Today I want to talk about a subject I love: planning. Specifically, micromanaging your life, and some things I’ve learned from this past year or so of the pandemic as a person who needs to plan every aspect of her life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future lately, as I always do. I guess that’s a part of chronic anxiety, right? Always trying to figure out what comes next, trying to prepare for whatever curveballs the universe throws at you. My mentality has always been that I can’t get caught off-guard if I’m prepared for everything. As a result, I have frequent panic attacks, a myriad of lists strewn about my workspace, and every time the universe has thrown me a curveball I have, without fail, missed horribly on the swing.
This year especially has drilled it into my head that I cannot control forces outside of myself. I can’t control the fact that most of the world’s leadership response failed us and launched us into a global pandemic that has thrown every corner of my life into disarray. Much like I can’t control the people around my town, parading around without masks whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. (Clearly the pandemic is still a major source of anxiety for me!) And although I could always run for office and enact the kind of change I want to see in this world, I know that’s both unrealistic and way more stressful than my current state of life—but I’d absolutely be lying of my Anxiety Brain didn’t have periodic fantasies about being President of the World. Her and I could do some real good, but I would absolutely have a nervous breakdown in the process!
That’s all to say that I cannot control everything, and I need to learn how to be okay with that. And even though it sometimes physically pains me to have to readjust plans, I’m pretty good at rolling with the punches. I mean, looking back, I don’t think a single thing in my life has ever played out the way I felt it was supposed to. Everything always works out in the end, but getting to that end point when I had a completely different journey in mind is always a struggle. But hey, the universe doesn’t care about our plans. She’s got her own plans, and we have to deal with it. Though, sometimes I do think she changes her plans just to spite me—but who knows!
In front of my desk in the home office Ricky and I set up, I have a corkboard full of postcards, pictures, notes, my calendar, and a piece of paper that says “Goal Steps” that I wrote up in early 2020. I broke it down into five categories: education, career, home/family, self care, and passion project. And then, I wrote down steps I wanted to take—milestones I hoped to reach—from 2020 to 2025. This was a smaller exercise that tied into a ten-year plan I also wrote up, but I’ve been keeping my five-year “goal steps” in my face this whole time to remind myself of where I want to be.
In 2020, my top three goals were to graduate from Johns Hopkins University with my Masters in Museum Studies, to find an entry level position in museums in Maryland or Pennsylvania, and to query the book I’d written while completing two drafts of the second book in the planned series.
I did graduate—in fact, my official graduation was just last week, though I’ve had my degree in hand since the fall. Although the pandemic nearly forced me to push my graduation date back another semester—if not another year—I managed to find a way to make it work with a virtual internship to satisfy my graduation requirements. And while I didn’t find a job in MD or PA like I’d hoped, I did find one in DC which, in my mind, is even better. The commute is long, and it’s only a part-time gig right now, but it’s a great foot in the door and I truly do enjoy my job.
The only goal I didn’t fully reach last year was the last one. I did query my book, but I didn’t land an agent like I’d hoped. And although I do still want to turn this book universe into a series that lives somewhere outside of my head, I never sat down to start a first draft on book two. In fact, I put book one away and plan to completely revise it one day. In the meantime, I started writing a brand new book, and I’m nowhere near done with a first draft. This isn’t exactly how I pictured my first foray into publishing would go, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit bummed about striking out on this one.
When I was looking at these goals the other day, I realized how unrealistic a lot of these are. Whether it’s because my timeline got screwed up—as is the case with my publishing/passion project goals—or because things are just different now, a lot of the things I’d dreamed up for the 2020’s just don’t resonate with me anymore.
I mean, the world is completely different than it was in January 2020. It would be ridiculous of me to assume that I, myself, am exactly the same person I was back then. So much has changed, and I’ve changed with it.
While my core goals are still there—I want to publish a book, I want to work in museums, I want to travel, I want to own a home—my expectations on the details are really different. For example, my first goal for 2021 was to find a position in museum collections if I wasn’t already in one. I do not work in collections. I work in the security department of an art museum, and while the main function of my job is to protect the collection, this isn’t where I saw myself winding up. And yet, I’m really happy in this job. I like what I do. I like my department. I see myself learning as much as I can and staying with this institution for a long time, and honestly I see myself staying in the security department for a while. A year ago I would’ve turned my nose up at anything less than a collections assistant’s position, but I had to adjust my plan when job hunting and I’m pretty happy with the trajectory I’m on now.
I wanted to publish my book this year, too. Not just land an agent and a book deal—no, I wanted my physical book to be in my hands and on bookstore shelves by the end of the year. That timeline was just naïve on my part; at the time, I was brand new to the publishing world and had no idea how long everything took. That was never a realistic goal, and I know that now. I also wanted to start applying to more Masters programs in Archaeology, because archaeology is my first true love and I do hope I can make it back to that field one day. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking up programs in the area in my spare time, but I don’t see myself getting another degree anytime soon, if for no reason other than the fact that my student loan balance makes me cry. I do still hope to get my PhD one day, but I’m not sure when anymore.
When I first sat down and looked at these goals the other day, I was upset—angry, even—at what I hadn’t been able to accomplish, and what I wouldn’t be able to accomplish by the arbitrary deadline I’d set for myself. That’s just not cool.
There is no deadline for success, or happiness. Just because I haven’t done something before I turn 25, or even 30, doesn’t mean I’ve failed. Honestly, I’ve always had a hard time seeing myself in a future past my 20s—I have no idea what my 30s are supposed to look like. For my parents, their 30s held a divorce and as close to rock bottom as I’ve ever seen either of them come—and I guess subconsciously I always think that, if I make it that far, my life as I know it will end. And there is so much that I want to do with this life, but I always feel like that clock is ticking. I’m so young, and yet I feel like the prime of my life may have already passed me by. And I’m painfully aware of the fact that any moment could be my last—so I have to stop wasting them and do something with my life.
Even just typing that makes my chest tighten up. This is a terrible mentality to have. I know this. I’m riddled with guilt every time I stop to rest because I never feel like I’m doing enough, and that’s not fair to me. Sometimes my best isn’t what I wish it was—but it’s still my best, and it has to be good enough.
As I type this, I’m 24 years old. I’ll be 25 at the end of October, and that thought is kind of frightening. I have no idea what 25 will bring, nor do I have any idea what those years leading up to 35 will bring. And there’s no way of knowing; we just have to learn how to roll with it, and make the most of what the universe throws at us—and of what our bodies and minds can give us.
By the time I’m 35, I hope I’ll be settled and secure in a job that brings me joy. I hope I wake up every day excited, but I’ll settle for mornings full of contentment too. I hope I have a family by 35—whether that be just my husband and I, some fur babies, or some real babies I have no idea—but I hope whatever my family looks like, we’re happy and secure and have a place to call home. I hope I can take whatever space we wind up in and make it our own—whatever “our own” may look like. I hope I’ll be able to continue learning, and I really do hope I’ll be able to go back for my PhD someday, even if I don’t know what I want to dedicate my life to anymore. I hope I’ll have some stories to share with the world, and I hope the world will want to hear them.
But more than anything, I hope that by the time I’m 35 I’ll have learned how to let go a little more. I hope I’ll have figured out a way to tell my Anxiety Brain to shut up for a while—maybe even for good!—and I hope I’ll have an easier time living in whatever moment I’m experiencing than I do hyper-fixating on what good or bad the future might hold.
Humans are not static beings. We grow and evolve every day. Our wants and needs and passions and fears and dreams change with us, and although it’s comfortable and safe to cling to that vision our past selves held of the future, we have to learn how to let go of those visions. The future soon becomes the now, and we can’t miss out on that because we’re busy trying to achieve what our younger selves hoped for.
It’s okay to make changes. It’s okay to want different things, to be interested in different things, to expect different things. This is part of the course—something we all have to come to terms with one way or another. You can dream about you in ten years, you can hope for them and you can plant the seeds for their success now—but you cannot beat yourself up if those dreams and hopes change, if those seeds you thought were roses actually turn out to be sunflowers. You just have to change the sign in the garden and keep going.