“Having a plan” gets all the love nowadays.
From the moment you’re born, your parents are supposed to have your whole childhood planned out. They’ll know whether you’ll be raised by a stay at home parent, a nanny, a day care, or a combination of the three. They’ll have plans for where you’ll live, where you’ll go to school, and what extracurriculars you’ll take.
Then, when you become an adult, you take over your life plan. You need to know which college you want to go to, what you want to major in, and what job you’d like to get out of that. Not only does everyone expect and praise those who have a life plan, they worry about those who don’t. Think about every Thanksgiving you’ve attended in the last five years. What are your friends and family asking? They want to know when you’ll propose or when you’ll get a promotion. If you’ve got those steps down, they’ll want to know where you’re going to settle down and when you want to have kids. No matter what stage of life you’re in, it’s clear everyone believes you should always have a plan and stick to it.
Yes, you should have goals and ambitions and know the steps you want to take to achieve them, and yes, having a life plan is great in many cases. But damn, it feels good not to have one every once in a while. Nothing makes you feel more alive than that one uncertain moment. That moment where the world feels like it’s speeding past, yet is in slow motion. That moment when you feel as though your whole existence has been leading you to this singular decision, and for a brief second, anything is possible. You could succeed beyond your wildest dreams. You could fail miserably. This could be the first day of a series of events that changes your life for the better, or it could be the choice you made that ruined everything. It’s scary and exhilarating and maddening and satisfying, all at once. It’s the feeling you get when the rollercoaster tips the edge, or when you roll the dice in craps, but enveloping your entire life. That’s the feeling that makes life worth living.
Your moment of uncertainty can happen at any time. It can be when you hand in your two weeks notice for a job you hate with no idea where you’re going to work next. It can be the decision to move across the country to a city where you know no one, just to be able to say you did it. It can be as small as the moment when you lean in to kiss a pretty girl at the end of a date; and in that fraction of a second before your lips meet you go through an eternity of questions.
“Did I misjudge the moment?”
“Could this be the girl I’m going to marry?”
“Am I going to get rejected and have to make a half-assed attempt to recover with a cheek kiss, knowing full well that neither of us wants that?”
Those moments may only make .00001% of your life, but damn if they don’t carry the most weight.
You may not be sold, but I don’t give out advice I wouldn’t follow. My uncertain moment was what led me to Chicago. I had wanted to live out here since I first visited for an internship training several years ago, but had never managed to make the jump. Instead, I took a job in my hometown and worked on a plan to climb the corporate ladder, knowing that I wasn’t especially enjoying my life, but convinced to stick it out because “you can’t throw away a good opportunity for no reason.” Until one day I decided that I could.
I was talking to one of my best friends about travel and life, when out of the blue he asked me, “What ever happened with your plan to live in Chicago? You think that’ll still happen?” That’s when I knew, whether or not it fit with my “plan,” that I had to make a leap. I refused to be the person that always talked about doing something big but never followed through.
The next week I moved home, saved my paychecks for six months, booked a flight to Chicago, and packed my life into three suitcases. I landed at O’Hare with no job, no friends, no winter coat (I was not prepared for it to still be in the 40s in May), and definitely no plan. And it was the most exciting experience of my life.
Don’t get me wrong; you need to have some plans in life. If you “go with the flow” your entire life, you’re likely to end up someplace you don’t want to be with no options to get out. You need to know what you want out of life, and most of the time you need to check off boxes to get there. Hell, many times these uncertain moments that are worth so much are a result of hard work, and many times having a plan is necessary to achieve your goals. Just not always.
Life is too short to never surprise yourself. Next time you find yourself accosted by a well-meaning family member who won’t stop grilling you about what your next step will be, and what your life plan is, go rogue. Flash them a smile, take a deep breath, and tell them, “I don’t know.” .