I love setting goals and dreaming about my future. Envisioning where I will be one, five, or 10 years down the line is something I’ve been in the habit of doing since I was a teenager. Teachers would often assign out these 5- and 10-year “life map” assignments to get us thinking about the future, but for me, it was something I did without prompting. Even though my life rarely stayed the course of my preemptive planning, I liked the sense of direction I felt when I was dreaming.
The prospect of what lies ahead has always excited me, because in your teens and twenties, there is simply so much opportunity ahead of you. But sometimes, I let dreaming get in the way of doing – and waste hours on Pinterest instead of enjoying the life I have. The internet has made it so easy to plan your “perfect” life, and for someone as addicted to planning as myself, it’s also made it harder to stay present.
This was never more pronounced than in college, when I was working a retail job I wasn’t passionate about, was newly married, and oh so poor. We had just bought our first home and half-finished projects abounded as we worked our way through school while working full-time.
Yet instead of planning out next steps to get us through the tough years ahead as we saved, fixed up the house, and tried to launch our careers – I was planning something else entirely: our dream home.
I spent countless nights procrastinating when I could have been studying, instead planning my dream cabin in the woods. My husband and I talked often about wanting to move off the grid and build our own place one day. Possibly a micro-cabin, possibly something larger. My planning started small, but when I exhausted those options, I moved on to the “big” dream house. I spent a disproportionate amount of time looking up different building options and designs, sketching out floor plans, even adding up costs as I perused IKEA and other websites. I wasted hours online as a means of escape.
The more time I spent on it, the more obsessed I became. Even though my dream home was years away, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, mapping out plans in my mind, on paper, online. I held tight to this idea of the life we’d one day have, instead of digging my heels into the life we were currently living because the truth was, I wasn’t happy with where I was – physically, financially, emotionally. I realized after a particularly long night of staring at homes that were not my own, that all I was doing was avoiding my own life.
Dreaming had become a distraction from the things I felt I couldn’t fix currently – a respite from the stagnant, frightened feeling I got as we prepared to enter “real” adult life. I was scared about the prospect of finding a job after college. I was worried that I would never feel successful as an adult. However, it would have been more beneficial for me to be present in my own life and take charge of my immediate future. I could have addressed my fears by leaning into my schoolwork and networking with colleagues and professors. I could have been expressing gratitude for what I already had instead of pining for a hypothetical future that was years and years away.
In hindsight, I could have spent that time doing so many more productive things that would have made me more satisfied with the life I had. I could have volunteered in my community. I could have strengthened bonds with family and friends. I could have settled more fully into our home, organizing and cleaning, and generally appreciating how good I really had it.
My real life was not that bad. Being uncertain of my future was not reason enough to hide away in a cabin-planning fantasyland. Putting the long-term dreams aside and getting back to the present made me so much happier than dreaming ever did. Planting a garden, spending time with loved ones, finishing a big school project – no amount of Pinterest planning could compare to that. While I still think the cabin may be in my future someday, it can stay in the vague “someday” until it’s actually time to start planning.