In my experience, planners are either short-term checklist-ers, long term bucket list-ers, or non planners who find freedom in lack of planning – and if you fall under that last category, I tip my hat to you! I’ve certainly never been that person.
I’ve always wished I was better at short term planning, which is one of the reasons I recently started bullet journaling (click here if you want to hear about my experience with it). I love the satisfaction that comes from making a plan and ticking off each item on a list, as if stamping it with fat red ink that reads ‘success’! Personally, I’ve always been more of a long term planner; however, this can be dangerous if you treat long term plans like your cosy short term checklist.
I suppose the reason it’s so dangerous is because you have more control over short term planning than you do over the long term. When I make a short term checklist, it’s usually a result of a hesitant glance around our messy apartment, and consists of dot points like ‘tidy shoes’, ‘wipe down surfaces’, or ‘change sheets in the guest room’. My long term plans are bigger, less attainable, ‘life goals’ that require time, work, and frankly, a lot of stress.
When I was a young teenager, I started writing about what I hoped my life would look like in ten years. I still have the journal I wrote in as a 12 year old, which clearly states that by the time I was 22 I would be married, living in my own home, own a puppy (preferably a Labrador) and be working as a conservatorium-qualified professional musician. Not all of these things are unattainable, but I think we place a lot of pressure on ourselves by setting inflexible or unrealistic goals.
By the time I was 15, my plans had developed some. My new ten year plan saw me married and pregnant by the time I was 25, living in my own home (renting was never a plan that crossed my mind), teaching primary school, travelling the world, and running singing lessons from home one or two nights a week. There’s nothing wrong with this plan. It’s not the plan that was flawed, but my incessant need to stick to it.
By the time I reached my 20s, my plans had advanced significantly. Reality started to sink in, and I came to terms with the fact that plans are exactly that – a plan, or an intention to do something. I started thinking realistically about what I wanted to do, and involving God in my decision making. I made mental list of things that are important to me, rather than things I have to do by a certain point in my life. Things like family, relationships, involvement in ministry, creativity, writing, children, travel, creating a home… you get the picture. My plans still revolve around these core things, but I like to think that they’re more flexible than they once were. I still fall into the trap of making specific plans and subconsciously having unrealistic expectations – but for the most part, it has helped me to see the next years of my life as an unwritten chapter rather than a to-do list.
The problem with making your life a checklist is that you run the risk of sucking the joy out of special occasions. If something goes to plan, I often fall into the trap of ticking it off my list rather than living in the joy of a wonderful life experience. I hope that by changing my mindset and being more flexible about my ‘plans’, I’ll be more open minded, take more opportunities, listen to God and His plan for me more readily and experience fulfilment in different ways.
I guess we’ll see what happens!
Photo taken by Peter Butler in Pompeii – a place I never planned to visit.