Living in the present tense

By Jake Harris | Published Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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I spent last weekend visiting family in east Tennessee. Friday night was a party celebrating my TCU graduation and new job as well as my brother’s high school graduation, and Sunday was my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

My family’s pretty big, so I was expecting to talk to a lot of people at both of these events. I was mentally prepared to answer all of the questions that I knew would come up:

“Did you enjoy school?” Oh, yeah. Maybe a little too much.

“Are you all moved in and settled at your job?” I’d say so; you’d have to ask the rest of the staff here to get their opinion.

“Are you engaged yet?” An emphatic “no” followed by a rapidly shaking head.

Then Sunday I got a question I hadn’t heard the entire weekend: “What’s your five-year plan?”

I froze. Words tried to form, but they stayed stuck somewhere in my mind and couldn’t make their way to my mouth. I had nothing.

I don’t know why I froze – I’m notorious for being a Type-A planner. I rarely got in trouble as a kid and always tried to follow the rules. My desk, as I type this, is neat and organized. My apartment is always clean, as is my car. I alphabetized my family’s VHS collection when I was five years old because I wanted to make it look like a library shelf.

Calling me a perfectionist would be an understatement.

But when my uncle asked that question, I didn’t have an answer. I said something like, “Uh, probably still writing somewhere, we’ll see where it goes” as I went back to eating lunch. I blame my momentary hesitation on my Army brat upbringing.

I’ve lived in Texas for 10 years this August, but don’t let that number fool you – those aren’t 10 consecutive years. I lived in Killeen for six years back in the early ’90s when my dad was stationed at Fort Hood, and I spent the last four years at school at TCU.

Added together, that’s the longest I’ve lived in any state. I went to three high schools in three different countries, and I’ve lived in seven other states besides Texas.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve gotten to see some amazing stuff – Mt. Fuji, Pearl Harbor, the DMZ – and I got a world education that most people can only dream of, all because of my dad’s job.

The only downside is, now that I’m older and get to choose where I live, I have a fear that I’ll live somewhere for two or three years and then suddenly get the urge to pick up and move again. There was never a five-year plan in my life. It was more like a 24-month plan or a “We’ll see where the Army takes us” plan.

And now that I’m so used to that, I’m not sure how to proceed.

Maybe it’s not my upbringing but the generation I was born into. Studies have shown I’m not alone in my lack of planning – a recent survey from the Guardian said most millenials don’t expect to work anywhere for more than five years.

Sure, I’ve got dreams and goals. I want to write a book before I’m 30, try my hand at screenwriting, work for a nonprofit, travel some more, maybe start my own news outlet.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe I’m not supposed to have a plan. Maybe for now, I’ll just see where it goes and enjoy life as it happens in the moment.

As for a hard, definitive five-year plan? I don’t have a clue – and right now, I’m totally fine with that.

Harris is a reporter for the Messenger.

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