The Saratoga Sun -

Plans vs. life: Finding happiness in the mix

 


The novelist and satirist Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, once said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” The month of May has reached the halfway point and graduation season is upon us once again. During this time of year I often reflect on my own graduation, the life I had planned and the life I have lived instead.

I was a part of the class of 2005, one of the last classes to graduate from Saratoga High School before it became Saratoga Middle/High School. It was also one of the largest classes at the time. With 36 students, it often served as a logistics nightmare for the student counselor as she planned the upcoming school year and it was not uncommon for her to approach one of us to ask about rearranging our class schedule.

As a teenager I had no idea what the world had in store for me nor did I know what I wanted out of life. Not really. I applied to only one college, Central Wyoming College (CWC), because it was the school my father attended. I didn’t apply for any other colleges, I had no backup options if CWC were not to accept me. I barely applied for scholarships, as well. I only received one, from CWC itself, which was revoked after my first semester due to failing grades.

Along with having barely applied for scholarships, I never took the PSAT or the SAT, though I did take the ACT and the ASVAB. My score of 24 on the ACT didn’t open too many doors for me, but my ASVAB score led to near weekly calls from recruiters for the United States Marine Corps. I had no intention of enlisting, which I kindly told them after each phone call. My goal, at the time, was to become an English teacher or a published author. I was not terribly motivated towards that goal, however.

Despite my lack of motivation, my younger self had high aspirations. I had myself convinced that I would not only become a bestselling author by 2015, but that I would leave Wyoming far behind only to return for my 10 year class reunion a mild celebrity. That didn’t happen. In fact, I never even finished college and still only have one year under my belt. While I could try and lay blame elsewhere, the truth is that I neither had the drive nor the focus to complete college.

The fact that I never completed college seems to come to a shock to many people. I think this comes, in part, due to my cursory knowledge of a wide variety of subjects. Shortly after leaving college, however, not having finished college was the least of my worries. Two years after graduating, I moved to Missoula, Mont. where I found myself standing in line at a food bank and a food pantry at a homeless shelter. Even though I worked at both a bookstore and a video arcade, I could barely afford to get groceries at WalMart.

College can be a necessity, but it isn’t for everyone. The same emphasis put on college should also be put on trade schools. Not to mention that many students are not ready to go to college right out of high school, but scholarships and education grants won’t allow for a break to be taken between high school and college. That’s not to say that you will learn the same things in the “school of hard knocks” as you will in college, but it’s not a bad idea to get in some real world experience before venturing further into academia.

***

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but shape of the spoon.”

~ E.M. Forster

***

More than once over the last 13 years, I have played with the idea of returning to college. I never went past just thinking about it, though, as I never had any concrete plans about what I wanted to pursue. These thoughts often came to me while I was working at Valley Foods when former classmates would come into the store to shop while home on holiday. They would often ask how or what I was doing and that green apron would feel like a weight around my neck. I was working at the same grocery store I had been working at in high school and no plans for my future.

This is a dangerous way to live. A life, like a city or a house, must be planned. Maybe not down to every minute detail, but an outline of where you want to go and what you want to do certainly doesn’t hurt. If you don’t have a plan, you don’t really have an anchor and you will often find yourself adrift without a safe harbor in sight. When that happens, things can seem scarier than usual. You thought yourself to be a tree with mighty roots, but now find yourself to just be flotsam carried away by the storm.

Take a breath.

Take another one.

Life is not static and the plan you have for your life may not always go in the direction you were hoping. Even if you get turned around, however, you still have the map, and a compass, to get you going where you need to be. Your map maybe didn’t account for the hills and gullies or the peaks and valleys, but they are a minor detour at best. At their worst, you are taken down a new and interesting path.

Wherever you end up, however you end up there, make sure that you have learned something along the way. Also, make sure that you arrived at your destination because you chose to, not because it was chosen for you.

Remember to not just exist, but to live.

 

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