As part of our final grade my senior year in high school, my English teacher had us write a five-and ten-year plan for how we envisioned our future life. Already quite deep into my love affair for this sparkling city, my cinco-de viva plan (or however you say that in Spanish?) — for 22 — went something like this:
Living in a luxury apartment in the heart of midtown, hustling and bustling with the best of ’em. Working as an editor at a big magazine, going to fancy parties and wearing fancy things, but writing about important topics — other than accessories and blow jobs. Dating a handsome man who would fall magically in love with me and propose at the top of the Empire State building.
What my life actually looked like at 22:
Living in a rundown brownstone that consistently reeked of reefer, sharing a communal bathroom with strangers. In, um, Harlem (but told my parents it was the Upper West Side so they could sleep at night). Working at a small trade business magazine, writing about tax benefits, sales, marketing and entrepreneurial success stories. My paycheck didn’t afford fancy things and my title didn’t offer fancy parties, but I did master the fine art of making Ramen delicacies. I started this blog a day past the big 2-2, and started my tumultuous relationship with Mr Unavailable/Possibility a month later.
Funny how things don’t really go according to plan, right?
As I (gulp) approach my 10 year out of that Southern high school and my (gulp) five year out of college, I find myself thinking about how I once pictured my life and how it really is, and maybe more interesting, how much of what I thought I wanted at this age, I don’t anymore.
I can blame it a little on conforming to the ways of the city that never sleeps, of how it tricks you into seeing endless options for as far as you see skyscrapers radiating in the distance. The city makes you believe in anything you set out to do, anyone you hope to find and any chance you dare to take. It doesn’t swallow you up for giving something a shot, instead it encourages you to take another leap, have another date, spend a little more money, buy that plane ticket, try something new again.
And so I have been.
I’ve been busy learning and soaking up just about as much as I can from my job. I’m coming up with excuses and finding opportunities to travel. I’m signing up for races I’m not convinced I should run, but fully dedicated to trying. I’m dating when it feels right and stopping when it doesn’t. I’m coming and going, quickly and slowly, just as I want, just as the mood strikes, just how it should have always been.
Because five year plans never turn out in the sweet little ways you think they will. Your illusions of how things are supposed to work out are just that, illusions. They are beautiful pictures crafted with the best-intentioned hand, but ripe with ideas of what life looks like, not what it actually feels like. Not what it actually means to live.
Because living doesn’t include plans and it doesn’t go on a pre-determined schedule or a course or events. It doesn’t follow rules and it refuses to make them. It doesn’t fit into a box of certain size or fit itself underneath a sweetly tied bow.
Instead, it surprises you.
Your five and ten year plan seem silly in comparison to your actual existence. What you dreamt for yourself still rhymes in the some sort of way, but those plans feels more like a scam. If everything worked out just as we hoped, just as we mapped it out, we would miss all the fun. All the good stuff. All the anger, the disappointment, the fear, the love, the passion, the struggle, the conquering, the battle, the success, the failure, the romance, the roughness. The shine after it all.
You’d miss the best parts of your 20-something years.
Especially the part where you look back on your life and those choices you made, out of spite, out of intrigue, and you find yourself smiling at the experience. Thankful you didn’t always pick the easiest road, but the one that seemed the best, and maybe the hardest, at the time. You would miss the part where something hits you — probably in the middle of an ordinary day — and you realize that blueprint doesn’t fit you anymore.
And that no plan really does at all. Maybe it never did to begin with.
Because finally, after fighting the should-be’s and the could-be’s and the supposed-to’s and all the pressuring words that did nothing but haunt you, you have found yourself released from the language. You’ve found yourself free from the scam — I mean, the plan — and happily ever after without a clue of what’s next.
And you know — or at the very least, you hope — it’s going to work out in a way that no pencil, no high school paper, no fortune teller, no anyone or anything could have ever predicted.