I sat outside of Tresidder Union, staring at my laptop, hoping some brilliant transition sentence would flow through my fingertips and into my essay that hadn’t changed in the last hour. Two girls walked past, playfully in conversation: “You should have a four year plan.” “No, because things change all the time.”
I had a four year plan once. I ended up traveling the world with the circus.
I arrived fall quarter of my freshman year with a perfectly organized college itinerary. Notebooks color-coded, clubs picked out, I was ready to sprint into my engineering physics degree at Stanford. A simple phone call one weekend night sent those plans flying out the window and swirling into the endless abyss. Goodbye, four-year-plan.
A few weeks later I was in Las Vegas, performing for the best show on the Strip. Then I was off on tour, ready to spend a year traveling around the major cities in Australia. The leave of absence I had filed with Stanford set me up to return again in the fall the following year. It was all planned flawlessly, not a detail missed as I crafted my future. A few months into the Australian tour, I pulled up ExploreCourses again and began putting the puzzle pieces back into place. One night, the phone rang again. See you never, new four year plan.
By winter I was in Montreal. I trained at the Cirque du Soleil headquarters, starting and ending my day with the cold of the Canadian tundra. I joined the show in Tokyo, prepared to integrate and perform. Unfortunately, the elements we had planned and developed in Quebec were dropped when I stepped into the reality of actual performance. Those early mornings and late nights tweaking specific details of the act and strategizing each step didn’t matter anymore in application.
How many hours have I spent organizing schedules and categorizing details for events that never came to be? I think of a clever remark to say in class, and by the time it’s perfected, the subject of discussion has already changed. I complete the readings for lecture as the schedule asks, then arrive in class to discover that the task for the next hour will be rereading the assignment. I spend valuable time rearranging my schedule to accommodate an extra meeting or interview, only to find out that class has been cancelled and I wouldn’t have needed to change anything at all.
I used to flip desks in frustration over these annoyances. The need to prepare, be ready and ahead drove my productivity. I enjoyed my polished plans and color-coded schedule. My glossy layouts made me feel calm and collected, all my ducks in a row, the aura of control over my future. From birth and until I first entered Stanford, I was a planner.
I learned not to plan when I went on tour. Constant travel, moving every few weeks to an unknown city, my home the people I was with and my two 32-kilogram suitcases. I’d have to cancel day plans for sudden trainings, so eventually I made no day plans at all. A fter a long week of performing every show, my body could only handle lying in bed — eventually I made no evening plans at all. I often bought my flights for vacation the day before I left, because it was likely that something would change, or that another, better destination would appear.
We swap plans for better ones all the time. We agree to do something with a friend. Whether it’s FOMO, family emergencies or general laziness, something can always cause these promises to flake away. It’s happened to all of us, or maybe we’re the perpetrators. We make plans to grab coffee or share a meal, but as soon as something more interesting or important comes up, poof, cancelled. These uneasy agreements that stand solely on a future that’s almost always certain to change makes me question the point of planning anything at all.
That girl at Tresidder was right. Things change, all the time. My recent experiences have taught me how to live life from one moment to the next. It’s freeing, but I don’t like the feeling that I’m slowly becoming this unaccountable, noncommittal person. Also, most of my accomplishments and achievements were due to my obsessive ability to plan and organize. I’m working on finding a balance between the two.
In job interviews, they often ask about future plans: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” It’s never a good question, and I’d like to know what these companies are actually looking for when they ask this. A few years ago I may have had a timeline for exactly where I’d planned to be, but today is a little different. When I tell them I’ll be ruling the world, they laugh and expect a “real” answer. It’s not quite the response that they were planning to hear.
Contact Maika Isogawa at misogawa ‘at’ stanford.edu.