I remember being asked about my ‘future’ when I was about nine. I remember nine-year-old-me standing in the middle of the playground deciding the direction of her life. It seemed pretty straightforward to me that I would finish primary school. I would then spend six years at the academy, although I was aware then you didn’t have to spend that long there. I would then go to university and after that college, I didn’t know what the difference was but I knew there was a difference and I wanted to go to both. After that, I would be a grown-up. That was my future.
That was the plan I followed, sure enough. I finished my time at my countryside primary. I was one of six in my year. I went to the local secondary school where I developed a music taste, fought against my undiagnosed dyslexia, and tried very hard to make my hair straight. I spent six years in a building mixed with new technology efficiency and 1970s glass, oozing hormones and black blazers worn the fashionable way. With a combination of patient teachers and luck, I managed to get into my choice of university. I lived in a succession of overpriced, mouse ridden flats in the big city where I read pretty much anywhere except the library and appreciated free food. In a wave of badly dyed hair, velvet jackets and booze I also battled with my mental health.
Whilst in my financial and emotional overdraft I met my now-husband in a dingy place where the walls have their own ecosystems. After somehow graduating, due to a lack of imagination, a genuine interest in people and a kind-hearted godmother, I managed to get a place on a teaching course at another university. Not quite the college I’d predicted but it was a vocational course with a government employment scheme at the end of it which provided some security. Moving further away from my parents’ home proved to be a disheartening mistake and only by the good grace of lady luck and the bi-monthly visits of my then fiancé did I get through it. Painfully, I managed to get through the steep learning curve and suffocating loneliness. From there deciding those big cities were overrated the aforementioned government scheme placed me only fifteen miles from where I’d started. Here I put a worryingly small amount of my training to good use and gained confidence in something people around me kept referring to as my ‘career’.
I was then distracted by the trials and tribulations of getting married and having a puppy. We had a beautiful day and people were very kind. As my work shifted between schools, we decided it would be a good idea to buy a house of our own, somewhere I could put nails in the wall without causing my patient husband heart palpitations. After many viewings and many more hours of discussion, saving and research we found a house in a small town within cycling distance of my parents. I picked colour schemes and furniture and covered the newly painted walls in artwork and the dog found its favourite spot on the sofa. I found medication to keep the demons away and local friends and a quiet pattern of life.
I didn’t think forward, forward just happened to me. I planned for days, of course I did: my wedding day, and the day I passed my driving test. I worked hard and had short term goals; I had essays to pass and decisions to make about the imminent future. But until this point in my life, I did not think again like nine-year-old-me in the playground. It could be for several reasons, naturally. I have a short attention span and I am inclined to be selfish, the future seems so far away and I usually have something else I’d like to do first. It could be because my mental health painted the future as short and doomed. What is the point of planning a future if my worthless self isn’t going to get there? That part of my brain is steeped in superstition and spiralling thinking. What if by thinking about something, I jinxed it and it would never happen? I trained myself not to think about it and things kept going, people kept saying yes to me. I had a vision of my wedding day, an idea of how other people would experience it. But I did not daydream about it, or go through the motions in my mind. I couldn’t. I tend to look back, stereotypically torturing myself with actions and words already committed.
As I have won more and more battles with my mind, I think less about the past. I have focussed on the present. I try to optimistically give my effort and care to things which are happening now. I reflect healthily and try to keep learning. I enrolled in some part-time learning to ensure I keep expanding my knowledge. I recognise that I need to keep working on how I think about things. I have to be careful with what I read and who I listen to. I’m getting there.
Slowly and with help, I am beginning to look further and further ahead. I am at the end of my plan and I do not feel like a grown-up. I have no idea what to do next. I do not have a vision for where I will be in ten years or even five years. But I reckon if I keep going the future will be there as it has been all these years and maybe I will find that I don’t need a plan after all.