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  • tenleyschwartz

The Plan is to Not Get Stifled by the Plan

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

I'm mid-renovation. My brother Jonathan's coming soon to help redo my kitchen floor. I have fun light fixtures on order. I like to kick back in my home's messy glory and imagine the day it's all put together.

I'm a planner. New Year's Goals? Let me just compare last year's quick. 5 year plan? Get me a pen and piece of paper, stat! I write lists of varying specificity about shoes I hope exist, ideal sweaters, work scenarios, potential kid timelines, partner traits, classes I want to teach, dinners to make, and books I've gotta read.

I caught myself thinking "won't it be nice in 3 years when my house is all set and I can just enjoy it?" and had a reckoning. Me of 3 years ago wanted a version of this right now. And am I blissed-out and settled inside? Nope. I'm listing. I'm planning. I'm wondering what next?

To be fair: I enjoy the planning. I would skip it if it stressed me out. I see it not as rigid steps, but as a tool for recognition.

If I hadn't known I wanted to transition from freelance to full time, I wouldn't have walked into my now-boss/then-client's office and asked to fill the marketing job that had opened.

I drew a thing about sundress season and found a perfect dress in a thrift store a week later.

A plan trains your attention.

I'm thinking about how to feel a little looser. Too many plans, and I'm locked into a tidy realm of 'shoulds'.

A few weeks ago, Jonathan came over to help with some car stuff. I told him about my tentative Saturday plans, this City Neighborhood Summit. "It's the kind of thing I should do."

He sensed the weariness in my voice: "You don't have to go if you don't want to."

And just like that, I lightened. I didn't have to go hang out in a grey room with bad coffee. I could do whatever I wanted. And I wanted to stay home and hang out with my smart brother.

I've been wondering a lot about the intersection of desire and obligation. (Desire as in motivation to do something, not the steamy kind.) Wanting to arrive somewhere, be it a certain skill level or a physical place, takes discipline.

I've heard a billion minisermons on discipline during my time as a competitive runner in college. All about how the journey is tough but then you get to the finish line and you see all that work was worth it.

I think that's fine and good for short term goals like a race, but what about sustained practice? The stuff you want to start now with the hope that elderly you will do it?

First, maybe don't make assumptions for elderly you. That person has their own time to figure out. What do you want now? Who are you already? What do you enjoy already? I know some people who had big community-organizer energy and then kind of disappeared. Good for them, maybe? I was going to say let's focus on a sustainable practice so you don't get burnt out, but that's making assumptions that older you will want to be a community organizer forever. Maybe not!

So I don't want to make younger me decisions based on a future idealized version of me. I want decisions following my current curiosity.

Broad strokes goal is to always be curious, to keep learning. If I reject that idea someday, I'll be shocked.

I don't want to run neighborhood association meetings for the next 3 years, so I simply will not start a neighborhood association. I forsee a fast track to burnout if I do that, and I'd rather not be a crisped-up husk of myself by age 29.

Learning to sit and be satisfied with the here and now may be the only way to go. I do not know what Tenley in 10 years will hope for, but if she has 10 years of enjoying where she is at the moment, it's a better bet that she'll be appreciating things instead of rushing to what's next.

Of course, this is the hardest thing ever to actually DO. And some life stuff is gross and heavy and there is zero to enjoy in it. I'm thinking more along the lines of when it is good, notice. And let it be what it is. Not the next plan. But the life you're in right now. A Vonnegut style "if this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

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