It’s what I’ve been doing as much as it is what I’ve always done. It’s our generation, they say. So many of us are dreamers, floaters, and idealists. Unlike our parents, we don’t strive to settle down, to stay put, to display success through stability. We dare to thrive. Dare to wonder. Dare to leap.
I type this as I sit here work-booking my way through a cheesy text entitled, “Where will you be five years from today?” The book is wonderful and it is terrible. It’s something I’ll keep safe from my chicken scratch in order to hand it on to another friend (a friend of sorts gave it to me, after all). That, or I’ll play pompous and give it away next Christmas as a White Elephant gift.
Why is it so daunting to read through this book, to turn the mirror on myself, to put down in writing all that I hope to achieve? I’m not sure. Perhaps because the concept of a Five-Year Plan makes me cringe. This from the woman who, at age 5, sat in bed holding a 300-page JC Penney catalog, marking pages and making mental notes about which wallpaper border I would adhere to my future-potential-child’s bedroom walls. Or, perhaps the task is daunting because I’ve done it before and I’m not exactly where I planned on being five, ten, fifteen years ago.
I recall preparing for doctoral admissions interviews by reciting my five-year plan: something to do with being in the midst of my PhD program, doing meaningful research and working with individual clients. I imagined, as well, that I’d have a long-term partner of sorts. I did not imagine I’d have kids in five years (what would have been 2012), nor walls to call my own. I certainly didn’t plan in any wallpaper.
I applied to, and interviewed for, clinical psychology PhD programs during the last semester of my masters program; a period in which I was confident would be the jumping off point for my future career. The year was 2007. I am seven years past this moment in time and could not be further from my plan (with the exception of my incredible long-term partner, of course).
This is how far away I feel from my formerly-imagined-future:
Eighty-five thousand dollars in federal loan debt
Three lost years in restaurant and retail work
Three more years in one incredibly under-stimulating, though slightly relevant-to-my-education research position
Thousands of miles.
That is how far I am from being Dr. Frankenhauser today.
It is 2014 and I am voluntarily unemployed. I am making daily efforts to move forward into what I hope will be more meaningful work. I am rich in many things, and none of them are finances.
Today, in completing my workbook exercises, I wrote down these words/phrases: Wellness; Love; Intention; Family; and Generosity of Spirit. These are the values I chose for myself and according to my shiny red book, they’re paving the way for my mission and my goals.
Missions: the squirmy little ideas that guide us through life. They’re delightful and, as evidenced by the outward success of so many corporations and notorious individuals, completely necessary. Even in moments when we’ve somehow become distanced from them, they’re there to steady our gaze, ground us, and remind us of our purpose in this wild ride we call Life.
When I try to express my objectives to employers and when I fill out shiny red workbook exercises, I tend to repeat phrases that reflect this general notion:
That all people deserve to be loved, respected, and receive equal opportunities for wellness and growth. This is the essence of my intention, if you will. And what, in the end, is a hazy mission statement at best.
This leads me to ask, what the hell is so wrong with being vague? The word has such a negative connotation, as if intentions that are open and flexible are not worthy intentions at all. I chastise myself for being so broad in my objectives. For saying things like, “I want to find work with a local non-profit focused on social justice” knowing that it could mean a swath of different things. It could mean I help individuals who are homeless to find solid housing or become more employable. It could mean than I go back into prisons, spending time on the Inside, creating safe, respectful spaces for people who are in dire of need them. It could mean that I volunteer with an organization that builds urban gardens, educates children, and addresses food access issues. Is it terrible that I care to do any and all of these things? That my call to serve feels so expansive that a multitude of paths could equally be the way?
I have to think not. Sure, it’s great that some people move through life with a sole purpose, guided by an incredibly specific question or motive. If that’s you, I envy you. If that’s not you, let’s grab a drink.
On my path today to writing down my values and mission, the cheesy, shiny red book told me to write down the happiest person I know. I didn’t write down the name of my favorite writer, my yoga teacher, or a Buddhist Monk. I wrote down the name of a friend who lives simply and joyfully; who impacts each person around her by radiating contentedness, positive energy, and light. From what I hear, she’s currently working at a café. From what I see, she spends her days enjoying friends, soaking up sun, and living joyfully. I haven’t talked to her about her “five-year plan.” Given what I know of her, there’s no need to.