Piling Boxes

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.

Humps and Boxes

I don’t see signs like this around.

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.

Approximate replica of my old college planners

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?

Detour Next Adventure

 *The HPV or Human papillomavirus vaccine is for preventing cervical cancer and is administered in three separate doses.

Vector Sources:
[1] freevector.com

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12 thoughts on “Piling Boxes

  1. Great post and wise to keep the obsession with planning at bay. I’ve found that women who “plan” to marry the man of their dreams by 30, simply end up marrying the man they are with when they are about to turn 30. Not always the best way to choose a mate. :-) It took me 36 years to find the man of my dreams (much later in life than I had hoped) but he was worth the wait and the long, meandering road that I traveled along the way. The only thing I’ve got planned for 2012 are a few detours! :-)

    • Hi Laurie. Welcome here. :)
      I guess the “marrying the man of your dreams” perception stems from our (Filipino) culture and from fairytale-thinking. Through traveling and detaching myself from the norm, I’ve learned – and you’re right – that it’s better to really wait for circumstances to be favorable before settling down with someone.

    • I love this – Life is not a straight line. And I agree with it wholeheartedly. :)

      Thanks for taking the time to read, Bassa and Tall Person.

  2. I am at the other end. I can’t plan. I do pay the price for it, but refuse to learn.

    It is interesting you planned all those things for yourself. Even if many haven’t come through yet, the fact that you have them within your perspective will ensure that they’ll happen — no matter the deadline. And the fact that you know that there is “no way of knowing how the road is going to look like exactly” you’ll be prepared for the adventure that happens if they don’t.

    Happy 2012!

    • There’s also a price to pay when you’re a planning freak – one tends to lose all sense when things don’t go so smoothly. And did I mention stress?

      Interesting that I did plan all that but what’s more interesting is that I’m now willing to go with the flow – something that my younger self would have cringed at.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Priya. And a wonderful 2012 to you, as well. :)

  3. I’m like Priya, not much of a planner, more of a reactor. I like to keep my options open and seize opportunities as the come. But I admire someone who has a life plan. When I was in high school and college I was really adrift. I simply could not concieve of how my life might look 5, 10, or 20 years forward.

    I like how you linked this post to the metaphor of the rolling stack of boxes. Well done essay. And it sounds like you’ve now got a good balance of plan and wisdom.

    • I somehow wish I could be more like this – I like to keep my options open and seize opportunities as the come. Maybe it was (and still is, somehow) a fear of losing control of things. I always believed that most situations comes down to choice; the problem was I was trying to cross the bridge before I even got to it.

      Thank you for your insights, RW. I think I still have a lot to learn about how to balance plan and wisdom.

  4. I try to plan, but I’ve learned that planning is what we do while we’re waiting for the next surprise. We never really know what’s coming, but we can’t just go with the flow all the time, either.

    Great post, Nel.

  5. What a very interesting concept to correlate the boxes and planning – I rather liked it a lot! I’m a sometime planner. I used to put goals out there, but when I achieved them, I thought, what’s next? I’ve done what I set out to do. I’m more focused on personal goals than my career goals at this point in my life. Nicely done!

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