We had a saying back in school, it was The Stanford Duck Syndrome. Above the surface, everyone looked like they were doing fine, and it was critical that people kept up this appearance. But underneath the surface, we were all struggling to stay afloat. Even now that I've left college, I still feel like part of me hasn't escaped it all. I mean this specifically in regard to my approach (or rather, lack thereof) to planning my future. Then again, I guess it's not really a new thing for me.
Through all of high school, I was relaxed when it came to planning ahead. I took the ACT relatively late. I never took the SAT. I barely finished my college applications in time. I never had a dream school. I did come into college with a major in mind but did absolutely zero work to plan out my four years. I applied to whatever internships would take me rather then design them around my desired career path. I missed all the graduate school applications for the UC and applied last minute back into Stanford. I finished school without a job lined up and didn't start looking until months later. Then, I procrastinated applying to business school until the literal last day without even knowing exactly what I wanted out of an MBA.
In short, if you want to see a clear picture of how to approach life in a haphazard manner, then do what I did. There's generally two approaches to career or life planning. You can be like my girlfriend who plans out everything -- even on a day-to-day basis. She, too, has what most would interpret to be a very successful life. Bachelors and Masters from Stanford. Now, pursuing a PhD at Columbia. A life that balances between a practical career while still allowing her to pursue what she loves and make an impact on the world. Or be like me, don't plan anything out and hope it all goes well.
No plans. No expectations. Only things to do immediately.
I don't plan for the future because it stresses me out. This applies to almost every aspect of my life whether it be academics, career aspirations, or even my relationships with others. Instead, I invest in the now. I live in the moment and do my best to make all that I can out of today. I just read my own sentence and realized it sounds a lot more epic that it really is. What I'm trying to say is that I take advantage of what's in front of me -- allowing myself to grow from it and reap its benefits. The hope is that this immediate investment will eventually help me in my next step, which could be anything.
Let's use my most recent career step as an example. In my last quarter of graduate school, I lackadaisically pondered what my next steps would be and played with the idea of pursuing an MBA at Harvard as part of the 2+2 Program. As I mentioned before, I was recently accepted into the program. Yay. Still, it was not without the classic mishaps such as last minute applications, requesting letters of recommendation right before the deadline, and months of procrastinating the essays. But, there's more. This plan to pursue and MBA was born less than a year ago. However, based on my conservations in the interview and interpretation of the feedback, some of the primary reasons why I was accepted drew from things I started many years before the idea of an MBA even entered my head. Things like creating The Pomp, turning it into a successful business, and using story-based marketing. These were simply things I did in the moment to satisfy my needs of that moment. There was never any plan that these would later help me get into an MBA program.
As happy as I am with what I've accomplished and even more so with what's ahead of me, it has undoubtedly not be possible without a shit load of luck. I would not and could not even recommend my approach to you or anyone else. However, I also don't think that the overly planned out approach is the most ideal. A balance of the two would be best. You'll find most of the world advocating heavy career or future planning, so I don't think there needs to be another voice for it. Instead, I'll advocate for the other side -- my side -- with hopes that people see the upsides and downsides of the two distinct perspectives.
- Enjoy the now.
- Don't let off-path opportunities get away. Take them if you want.
- Invest in your today's self.
- Plan ahead in a big picture type of way.