I’ve always had a plan.
I make goals. I make smaller goals to meet that goal. I meet those goals. I achieve the goal. I create a new list. I repeat.
To achieve a goal, you must have a general plan. To run a half marathon, I know I need a nine-week running plan. To be a successful blogger, I know I need to be posting content, checking in with readers, promoting my posts, and connecting with other blogs.
There are “steps” to success.
But at the same time, many people become successful without following the steps to success.
That’s a huge reason why I rebelled initially about going to college. I don’t need college, I told my parents, to change the world. We need the “steps,” but they are not our end-all-be-all.
In the past, I knew this. Going into Duke, I believed this. I never did things just to check boxes. I made plans to organize my life, but not for the sake of achievement: for the sake of being able to make an impact. My plans were loose, general guidelines; not hour-by-hour, exhausting commitments.
Some point between getting to Duke and preparing to leave Duke, I forgot this. I pushed it under the rug. In reality, I got overwhelmed, and plans were the only way I could keep up. If I didn’t organize every minute of my life, I reasoned, I would tumble out of control, hit rock bottom and fail at everything.
But at the end of sophomore year, even with a structured plan, I did fail. I hit rock bottom in every possible way. Junior year I “found air” (check out this blog post) and I had the best semester yet.
Now this semester I found myself planning every minute again.
How did this happen?
I’ve realized it’s because I am a go-getter. When I see a goal, I do whatever I can to accomplish it. And, usually, that means creating a strict plan, sticking to it, and pushing out distractions.
This semester, my goal was to be employed. I had to find the perfect job for after graduation, and then get it. I needed to push every distraction out of my life to get a job, and I wouldn’t stop pushing until I did.
I tunnel-visioned until I could step onto the career ladder, by neglecting friendships, family, self-care, my faith, and fun.
And you know what? I got a job.
From an outside perspective, it was a good job. I would learn “skills.” I would get “decent benefits” with “a good career trajectory.” I had “internal support” with a “mentorship program” and “good company culture.”
But it didn’t feel right.
In fact, everyone around me told me they couldn’t see me doing the job, either.
Eventually, I turned it down: For real reasons, for important reasons, for myself.
But since then I have had to face the reality that I do not have a plan for next year.
And it very much seems as if everyone around me does: from med school or law school, to consulting or finance, to joining a startup or starting your own.
Do I matter if I don’t have a structured plan? Am I not being ambitious enough? Am I missing something? Am I lesser than? Am I throwing away my Duke education? Are all the jobs gone now? Did I make the wrong decision?
A few weeks ago, I realized that I wouldn’t be here today, that this blog wouldn’t be here today, if it weren’t for my commitment to authenticity, vulnerability and risk-taking. So why wouldn’t I apply those values to the job search?
Not having a strict plan means I’ve had a lot of awkward conversations. At a scholarship reunion event, where I received a huge high school scholarship for my service and commitment to making the world a better place, I had to tell everyone I didn’t know what I’d being doing after college. When I went back to Duke career services, I had to explain that the resume help and cover letter help did work; I just didn’t take the job. When my friends signed onto their dream jobs, I bought the cake and posed in congrats pictures with them, internally wanting to cry over a mix of jealousy, impatience and fear.
But that’s okay because I want my first job to be a risk. I want my job to be a place where I can authentically and vulnerably be myself. I want it to be not another item on a checklist but a real opportunity for impact and growth.
A couple months ago, I would have told you those jobs do not exist.
But over the last seven weeks, I’ve attended eight career events where professionals stand up and talk about what they do. And each job is a risk. Each job is authentic and difficult. But each person loves their job.
My parents’ generation like to call us Millennials the lazy ones who want to skip the hard work and get to the job that has effortless impact. We want to design a start-up in a day, without any skills, and then change the world with it. And then sell it and move on to the next project. For our whole lives.
But that is a stereotype grounded in weak evidence. The reality is that Millennials DO want to work. We do understand that we need skills to make huge impact.
Many of just see no point in “putting in our time” at companies that churn us out like robots.
In fact, throughout this semester, I have been increasingly inspired by the dedication my fellow classmates have—I have friends about to commit to seven long years of med school, friends who are going on to graduate school, friends entering training programs, friends accepting difficult jobs that will help mold them and give them direction.
I have no idea what’s coming next. And I’m in a privileged position where a lot could come next. I could go overseas. I could stay here. I could move across the country.
That’s a lot of uncertainty, that’s a lot of awkward conversations where I can’t provide answers, a lot of puzzled looks and embarrassed throat-clearing.
But you know what?
For the first time this semester, I am finally back to doing things for the sake of doing them, not to get to the next step on the success ladder, but because I want to, like old times. I finally have room for spontaneity, instead of a minute-by-minute schedule.
So, no, I don’t have a job. I don’t have a structured plan.
But I am happy. I am free. I am excited. I am terrified. I am uncomfortable. And I am doing great.
In fact, I might argue that without a plan set in stone, I dream bigger.
I have some crazy dreams… publishing a book that I’ve put on the backburner since sophomore year, finally opening a nonprofit I’ve been designing since freshman year, doing mission work to put the missional skills to use I have been honing in my four years of campus ministry experience, traveling to many of the places on my bucket list and writing about them, working on an organic farm, finally getting back to my goal to run a half marathon in every state of the US.
We can live with plans, but sometimes go-getters take the plans too far and we forget the living and just focus on the plan.
So today is the beginning of my commitment to live, not to plan so voraciously, for my last semester at Duke and my first year out of college.
I dare you to try it with me—living instead of planning—in whatever way you can. Maybe you don’t have the resources to do something outlandish, and that is more than okay. But do it in the little things: go on a late-night milkshake run with someone you’ve said you wanted to get to know, leave flowers on someone’s car, dream about the impossible, clear your schedule for a day and see where life takes you, don’t schedule three hours of one week-day and just make yourself available to whomever might need you, stop and listen to someone’s story, let yourself be inspired, let go of preconceived notions of people, places and paths.
Stop planning so intensely and start living. Bring back the spontaneity, joy and freedom, and get rid of the hour-by-hour plan-for-the-next-nine-years. Let your plan be your guide, not your master.