I have been in a long-term relationship with my day planner since I was about 14 years old. I often look five steps ahead of where I currently am just to make sure everything is in place the way it’s supposed to be, which often leads to the tipping point issue I talked about last week. Sometimes worrying about the future can make my todays pretty intense… especially when I find that maybe that future I had laid out for myself isn’t the one I need or want.
My future is the most malleable part of my reality; the past has already happened and the present is what happens in every moment I am here, quickly expanding the past behind me with every passing second (it’s actually kind of a mindwarp… the present I wrote about just seconds ago is suddenly the past of the present I’m writing about now, and so on and et cetera). The future is like a big blob of question marks that change to some other kind of terminating punctuation after the present provides a new answer and becomes the past, and there isn’t a way to accelerate your discovery of those answers. I’m the kind of person who gets frustrated when she can’t get all her questions taken care of at once, because I don’t like unknowns– I don’t like feeling like there are pieces of my life outside my control.
The future I’m working towards constructing now has some common threads with most other futures I’ve seen, but in other ways it is completely divergent from the future I saw even two years ago– honestly, it’s vastly different than the one I pictured even six months ago. The malleability of that span in front of us gives way to new questions every time one gets answered… sometimes those new questions blend so well with all the others, it’s hard to notice the evolution of the whole composition. Other times, new question marks completely overhaul the entirety of what we’ve constructed so we have to start all again. I’ve learned that no matter how much I plan and no matter how much I arrange the question marks currently collected in front of me, they have minds of their own and if they want to squirm into (or out of) the picture, they will whether you like it or not.
I used to worry that those free-spirited question marks meant there wasn’t any point to planning or striving toward anything– cue a great many existential crises. What I’ve come to understand is that yes, no one can be 100%-no-doubt-whatsoever-positive about any aspect of the future because it hasn’t happened yet. Yes, there’s uncertainty whenever you place your question marks into the best arrangement you see fit. Yes, sometimes all it takes is one new question mark coming or going to completely rearrange that arrangement. Yes, how exactly your future will play out is largely unknown. Yes, if you plan five steps ahead constantly, there is a good chance things will change at step two– rinse, repeat.
But, I’m done having existential crises over it (for the most part at least). Having parts of my life be unknown and mysterious doesn’t mean I stop working toward my goals, doesn’t mean I stop committing to the people and things I am passionate about, and it doesn’t mean I’m powerless to a bunch of rambunctious question marks. After all, they’re just punctuation. Punctuation is powerful– think about it this way, a few arbitrary dots and swipes on this screen are dictating the inflection of your mind’s inner voice as you read this post. That’s pretty freaking powerful– but that doesn’t make me powerless. I have often grappled with the uncertainty principle of my future, because I’ve seen futures I felt 100% about come crashing down my fair share of times. It hurt, a lot, and there have been times when I’ve doubted the soundness of making any plans at all… but planning is okay. It’s okay to be sure of elements in your present that you want in your future, but maybe it’s better to look one step ahead instead of five. It’s definitely not a race, and learning to have a bit looser view on the horizon makes my plans a lot more flexible (and my day planner much less intimidating).
Through most (if not all) of my modified plans, I’ve noticed that those question marks know a thing or two about what they’re doing. They’ve known when to stay and when to move on to a new person’s composition, and known when to make room for fresh question marks to arrange themselves into the version of my future that’s in front of me now. Every one of my past and present choices have gone into the construction of my collection of question marks, and even though saying goodbye to certain punctuation can cause a hell of a lot of pain at the time, the collage in front of me is better than I could have designed on my own. My future is a part of me, and has grown with me my whole life, sometimes before I notice the growth in my present. Having an uncertainty principle in my future doesn’t mean my present or my choices are uncertain– it just leaves room for me to be human and grow through whatever choices I make until I get to step two.