I like to think I’ve learned a lot in the seven months since graduating college. I’ve had more ups and downs within that time than I expected, and it seems like I learn something new about myself, about life and about the world around me every single day.
If I could go back in time and have a conversation with my younger self, there’s one lesson I would be sure to pass on: the future doesn’t have to be a scary place, and it’s okay to not have it all mapped out.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I’m a worrier and a planner. In high school, I spent all four years taking advanced classes, playing sports I didn’t enjoy and joining clubs I didn’t care about just for the sake of making my college applications look good. During my freshman year of college, I counted down the days to the end of the year when I could transfer. During my two years at UAlbany, I spent my time focused on graduating a year early and landing internships that would then get me a job. As my final semester drew to a close, I spent hours perfecting my resume, writing cover letters and applying to more jobs than I could count (actually, I think it was 25).
To maybe nobody’s surprise but my own, I ended up exactly where I once swore I wouldn’t: living at home and working somewhere local. I began my first full-time job as a newspaper reporter just four days after graduation. At 20 years old, I was living the future I had so carefully planned out. To put it bluntly, that scared the sh*t out of me.
All of a sudden, I had reached the end of my plans. I graduated college and got a job. All I could think was, What next?
My tenacity when it comes to planning has led me to success thus far, but it’s also been one of my biggest downfalls. I spent a large part of the past summer and fall anxious and stressed, wondering what I should do next. Do I want to go to grad school someday? Will I be a journalist forever? Should I take some classes? Where should I volunteer my time? Do I want to live in a big city? If I stay here, where should I live?
These questions (and more) were on a constant loop in my mind. Rather than allow myself to relax and enjoy my accomplishments, I worried endlessly about where my future would take me next.
There’s a poem by one of my favorite poets, Tyler Knott Gregson that I turn to at times like this:
In the midst of all my worrying and my planning, I had forgotten how much I have always loved to swim.
Something began to change about a month ago that I can’t really explain. It’s like some higher power stepped in, grabbed hold of the reins and said, Will you relax already? Things will be okay. And they have been.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought more about my future than I have about the present. I’m always looking so far down the road that I forget to enjoy what’s right in front of me. But that’s beginning to change.
I’ve realized recently that life isn’t meant to be lived as an endless series of, What next? Yes, there are things I want to accomplish in my life and goals I want to reach, but not if I can’t enjoy each step along the way.
The biggest question that has weighed me down over the years is whether or not I want to stay in Central New York. The majority of my worries and hypothetical plans seem to stem from this question.
(I’ve written about this before, but I’m going to repeat myself anyway.)
I’ve gone back and forth on the matter more times than I can keep track of, but it always comes back to one thing: I really love the Mohawk Valley.
I love living in a town where I can sit on my front porch in the summer and hear nothing but the occasional tractor, lawn mower or dog barking. I love running into my old teachers, who are now teaching my little sister, and having every single one remember me and want to catch up. I love being able to look at people who have stayed in this area and created a family and a life here and instead of wondering why they never left or feeling sorry for them, I now appreciate and respect them for it and can see myself being one of them.
I love the things I can only experience here, like Boilermaker weekend and Saranac Thursdays. I love chicken riggies and Utica greens and tomato pie. I love running three days a week at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. I love how peaceful it feels along the Erie Canal, whether I’m in Rome or Marcy or Little Falls.
I love being a newspaper reporter – even on the days when it makes me crazy. I love the people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned because of it.
I love the sense of community, not just within my own town, but throughout this region. Each town, village and city has its own culture and community, but the Mohawk Valley in itself has one as well.
I love being around to see the progress in the region –from the hype surrounding nanotechnology to new businesses and restaurants, I really believe good things are happening.
For years, I’ve wondered: will I stay or will I go? Finally, for the first time, I realize I don’t need to have it all figured out right now.
I don’t have my whole life planned out, but I no longer want to. I don’t need to know whether I’ll be a newspaper reporter forever, or where I’ll be living in ten years, or who I’ll be married to, and so on. Because right now, I’m happy where I am. And I need to reflect on that more often.
If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be this: Worrying about the future is the easiest way to be unhappy in the present. Work hard and set goals, but enjoy each step you take to reach them. It’s okay to take a break from planning and wondering about the future to instead immerse yourself in the present.
Wondering if home will stay ‘home’ for me has been the driving factor behind all of my other worries and plans – if I don’t stay here, where will I go? What will I do for a career, or school?
But my home, I’m realizing – despite my best efforts in the past to avoid it – has turned out to be an integral part in the future I so carefully planned for, at the very least for right now. And when I take a break from worrying, I’m happy about it.
I’ll repeat it again: worrying about the future is the easiest way to be unhappy in the present.
I don’t know where the future will take me, but for now, the only thing I’m planning is to enjoy the present. I think I like it here.