This post is by Joanne Wu.
“What are your future plans?” the human resources director asked me. I blinked at the computer screen and told her through the zoom call, “honestly, I am not sure how to plan anymore.” Though this interview happened in the fall of 2021, I was still processing how the pandemic rocked my ability to plan for the future. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is to hold onto my plans more loosely and embrace who and what is present before me more intentionally.
In December of 2022, I bought a physical planner, expecting to achieve the plans I hoped for in 2023. Many people had reached out asking about my 2023 summer plans, so I thought if they can plan, then surely I can too. But also, I couldn’t help but feel like I was “behind” in life. How can other people be making plans if I’m just patting myself on the back for finishing each day to the best of my abilities?” So I bought a planner, telling myself that 2023 would be the year where I started filling in all the squares for each month.
What I forgot to include in my plans to plan was the reminder that life happens and even the most well laid plans unravel. My optimism for a hopeful beginning to 2023 was shattered when my 13 year old Golden Retriever coughed and vomited phlegm, food, and bile all through the night of the 31st. Thankfully, I was able to search for a vet clinic that would be open near my home on January 1st. So my first morning of 2023 was spent at a vet clinic, hearing the words I knew were true but I didn’t want to actually hear - that my beloved Retriever had cancer and most likely had pneumonia. All I could do was hope she would respond well to the medicine and maintain a certain quality of life for as long as she was willing to fight. I sobbed.
This is not what I had planned, but this is what life gave to me on January 1, 2023. I stared at my cute Monster Inc. themed planner and wondered why I even bothered. In a life where hiccups and hard moments are guaranteed to change the course of plans, what then is Plan Time for? As a Type A recovering perfectionist, I’m still trying to come up with a satisfactory answer to this rhetorical question.
For now, the answer I keep telling myself for why I still plan is 1) to be a faithful steward of each day I’m given and 2) to stay present to all the ordinary and mundane moments of each day. Rather than seeing the different moments written in my planner as tasks to complete, I am choosing to see them as opportunities to practice being present in each day I’m actually given. Of course, even this idea is easier planned than actually practiced in real life.
There was a day where I planned, in between dropping off and picking up my children to and from school, two different bank errands, a quick grocery run, and then a lunch date with a friend. It looked manageable on paper, about five hours to do four things. But after seeing that there were ten people waiting in front of me at the second bank, and calculating for traffic to make my lunch date, I felt myself growing agitated and frustrated at the possibility of being late. Within a minute, I went from being a pleasant person who was asking myself “how can I be a blessing to the people around me at this bank?” to an agitated “woe is me” person who kept berating myself by asking “why did I wait until the busiest time of year for the bank to run this errand?” I was letting my rising anxiety steal my ability to be present in the moments of the day I was actually experiencing. I didn’t want to be rude to the busy bank tellers who were “serving with a smile”, and I also didn’t want to be a flustered mess when I met with my friend. However, my actions and thoughts told me I was becoming more “plan-oriented” rather than “present-minded”. I quickly cared more about completing all the plans, and I became visibly flustered. In sensing my agitation, I made the privileged decision to complete this bank errand on another day. By letting go of the desire to control my day, I found myself moving closer to the purpose of why I plan - to be present in the moments of my day.
Even though I experience moments like the aforementioned story daily, I still make it a point to sit with my planner. I look at my “tasks” written in the squares for each day of the month. Then, I take the time to write down at least one to two things I am grateful I got to do and experience in the daily planner section. This discipline to look at what I had planned and then to write what I am grateful to have experienced reminds me to be present with each day I’m given. I have future plans I hold on to loosely because I know nothing is guaranteed. My unplanned trip to the vet with my very ill Retriever reminded me of this. Thankfully, my beloved Golden has chosen to keep living. And her choice to remain with my family reminds me to not be so busy making plans that I miss the life I’m actually planning for.
Joanne is a SoCal native who currently lives in Taiwan with her husband of fourteen years. She is a mom to five beautiful children and one faithful Golden Retriever. She appreciates free time to take walks, sleep, and slowly eat her food. She shares about how she finds grace in the midst of everyday mess on Instagram @mom.of.wu .
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