The Girl Without a Plan
For my entire life, I have been known as the girl with the plan. I was the bossy child orchestrating group projects, the teenager creating meticulous preparatory lists, the college student drawing up five year schedules, and the young professional plotting her next career move. I'm always the first to help organize an event. I keep a detailed bullet journal with my daily, weekly, and monthly schedules. My former partner used to make fun of me because I would include how many pairs of socks to take on every packing list. As a highly sensitive and anxiety-prone person, my inner world has always been subject to the tumult of my emotions, and my favorite coping mechanism is to plan my worries away. Outer order contributes to inner calm, as Gretchen Rubin says, and this is mostly true. My plans have helped me get what I want, despite any secret doubts I harbor about my ability to do so. I am tenacious and I am persistent. I make things happen. I love this about myself. So you can imagine that when I found myself curled up on the couch last week, contemplating the fact that I had no job, no partner, and, in a few days' time, no place of my own, I panicked.
I used to have a plan. I was going to go on a round-the-world trip with my partner of six years, and once we finished traveling, we would probably move back to DC and live together. Then, I couldn't follow through on that plan for personal reasons, and so I deliberately unmade it. Rather than leave myself untethered, I made a new plan: I would move to Spain, in no small part to pursue a relationship with someone living there. This time, the other person was the one who couldn't follow through, and so he undid the plan. Suddenly, the future I had been counting on vanished. Two plans destroyed in the span of less than two months. Cue me, on the couch, watching Broad City to feel better about my life and wondering where in the hell I went wrong.
Trust me, for that first week, it felt completely, utterly, unimaginably wrong to have no plan. I hated it. I went to bed every night with Netflix murmuring in the background so that I could fall asleep (insomniac tip: do not use my favorite genre, vampire shows, for this purpose, or you will be violently woken up by some unfortunate hottie's loud, horrible death). I woke up every morning with my heart racing, a tell-tale sign of increased anxiety, and had to stay in bed counting my breaths until my pulse slowed. I felt sorry for myself. I ate either vegan junk food or no food at all. I was heartbroken, mourning the loss of two relationships but, perhaps just as much, the loss of my sense of direction.
Then, I started to feel a little bit better. I began to understand that, for the first time in a very long time, I can make decisions entirely independently. Don't get me wrong--it's still hard. I am still grieving. I still have heightened anxiety, though it's been much better this week. I am still figuring out how to be single, completely romantically unattached, which I haven't been since I was sixteen. But little by little, I am starting to believe what everyone has been telling me: having no plan is liberating.
My revelation may not be news to many of you; maybe you, unlike me, are much more skilled at what my therapist (and my mother) used to implore me to do: "Just let the damn thing go, Sarah!" I'm not used to letting go. On the contrary, what I know how to do best is hold on for dear life, to fight tooth and nail for what I want, to work and worry my desires into submission until they are satisfied. I would never have chosen to have no plan, which is why, when I erased one, I immediately made another. Losing them forced me into a kind of absurd vulnerability, however, that was as freeing as it was painful. There's nothing quite like texting your four closest friends three mornings in a row and asking if they're sure you'll be okay, though you can practically see them rolling their eyes through the screen. On more than one occasion my friends found me piled with a mass of blankets like some sort of sad animal attempting to hibernate. My state of being was at once ridiculous and completely understandable, as is so much of the human condition. Letting your community hold you loosens the weight of your own life, and in this lightness, admitting that you have no idea what you're doing means that you can do whatever you want.
Having no plan is not a constructive way to live long-term, but for a short period of time, it might be the best possible way to live. So often we hide behind our plans, believing that they bestow upon us value, status, or power. We believe that our plans make us who we are. Especially in the workaholic culture of the United States, we tend to dismiss people who don't have plans as somehow worth less than those who do. And yet, when we lock ourselves into plans for the sake of it, we rob ourselves and the world of so much potential. Rather than allow ourselves to remain uncertain long enough to figure out what we really want, we launch ourselves from decision to decision because we are unable to bear the discomfort of not knowing what we'll do next. How many times have I forsaken possibilities because I didn't want to wait long enough to examine them? I don't know exactly, but I know it's too many. I may not have chosen to be the girl without a plan, but here I am nonetheless, and I'm going to make the most of it.
I may move to Spain (pray to the visa gods for that one, as I still haven't heard back about my application). I may decide to travel for a few months. I may do both, or neither. I may move back to DC in two months or twelve. I may go to school. I may run away forever (kidding, sort of). The only two things that I know for certain is that I am free to choose, and that I will always write. So keep reading, and you'll be the first to know my next plan.