Why you shouldn’t make a life plan

How a brain hemorrhage and a tumor taught me to accept my unlived life

“Radium Girl”, Julie Kitzes, 2017, Colored Pencil on Bristol Board

I just had my 31st birthday and was shocked at the difference a year has made. When I turned 30 I basically had a mental breakdown and midlife crisis. I’ve always had the notion based on my family history and preexisting health problems that I wouldn’t be one of those people that lives to a ripe old age, so to me, my thirties represent mid life. As the dreaded 30 loomed on I couldn’t help but think about all the goals I had failed to achieve.

When I was in high school we had to make a life plan with a list of goals we wanted to have completed by the age of 30. In retrospect this seems like kind of a screwed up assignment and a lot of pressure to put on a kid. My 15-year-old self was all over the place with life goals and some of them I certainly did accomplish:

“See Green Day in concert”. Check.
“Get a tattoo”. Check
“Dye my hair purple”. Check
“Find my soul mate”. Check

However, there are an awful lot of goals I either haven’t achieved or didn’t pursue for one reason or another. Big ones like educational goals, career goals, traveling the world, and having children.

So at the age of 30, because of this perceived life plan, I felt like a complete failure that hadn’t amounted to anything. I spent my 30th birthday in a deep depression throwing a pity party for myself. I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree a couple months before — something I thought would happen much earlier in life, was childless, chronically ill, financially unstable, unsuccessful in my career, unsatisfied with my body image, unworldly, unaccomplished, and generally unhappy.

Now at 31 I’m still all of these things, except I’ve come to terms with them and have learned that “life plans” are unhealthy wastes of energy because you simply can’t plan out life. Life just happens and there’s nothing you can do to really shape it. Despite your best efforts, life is chaos and it will always throw you curve-balls and the most helpful thing to do is just go with the flow and make the best of the situation.

In my 30th year on this planet a surprise brain hemorrhage and a tumor that couldn’t be ruled out as cancer until after it was surgically removed really cemented this idea. Life is out of our control, but the things I have been able to control are my outlook — trying to make myself happy and investing my time and energy into the activities and relationships with people that matter to me the most.

You can slave away and deprive yourself to be the best in your field, to have the best body, to be rich, to have the most followers on social media, but if these things aren’t making you happy immediately then what’s the point? There’s something to be said for delayed gratification and working hard towards a goal, but if it consumes you to the point that you’re not enjoying your life in the present then it’s pointless because you could always have an aneurysm or die in an automotive accident at any time.

Life is always going to be filled with unaccomplished goals, with death, and loss, and heartbreak, but rather than dwelling on them, it’s important to open your eyes, look around, and realize life goes on. Sometimes the terrible bullshit in life can make you all the more thankful for what you do have and make you learn to count the positives rather than the negatives.

So at the age of 31 I’m finally ready to embrace the concept of “YOLO” and stop worrying about the future. I’m doing things that I would be too insecure about or worry too much about the repercussions in the past. That’s not to say that I’m going to abandon all of my goals or live recklessly, but I don’t intend to have any more pity parties if life doesn’t go according to my wishes. If I could send a message to my 15 year old self, it would be to rip that paper up and instead simply write “Try your best and live in the present”.