Note to Self: Planning is not Living!


I recently arrived at a significant decision in my life, one that has many layers, challenges and opportunities. It’s big, kind of scary, but very exciting. It also doesn’t really start for about seven months, and there are major factors involved which I can’t control.

In short, aside from curiosity and perhaps a few long-term elements, there’s nothing I need to be doing about it right now.

Further, deciding to leave your longtime home town immediately gives you greater appreciation of that town. I am now seeing Portland as a person who’s planning to leave Portland, which involves a tiny dash of seeing it through the eyes of somebody who’s already gone, or back for a visit. My current perspectives are, in part, the memories of my future self.

Which makes it all the more strange to find myself spending more time planning for where I’ll be than actually being where I am!

A simple example: Having decided to spend next summer living in Wyoming and Montana, and then aiming for London after that, I have found myself spending chunks of time researching hiking trails around my two destinations. Nothing wrong with that, but (A) if I get there and local people tell me about a great hike, that’s where I’m going anyway, (B) It’s not like I need this much notice to pick a trail, and (C) even if I were to work on the trip now, which hike I’ll do in seven months isn’t exactly the highest priority. Fun, sure, but I could just as well work on things like health insurance and how banking works when you can’t walk to your bank!

Meanwhile, it’s sunny and in the 50s in Portland, with fall colors everywhere, and I’m sitting at my desk, dreaming about hikes I plan to do in Wyoming next summer instead of going hiking in Oregon right now!

It’s a funny thing, I suspect it’s as common as it is odd, and there are a few aspects to it.

One is that it’s easier to sit at my desk than to go out driving, hiking, etc. It’s also warmer this time of year! And I like to do the easy, warm thing.

Another is that I seem to have inherited, from my mother, an odd habit of, at times, being more excited to plan a trip than to actually go on it! (She was legendary for this.) It’s all well and good to be a skilled planner, but is it really the point?

So here are the questions I ask myself about this kind of thinking:

    • Am I getting out of the here and now by “living in the future”? (Hard yes, I’m afraid.)
    • Why would I do that? (Because the present seems full of risk, the imagined future more controllable.)
    • Is there a danger of building up next summer into some sort of ideal that the “reality” won’t live up to? (Another hard yes.)
    • Why would I do that? (Because it’s comforting to construct my own reality, and strangely comfortable to be unhappy about the present.)
    • Does it make sense to plan such a big trip? (Of course. It’s necessary.)
    • Are these particular plans the best use of such planning time right now? (Probably not.)
    • Can I forgive myself a little daydreaming about next summer? (Most definitely.)
    • Might I look back, when the rain and snow is flying and I really don’t want to go hiking, and wish I had spent more time hiking when the weather was nice? (Ya think?)
    • Even in the most practical sense, ie beyond simply enjoying myself, would hiking and camping now — getting in shape, losing weight, learning gear and skills, and so on — in fact be more useful in the long term than researching trails? (Yes!)

So there you have it, after some rather tortured internal dialogue. The fact is, and it’s funny I had to remind myself, that going out and doing the thing I love when I get a reasonable chance to do it is a great use of my time right now.

And while planning for the future is certainly time well spent, that’s only true up to a point. When “planning” becomes “obsessing” and another way to get out of the here and now, and try to soothe some discomfort that I’m better off actually feeling and dealing with, then maybe it’s time to stop planning for a bit. Maybe it’s time to get centered and be here now. And then, I don’t know, go hiking.