Best Laid Plans

I'm a planner.  

I make lists and spreadsheets and fill Day-Minders and calendars with the tiniest of handwriting so that I can fit it all in.  I'm like a fiend, scribbling down the minutia of my life like a mad woman.  It gives me a weird sort of high.  Sometimes, I write down the smallest details of my day, just to have an excuse to make a list.  It calms me; makes me feel like I'm in control.  

6:30 am - wake up and get out of bed.  

6:32 am - brush teeth, use bathroom.    

6:40 am - turn on coffee pot, walk to refrigerator.

You get the picture.  

I have lists for my weight loss program with all of the milestone dates marked on my calendar and the exercises that I will do each day penciled neatly into their time slot.  I have lists of my period, my ovulation, my basal body temperature.  Lists of the foods that I consume each day and their caloric values.  Then there are the lists for my writing projects.  And the lists for my future art work.  Lists for my son's meds and doctor's appointments.  Lists for business ideas, what I want to do with my life, and, of course, the usual grocery and to-do lists.

One day, as I was in a mad frenzy to add a few things to my list, it dawned on me that I could just go ahead and DO the actual task in about as much time as it took me to write it down.  This struck me as hilarious.  I started to pay more attention to my list making habit.  It turns out that a majority of the things on my lists were no-brainer actions that I would get done whether I wrote the down or not. Like eat lunch, sleep, oh, and don't forget to breathe!  But even more interesting, a lot of the big, long range items on my lists were not getting accomplished.  I would just transfer them from list to list, never crossing them off, never actually getting them done.  Hmmm...  

It turns out that I was using my planning as procrastination.  By endlessly planning to do the big important things that I wanted to do in life, I was fooling myself into believing that I was actually taking action when in fact, I was doing NOTHING.  

I was spending time all caught up in my head, believing that all that thinking I was doing was actually going get me where I wanted to go.  But years later, my head was still spinning with thoughts of what I wanted to do with nothing real to show for all that mental effort.

I realized that Planning does NOT yield actual results. 

And Making lists does NOT equal action.  

Sitting around thinking about chasing our dreams does not get us one single step closer to achieving them.  At some point we have to stop planning and start doing.  

I have an amazing group of friends that I've known since high school.  These girls are my soul sisters, the kind of friends that you only find a handful of in a lifetime.  Back in high school, we were the good girls... straight A's, on the honor roll, didn't drink or party or cause our parents any trouble.  When we would get together to hang out after school or on weekends, the conversation usually centered around what we would do after high school.  How would we bust up out of LaFollette and make something of ourselves.  Where would we go to college and what would we major in??  This topic never got old, and the closer we approached graduation, the more urgent our discussions became.  I'll never forget when one of the girl's boyfriend at the time overheard one of our future planning sessions and said "you girls are so busy planning for the future that you're not going to have a past to remember!".

That comment struck me and has stuck with me to this day.  He was right: my friends and I were neglecting the great things that we had right in front of us because we were so anxious about the future and caught up in what might happen tomorrow.  We were trading today for the anticipation of tomorrow.  

I remember one year back in college, it was the first day of the new semester.  My anxiety had been mounting and I'd been in preparation mode for weeks... start going to bed earlier, and getting up earlier to get into the new schedule, buy school supplies, download all of the course syllabi... every dorky thing you could do, I was on it!  When the first day of classes rolled around, I was sitting in the classroom (10-15 minutes early, mind you), anxiously awaiting the professor's arrival.  Just as he got up to introduce himself and get class started, a group of girls that I knew casually came running in and grabbed seats at the back of the room.  I later found out that they had just returned from a back country camping trip.  Literally, just in time to drive to campus from the mountains, find a parking spot, and run into class.  They had no books, no syllabus, no Trapper Keeper.  They were not well rested and ready to take on the new semester.  They hadn't even showered!  I remember sitting there watching them with a mixture of envy and rage.  How dare they not even take the time to prepare for class!  But oh how I longed to be that carefree... to live in the moment and suck the last few drops of fun out of a summer vacation.

While it may not be in my nature to shun all responsibility for fun and games, I can learn a thing or two from those college girls and that high school boy... it is so important to take time NOW to be happy.  To just be where you are, and enjoy the things that have been placed in your life.  Slow down.  Engage with the present moment.  Have some FUN.  Over the years I've gotten better at this.  I've realized that tomorrow is going to come, and I'm going to be ok, whether I plan and anxiously anticipate it or not.  Tomorrow is going to happen just like it's supposed to and that is mostly completely out of my control.  And now, with my son, it is even more important to savor each and every moment that I have with him because they will all be gone so fast.  And where does all that planning get us anyway?  It usually gets me stuck in thoughts and inaction.  

So I've started to live my life in a different way.  I no longer keep a DayMinder.  I have a calendar for REALLY important events only. I have a single notepad on the refrigerator for groceries and sometimes a honey-do list.  Otherwise, I just do what I need to do and skip the writing it down part.  And guess what?  It all gets done!  And as for the big, scary items that i used to transfer from list to list... well, with commitment, a willingness to face my fear, and consistent small steps, I'm finding that those are getting done too!       

So lets throw our planners to the wind, shall we?

Burn our to-do lists.  Ditch our Day-minders.  Say sayonara to our spreadsheets.

Lets stop planning and start LIVING.  Let's make the most of this one wild and precious life while it's still ours for the taking.  Let's not reach the end of our lives and look back with regret at the moments we missed while looking ahead for a better tomorrow.  

"our weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected is already gone – has passed unseen, in a sigh, in a flash – together with the youth, with the strength, with the romance of illusions.” Joseph Conrad

Till next time,


© Haley McManigal 2017

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