I fully accept that I am a control freak. I like things to be done my way, and I demand complete control of all aspects of my life. I haven’t always been this bad – though it’s true that even as a child I was bossy and convinced that the best way to do anything was my way. But my need for absolute control has emerged more in adulthood – and I can’t help wondering if it is due to my battles with CVID, a form of Primary Immune Deficiency (see My Story – https://throughacceptinglimits.wordpress.com/my-story/). This is the one element of my life which has proved impossible to control, and I still get extremely frustrated when bouts of illness prevent me from doing everything I want to do. So I suppose it is possible that I have tried to compensate for having absolutely no control over my health by trying to exercise total control elsewhere.
To this end, I have always been a planner. At any time in my life over the last 20 years, had I been asked “What will you be doing 2 years/5 years/10 years from now?” I would have always had an answer. So when I found myself single at 29 years old, I knew I needed a 5-year-plan. I wanted to get married and have two children by my mid-30s and time was running out. So I joined dating websites and ploughed through the available men until I found one who seemed right for me. We enjoyed our time together, he made me laugh, I was comfortable in his company and missed him when we weren’t together, and just over a year after we met we were married. My five-year-plan was looking good but I was now coming up to 31 and had the small matter of knocking out two kids before I was in my mid-30s. We set to work very quickly, conscious of the fact that it take many couples a long time to fall pregnant. I was completely flabbergasted when, 4 months after our wedding, I fell pregnant with twins. “Ha!” I thought. “In your face, 5-year-plan!! I’ve done it in 2!”
I’m now 34. It’s exactly 5 years since I made my big plans, and I’m now separated, with divorce looming on the horizon. And, without going into inappropriate detail for a public forum, my marriage was not a happy one. Of course I adore my children more than I could have dreamed possible, and so can’t regret my marriage for a minute. But have I achieved my 5-year-plan? Probably not. And did the pursuit of my 5-year-plan make me happy? Apart from providing my children, again that would be a “no”.
But old habits die hard. I was out for dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago, and a good friend, V, was discussing her work (making her miserable) and her relationship (making her happy). She was talking about whereabouts she might look for a new job and I immediately put forward my (cocktail-fuelled) opinion. “What’s wrong with you?!” I asked V. “You clearly need to get a job near where R lives so that you can move in with him! You’ve been together over a year, aren’t you going to talk about marriage soon? After all you’re 30 now! You need to have a plan!”
And then I stopped myself. It was at that point that I realised planning might not be all it’s cracked up to be. It seems obvious in hindsight, but it wasn’t until that moment that it occurred to me that maybe you can’t force these things. But surely it’s good to know what you want from life and aim to achieve it? I expressed my confusion (probably not helped by the cocktails). That’s when my good friends patiently began to explain to me, in voices usually reserved for the very young, the very stupid and the very drunk, the difference between making a rigid plan, and having ambitions.
So now, 5 years after the inception of my big 5-year-plan, I find myself in uncharted territory. For the first time that I can remember, I don’t have a plan. Five years from now, maybe I’ll be in a relationship, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll have a job, maybe I won’t. And the most bizarre thing of all? I don’t care. My plans don’t extend beyond wanting to be happy and make my children happy. I have to say, it’s a very liberating feeling: I only realise now what pressure I was putting upon myself to try to achieve my plans within my deadline. And you know the other thing about making a five-year-plan? You’re setting yourself up to fail. Freeing myself from that pressure was one of the kindest things I could have done for myself … although it’s going to take a bit of getting used to. After all, giving up my rigid planning means relinquishing some of the control that I love so much.
But being without plans doesn’t mean there’s nothing I want to achieve. I’m just following the advice of my very wise friends, and simply allowing myself to have dreams and ambitions rather than forcing them into plans. So what ambitions do I have for myself? To learn to cook. To take my children abroad. To lose weight. To work with teenagers again. And possibly the biggest one, which has actually mainly been prompted by the writing of this blog: to be a published, recognised writer. Maybe a journalist, or a columnist, or an author – I’m not sure. And the best thing is, I don’t need to be sure. I don’t know how or when I will achieve any of these ambitions, and I’m not losing sleep trying to plan for them.
Five-year-plans? You can stick them. I’ve got something much better. I’ve got dreams.