Live a little
We all have to plan for the future. Some of us are optimistic about it, others more subdued. Some are the kinds of people who have been planning since day one: girls who started searching for their wedding dresses in elementary school, guys who have been researching the perfect car they'll buy as soon as they land their first well-paying job. Some only started looking ahead as a response to getting older or beginning college, and others stick firmly to their "undecided" label until the University forces them to make a plan.
It's a coping mechanism of sorts - a way to either accept the eminence of the real world or to stave it off for as long as possible. For some, planning ahead is a source of hope and distraction which gets them through the present; for others, it is what makes them work hard now as they focus on their future dreams.
Watching people make plans is a fascinating way to better understand them. A person's plans show not only what he hopes to achieve, but also what he truly cares about and what he hopes to see himself doing or becoming sometime soon.
Planning at the first-year level seems to be all about choosing our major. Those students who think planning for the future means knowing for sure what they'll being doing in four years are clearly the engineering majors, a stereotype I love.
You know, the ones who will scoff at a liberal arts degree and say, "What do you expect to do with that?" and "Well, I'm going to have a job straight out of college."
You know the type. I know it well, as my roommate and many of my best friends here are engineers, and they never fail to remind me of my indeterminate future when I pull out my Religious Studies texts or Sociology notes to read. And though these outbursts can be a bit grating sometimes, they really do have a point.
Engineering kids, for the most part, have spent their lives planning ahead. Some choose these majors because they are almost guaranteed a high-paying job soon after school; they are spending long, sleepless nights plowing through calculus and physics WebWork so they may be certain their future is secure.
And the liberal arts majors refuse to walk this clearly delineated path. I often joke with the other token liberal arts major in my group of friends that we're going to have to stay in school until we're 37 to earn a degree prestigious enough to warrant a job.
If that fails, we're going to walk around Europe for about 10 years, reading poetry to each other and trying to discover The Truth before living in a box in our engineering friends' basements.
And although this is a slightly pathetic way to plan for the future, we are planning nonetheless. Now that we know our choices will have repercussions in the future, we are making decisions. And we are making them with a good attitude.
Believe me, we know Slavic Folklore majors and East Asian Studies majors aren't as in-demand as civil engineers. But we are choosing this path because we want to, and we are willing to "suffer" the consequences.
Academic studies and future job potential aside, the plans which people make up on the fly are my favorite to listen to. It's as if all my friends suddenly realized just how little freedom they have left before being shut into a filing cabinet of an office, and they're desperately trying to take advantage of these last few gasping breaths of freedom.
But no matter how interesting hitchhiking around Europe or road tripping to Alaska might be, these plans have a low likelihood of happening.
Nevertheless, they are my particular favorites. These plans not only reveal the sheer panic of realizing we only have two or three years left to "actually live," but also show what we would spend our time doing if we didn't "have" to go to work like the rest of society.
I always wonder what would happen if everyone just did the ridiculous things they always wanted to do. I'm sure it would be completely unproductive, but how many things would be accomplished by people who otherwise wouldn't dare?
I'll end on a challenge - instead of making a plan and then laughing it off for being ludicrous, I dare you to go ahead and do it. Plans are made for a reason, whether to ensure future prosperity or to pursue something you love. Go out and follow some silly idea; you never know what new plans it may lead to.
Emily's column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at email@example.com.