Unplanning the future

Rewriting the definition of tomorrow


Julia Denae

Photo Courtesy of Holly McDonald

Holly McDonald, Editor in Chief

As my high school years begin to come to a close, I reflect upon my plans for the future. As a natural planner, I’ve always had a rigid vision for the way my life will work out. I will go to this college, I will get married at this age, I will have this job, I will have this many kids, and so on and so forth. But as I’m getting ready to leave the life I have so comfortably lived for the past 18 years, I’m realizing I can’t plan it all this way.

If COVID has taught me anything, it’s that life will throw a wrench in your plans. I had not planned to face a pandemic through most of my high school experience, yet it still happened. If I couldn’t plan for something as big as that, I surely don’t know what the rest of my life is going to throw at me. 

My brain is wired in a special way; every thought is organized in just the right place to create a beautiful mural of the future in my mind. It’s full of happiness and joy— because no one plans for sadness. I’ve figured out that my brain’s natural resting state is not in this moment. Instead, I’m constantly daydreaming of scenarios in the future. I dream of the moments I’ll spend with my children or of the dream house I’ll buy one day. When I’m asked questions about the future, I’ve always had an answer prepared. People are usually surprised by the depth of my answers, and recently I’ve felt guilty. Most 17-year-olds don’t have these kinds of plans. When I have time, I’m not thinking about the life right in front of me, I’m thinking about the life 10+ years in front of me. 

It’s scary when I think about it. My mind is living in the future, not in this current era. So, am I oblivious to life’s gifts right in front of me? I sure hope not.

That’s where unplanning the future comes into play. I need to erase this beautifully painted picture of the future in my mind because it’s impossible that everything will work out. And if life somehow finds a way to have every little detail I dream of come true, then it will be a surprise instead of a check on my list. Life is meant to be taken one step at a time and not necessarily planning the next ten steps of your future.

So my first step to erasing my steps is to wait patiently. As a senior in high school, I’ve finished my college applications and the anticipation of acceptance letters looms over me. But, in order to unplan my future, all I can do is wait. Why already imagine my entire college experience when I’m not even sure where I’ll end up? 

Every day brings change, and there’s no way I can grow if I have such a rigid plan. Unplanning will give me the room to adapt to change and not be so scared of it. If I remain open-minded, I won’t feel the need to plan for every situation. 

However, no matter how much I let go of the plans I’ve made, I promise myself that I will not let go of my values. I’ve come up with every plan for a specific reason; something has happened to lead me to want to do a certain activity. Those things, or values I could say, are what keep me in line. As an example, I have always said I want to have two children someday. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about things like that until they consume your mind and all you think about is your future family. Clearly this desire to have a family originates in my strong bond with my own family. So instead of planning my future family, I hold on to how much I value my family and appreciate my time spent with my family right now. 

I love analogies, and my mind likes to think in creative ways. Everyone says life is a journey, and I truly believe that. I picture life as a path— the roads diverge through forests and up mountains and down in valleys. The path of life takes you all over the place. Before this process of unplanning my future, I envisioned clearly noted milestones along the way. They’re little pinpoints along my path. 

But now, the path in front of me is a little foggy, but it couldn’t be clearer. I can’t see in front of me, but I feel content in the unknown. Each new step forward brings one new thing to light, one more clear answer. Elenor Roosevelt once said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why we call it the ‘present.’” Now is the time to see the gifts all around me. Now is the time to embrace the current era of my life. As I continue forward on the path of life, I’ll hold onto all of the moments I get to experience now. The future can wait. But today only happens once. 

Photo Courtesy of Holly McDonald (Julia Denae)