My office sits on an old industrial district where the predominant businesses are manufacturing and printing. Daily, I see cartons containing goods and stacks of packaging materials being carted from my building into cargo trucks. Last week, on an occasion when I was much too lazy to climb the stairs four floors up, I waited for the elevator. My gaze was fixated on a pile of boxes that sat on a rickety trolley being dragged by a harried man across the ramp that leads to where the transport van parked. It was apparent that a slight force could topple that haphazardly asymmetric pyramid. As if by premonition, the next instant saw a heavy drizzle of boxes littered on to the pavement.
I’ve seen it happen before and I wondered why they haven’t learned to be more cautious while crossing that area. Surely experience has taught them a thing or two about navigating that ramp. I suppose it’s not in our nature to immediately learn from recurring experiences.
Recurring like when I had to see my gynecologist to get the second HPV* shot. From the train station, I have to walk a short distance that involved one right turn along the way. I strolled breezily through the sidewalk, looking at establishments which I passed before and appreciating the good weather. I finally came to a corner which I recognized. In true directionally impaired fashion, the corner looked familiar because I got lost the same way the first time. I turned around scolding myself for the conundrum. The first time was dismissed due to faulty planning. This second time was inexcusable.
That mistake partially resurrected my obsessive relationship with schedules. I was once so intent in organizing things that, at one point, I had two planners; a desk planner which looked like a calendar only it had spaces where I can write stuff – “major” things like exam dates and birthdays – and a notebook planner in which the day’s activities were detailed.
I was so hooked to extensive planning that I created a career map; starting from the day I graduated college. I planned that right after I got my national engineering license, I’d get a great job. I planned that, exactly a year after, I’d enroll in an engineering graduate program. I planned that I’d be fully independent by 25. I planned that by 27, I’d be close to finishing a graduate degree in business (Yes, that’s two graduate degrees). At around 28, I envisioned that I’d marry the man of my dreams. We’d have flourishing careers and live comfortably with our kids – all before turning 30. I planned that I’ll plan my life again at 30.
Silly how hopelessly naive I was. I am only a couple of years shy of turning thirty. I’ve accomplished some of those things but I’m not certain that I’d meet the deadline. In fact, I didn’t even accomplish most of it through the process I initially imagined. I wasn’t warned that some jobs can be unrewarding even if I worked with an immensely talented team and that a master’s degree was going to cost so much; that scholarships are difficult to obtain. I didn’t foresee that romantic relationships, no matter how perfect they seem or how amazing the guy you’re with is, don’t always last.
Planning, apparently, only provides a general idea of the journey. There is, however, no way of knowing how the road is going to look like exactly. When I think about it, had my mental roadmap translated perfectly into reality, what experiences would I have missed? Which interesting people would remain strangers? What new perspectives would have been left undiscovered?
Thus, planning is like loading boxes on the trolley – it shouldn’t be overdone. Nobody possesses absolute control over moments or events. As Steve Jobs put it, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” One must leave space for adjustments and surprises to fully appreciate the sublimity of things falling into place.
As 2012 begins, I have an outline of personal goals but I’ve piled my boxes reasonably; aware that there will be surprise speed bumps along this year’s road that will rattle my trolley; while refusing to agonize over things which I can’t foreknow. Besides, that next detour could be the gateway to another awesome adventure.
And you, how high up are your boxes this year?
*The HPV or Human papillomavirus vaccine is for preventing cervical cancer and is administered in three separate doses.