Jan 22, 2010

WHAT NOW? Blank Pages and Butterflies

I’ve been carrying a planner around since I was a freshman in high school and I was “required” to have one. I was 14, and telling me I had to do anything made me instantly want to do the opposite. Yet even through the haze of adolescent defiance, slowly but surely, I grew to love the planner.

I carried it with me, inputting all of my activities. When I was uninterested in class I would pull out my beloved planner and flip through the pages. I found comfort in knowing that maybe I was bored to tears in biology but…

  • Tomorrow would be a half day, OR
  • In three weeks it would be Christmas break, OR
  • Four months from now was officially prom season, OR
  • This weekend it would be a friend’s birthday
No matter how unexciting the class was, I knew I carried with me a happy distraction. My planner was always there as a little reminder that good things were in the future and there was always something to look forward to. Plus, the planner made me efficient and responsible. I could time-manage like a corporate executive by 16. I knew what was coming, what was due, where to show up and what to bring.

The planner is a great tool for controlled environments. To this day, I think it is undoubtedly the best way to manage a schedule. For four years in high school my planner helped me keep control over due dates, assignments, events, and obligations. When I went to college I managed an even heavier schedule because of my trusty planner.

The problem is that the planner creates a façade of control. Truth is, it is really only an effective tool to manage the THINGS in life, NOT LIFE itself.

The realization of the “façade of the planner” started here….

I was sophomore in college when my sister was a senior in college. We are exactly twenty-one months apart in age. The space in time is not large but at certain points in our lives, for different reasons, it felt like we were lifetimes apart.

It was May, I lived away at school and on my campus this meant “Spring Fling”– yet another reason to drink and celebrate the warm weather. I was sleeping in at my dorm (probably recovering from the previous nights festivities) when my cell rang and I saw my sister’s number flashing green on my screen. It was EARLY in my world (i.e any time before noon) but she was calling me from her internship where, to her, it was ALMOST LUNCH– Same time zone, same time, much different perspectives.

We were both college students, but in this point in time, we were in vastly different worlds. I picked up the phone, half- asleep, half- listening as she frantically spoke about how nervous she was to graduate in May.

“What am I going to do after school?”
“Do you think this internship is going to hire me?”
“What do you think about Graduate School?”
“Where am I going to work?”
“What do I really want to do?”
“Am I going to be hired anywhere?”

A million questions spilled from her mouth and I remember thinking how bizarre it seemed that she was anxious about a time she should have been looking forward too. A date in her planner that was highlighted and warranted happy faces and stars around it.

From my perspective graduating meant, no more papers, projects, assignments or classes. To me, graduation represented freedom…To my sister, graduation was the frightening unknown.

It wasn’t until two years later, when I was ready to graduate, that I understood her dilemma and what I now refer to as… The “What Now” conundrum.

End realization, Back to the Blog

“What Now” is when you flip open the planner and notice that dates had stopped filling up. When you don’t know what coming next, where you have to be or what it is your supposed to be doing. This is the scary part. This is called your 20’s…but for those of us who went to college, this realization is delayed until graduation. It’s not until the safety net of school is pulled away and we recognize that everything is no longer neatly laid out for us in a planner.

Initially this awareness is terrifying…but we should find comfort in the fact that, most 20something’s are all wandering around trying to find our own way. Trying to figure out what it is we’re supposed to be filling our schedules with.

Being 20something is a time where we are forced to let go of the practice of living through our planners. We stop using them as a crutch and we see where the future takes us. For some of us this is much easier than others. For people like myself, who have held tight to that planner since 14, we’re having a harder time.

In a way, I think it’s good that the future makes us nervous. It’s like a first date, if there aren’t any butterflies, then were probably not going to go out with that person again. So, if were not nervous, on some level, about whatever were doing or whatever direction were going in…then its probably isn’t worth pursuing. We can all agree that butterflies can make us momentarily uncomfortable– but they're usually a good sign.

So, although the unknown is scary and unnerving it also offers a myriad of opportunities. Things that are better than anything we could have planned.

Accepting this, may be the lesson were supposed to be learning. Bottom line, we cannot control life by planning it out, or budgeting the time in our days…because life just happens. The controlled environments of the school days are over. We do not have to wait for something to look forward to, we can just create it.
We are the makers of our own happiness. So, lets all make a little more effort to stop looking ahead (like we’ve been programmed to do) and start enjoying the present days…I think it will make finding our way and living in the moment a much easier task.

Just ride the wave and put the damn planner away. And if this concept still makes you nervous…remember– butterflies are a fool proof way to gage if were going in the right direction.

It’s all about perspective… The blank pages and open dates should be invigorating not scary. Let’s stop waiting for happiness in the future and recognize that its right in front of us, we just have to have enough balls to grab it.


“The past is so tangible, I know it by heart. Familiar things are never easy to discard. I was dying for some freedom, but now I hesitate to go, caught between the promise….And the things I know” - Sara Grooves

"Today is life - the only life you are sure of. Make the most of today." - Dale Carnegie