I have a friend who (ever since I met her when she was fifteen) has always had a specific and detailed plan for her life. She would be at a certain school, graduated, at a certain job, married, having kids #1 and #2, adopting kids #3 and #4, all at very specific times in her life. When I first heard about her plan, I thought she was crazy. How can you possibly expect to follow an outline for your entire life? Especially when, at fourteen, I could hardly fathom to plan out my life when I was changing my mind about something every twelve minutes.
Even though the thought of a precise life plan seems ludicrous, we all do it. Whether it’s intentional or not, we all have expectations for how our lives are going to go. You may not plan your wedding for June 2017 eight years ahead of time, but you still expect to have a job you love at 30 and a kid by 35. We all expect certain things to go certain ways, whether it’s precise or not.
But if I’ve learned one thing about expectations, it’s that they never go your way. Or maybe I should say my way, because somehow my friend is right on track with her plan — picking out an engagement ring with her boyfriend of four years. I didn’t plan much of my life, but somehow the few things I did plan to happen between 15 and 21 took a complete turn. My plans weren’t even that detailed. Actually, they were so vague that it’s almost a miracle they didn’t happen.
I wanted to graduate from a college I loved with a few friends who I felt would last forever, at least one ex-boyfriend throughout the four years that would make me at least believe in the possibility of love, one story in my head that I knew I had to write and publish during my lifetime, and to be getting ready to move to NYC or LA or some other abbreviated place where the world would be mine for the taking. Instead, I graduated from college with no new friends or anything close to an ex-boyfriend, as a cynical, struggling writer with too much anxiety to live in a city, or anywhere farther than a short drive away from my parents. The only thing I can say went according to “plan” is that I have a cat. And thank whoever it is to thank for her.
I never expected to be working a 9-5 job in advertising, living in an shitty apartment I can’t even afford, dealing with anxiety every night about the fact that I don’t know anyone close by to take me to the emergency room, much less hang out with on a Saturday afternoon. I never expected to be questioning whether or not I was a good enough writer to be doing it full time, or if I needed to settle just to pay the bills and move closer to home.
And it’s not necessarily that I’m unhappy, it’s just a bit of a bummer when things don’t work out the way you imagine. It feels like I’m letting my hopeful, imaginative, 15-year-old self down somehow. It feels wrong to be so cynical at age 21. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but it is, and things always look better on the drive in. But when you walk in with hope, I guess you leave with perspective. And as Relient K so beautifully put it in potentially one of the best albums of all time, “perspective is a lovely hand to hold.”