I have never had a Plan. I’m organized, sure; some might even consider me Type A. I make detailed itineraries for vacations and color-coded spreadsheets of which classes to take. I spend too much time composing emails, designing PowerPoints and arranging my bookshelves. I keep everything in my room in the same spot. But what I don’t have mapped out is a Plan with a capital P — a Plan for my life.
People like to ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Over the years, I’ve considered many different answers. A zookeeper, until I found out they have to shovel poop. A “wildlife specialist” who plays with tigers all day, until I learned that wasn’t a real thing. A doctor when I was watching “Scrubs,” until I remembered that thinking about what’s inside the human body makes me dizzy. An FBI agent while watching “The X Files,” until I realized I can’t do a single push-up. All the English major stereotypes, of course: lawyer, teacher, editor, translator, writer. I’ve imagined plenty of possible futures, some more feasible than others, many influenced by whatever TV show I was watching at the time. But I’ve never been sure about any of them, and the closer I get to actually growing up, the more uncertain I become.
Graduating high school was its own kind of uncertainty, trading the familiar faces and neat classrooms of the previous 12 years for the unknown. Back then college was an alien concept; I couldn’t fathom living in a dorm, taking only four classes, having the freedom to go where I pleased and spend all my money on crepes. In the end, though, it wasn’t such a radical change. Beneath the mystique, college was four more years of school; I’d still have homework and essays and discussion posts to reply to. I knew how to do all that.
College turned out to be better than high school in so many ways. It took some getting used to, but I found a rhythm: friends, extracurriculars, concentrations I cared about. Now that I wasn’t worried about getting into college, learning was fun again; the Open Curriculum let me pursue the subjects I loved — language and literature — while also forgetting how to do basic math. Soon enough, what had been outside my comfort zone was now within it. College Hill felt like home.
But four years went quickly, more so than usual with a good chunk of them spent on Zoom. Now, suddenly, I’m here, teetering like all of you on the precipice of another graduation — “grown up” by most metrics, legal or otherwise. My future is no longer distant — it’s waiting just outside the Van Wickle Gates, impatiently tapping its foot. And even now, I don’t know what I want to be. I still don’t have a Plan.
This uncertainty is scarier than the post-high school kind. In fact, it’s paralyzing. It’s as if I’m staring into a void, psyching myself up to jump in. School is what I know, and now it’s over; I don’t know how to be an adult, how to have a career, how to deal with insurance and taxes and — shudder — networking. I don’t even know where to start. Imagining the possibilities feels less whimsical now, more urgent. We’re like boulders at the top of a hill, full of potential energy. If I roll the wrong way, there’s no going back. I’m scared that I’ll settle, that I won’t find that mythical “calling,” that I won’t be fulfilled. But I’m also scared to try doing something I love, to take the leap and maybe crash and burn. It’s a pivotal moment in all our lives, and I have no idea what’s coming next.
I’m trying to start to lean into — maybe even accept — the uncertainty of it all.
It isn’t easy. It’s in our DNA to hate not knowing, not having a Plan — and we as Brown students have an even bigger problem with it. Knowing is what we’re all about, doggedly asking questions and learning the answers by heart. We see uncertainty as a problem to be solved. But that might not have to be the case.
I’m trying to see uncertainty as an opportunity, as freedom, as a chance to explore without needing to define the course of my life. I’m trying to remember that life is longer than it feels, that in the scheme of things, this moment is not so much more important than any other. We can’t go back to the top of this hill, but there will be others; other choices to make, other ways to roll. Change is always possible; in fact, it’s guaranteed.
At the end of the fall 2020 semester, our first spent entirely on Zoom, my Satire and Humor Writing class had a Career Day. Our professor, Jon Readey, gave us this advice: Follow your dreams in your twenties, and get a real job in your thirties if it doesn’t work out. It’s a reassuring thought — maybe we don’t have to grow up just yet. Maybe, even after graduation, we can still imagine what we want to be someday, and that can change as often and as easily as it did when we were kids. Maybe we don’t need a Plan with a capital P. Life is a Choose Your Own Adventure; we just have to keep turning the page.