With finals and spring registration among us, college students are again faced with the daunting task of planning for the future. We map out study schedules, increase our intake of caffeine and stock our OPUS shopping carts full with hope and one or two General Education Requirements. Students know too well the mental juggling act of figuring out what courses to take next semester while simultaneously trying to finish this semester’s courses.
The tossing and turning of the late night, early-morning, work-before-sleep routine reflects the restlessness of our thoughts: What classes should I take next semester? Does this knock out a requirement somewhere? How will this affect my career path? I’m so not getting into med/law/business school…
I am not saying that planning is bad. Planning is actually good. It keeps you (and your mind) organized and on track. Unfortunately, more often than not, stress and anxiety come with the planning like a side of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s so sad to see college students stretch their mental, emotional and physical capacities thinner and thinner with each mention of the word “future.” College students are already under so much pressure — academically, socially and financially — that I could easily write another editorial (or a whole book) solely about the stresses of college.
What I mean to say is that, especially over the course of these next few months, don’t let planning for the future overwhelm you. Planning for the future is exciting, useful and responsible, but there are definite limits to how much you can actually plan. And I feel like many students forget that fact. Nobody really knows the future. We can’t control everything. We won’t be able to force a certain professor to teach a certain class at a certain time so we can feel comfortable in our charts and schedules. We can’t demand our dream internship. We can’t foresee family emergencies, personal injuries, sudden passions or an unexpectedly difficult class that might tank our GPAs.
And don’t even bother mentioning a “Four Year Plan.” Do you really think you’re going to know where you are in four years? Life changes at every moment. What will you do if something happens that is out of your control and forces you to change your plan? Will you freak out? Will you have a mental breakdown and start a new series on Netflix with the sad acceptance that your whole life is now thrown off-kilter? I’ve seen this too many times already. (P.S. Your whole life is not thrown off-kilter).
I find Four Year Plans academically intimidating. The idea of determining exactly what courses I’m going to take and when I’m going to take them over my next few years gives me anxiety. Yes, add/drop/swap can save your ass sometimes, but it’s not that reliable.
Furthermore, a train track runs smoothly until one board or screw or rod is not where it is supposed to be, not where it is expected to be. Then, bells, whistles and horns blow, and passengers panic about what is happening to this giant hunk of speeding metal and, more importantly, what is going to happen to their lives. Don’t make your plans like train tracks. Don’t lay a track with certainty and commit yourself to its perfection. If you expect your plan to be perfect and remain unchanged, you may panic when something goes slightly awry.
Don’t attach yourselves to a future that hasn’t happened yet. Be adaptable. Be able to work with what life hands you. You want to make a Four Year Plan? Go right ahead. I just suggest making a skeleton — don’t flesh out your plan, don’t create a being and commit your mind, body and soul to it. Expect plans to change. Plans change, people change, and that makes life exhilarating and hectic and scary and wise.
Keep in mind that while you should accept the uncertainty, you shouldn’t just watch the world unfold and feel like you have no control whatsoever. You do have control. You can’t expect to get into medical school by not making any plans and dreaming — make it happen. Be active in the pursuit of what you want, of your goals. If you see yourself working for that law firm in Atlanta, go for it. If you imagine your artwork hanging on the walls of households and museums alike, then create your art.
I’m just suggesting that your plans don’t distract you so much that you forget to implement them. Clinging to a schedule of your future self isn’t going to help your present self, which ultimately won’t help your future self either. Be open to possibilities and opportunities and different plans.
Leave room for a fun class. Leave room for extracurricular activities. Leave room for lunch. Keep making plans. Just leave room for them to change. And guess what? It’s OK if they do.
Elena Margarella is a College freshman from Tampa, Florida.