itself in time. This of course requires an open mind be kept to allow the many ideas, individuals, and moments we encounter to affect and maybe even alter the mission. Oftentimes, people who itemize their future lives like they would their taxes set themselves us for failure and serious disappointment; while also running the risk of losing out on amazing opportunities that may not have been part of 'the plan'.

It's not as if planning isn't useful. It can be great in providing a starting point (which we all need), but it shouldn't be the only thing guiding us. We can't possibly be sure that the career we're planning on having in five years will actually take shape, or even that we'll want it five years from now.

The way I see it: we are not linearly-minded, but nuanced and change-oriented. My views on life, work, happiness, and preferred lunch spots will be changing quarterly if not weekly, so I avoid setting goals that won't let me follow multiple paths or think dynamically. Instead, I embrace a framework that is intrinsically complicated and messy. Not only because when we become so goal-obsessed we forget about whats around us in the here and now, not only because our goals and our methods for achieving them will eventually change, but because we are not infallible. It is in our DNA to fault and stop and pause and retract and rewind and skip forward... no matter how many machines we build or devices we employ to keep us on track, we just are not meant to be.

So I propose this: why don't we just admit to it - and then head out for cocktails? Because that's the kind of plan I have no problem making!


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