At the beginning of this summer, I made a 78–item to do list. Tasks ranged from the mundane (email academic advisor) to the absolutely critical (bikini wax ASAP) to the unlikely to receive a check mark (run half marathon). The List (one of many) is part of my Five Year Plan, an ambitious—probably cocky—set of goals which include drafting a novel before turning twenty two, getting into a top law school, and deferring the offer for a year or two participate in a fellowship abroad that fuses human rights research with journalism. At this point, you may consider rolling your eyes or pointing out that the odds for completing just one of those tasks suck. Hold that thought.
I subscribe to the belief that organization is a virtue and that competition fuels ambition. If you go to Penn, you get it. When you have two midterms, an essay, and a BYO you can’t (read: won’t) miss and a birthday party after that, you get shit done. And that’s mostly a good thing. Now let’s talk drawbacks. I’m going to skip the part about stress and pressure because, let’s be honest, that conversation is a little played out. We work like the word’s got the letter “e” in it, we make plans, and we bitch the whole way through. Our decisions are purposeful and most can go on a resume. Old news.
I planned to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa come fall—a “once in a lifetime experience” says every member of my extended family and an opportunity I wish I wanted to take. But I don’t. If you’re a friend of mine—or even a moderately close acquaintance—I probably subjected you to my incessant agonizing on whether or not to go, which started in February and only terminated last week. That’s my bad. But here’s the upside: we’re getting closer to my point.
I had every reason to go to Cape Town, the least of which being that the sophomore slump isn’t exactly a myth, and goddamn, I needed a break. Also, study abroad would look nice on my resume. So for three months, I ignored that gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach that told me not to go. I fell into the trap of believing that every decision I made must be justifiable, practical, and serve a purpose bigger than itself. A revelation: it doesn’t. To everyone who wants to go to study abroad, I both commend and envy you, but I’m trusting my gut on this one.
Another revelation: there’s a lot of shit on Google. When something falls through or you change your mind, there’s quite literally hundreds of pages worth of backup plans. I decided to spend the latter half of my summer—when I would have started my program in Cape Town—living and volunteering among the Buddhist monks in Laos, and I’m really excited. I could use a bit of Zen. I doubt I’ll stop making lists or plans anytime soon, but I’m trying to be more flexible. This summer—whether you’re making coffee runs or running marathons—I encourage you to schedule some time to do exactly what you want, no reason necessary.