Write Your Life Plans in Pencil, Not Pen
Since I was a young girl, I’ve always had a plan for how my “grown-up” life would look. These plans were the drivers behind every single big decision I made. I took a look around at the adults in my life back then and decided which lifestyles I wanted and which ones I didn’t. This set the stage for how I wanted to live my life.
Fast-forward to the age of 21. I was recently married, remodeling a house and about to start a new career. Everything was on track, and headed in the right direction. Little did I know just two short years later I’d be divorced—and five years later my family’s business would close its doors forever.
I’m the kind of person who writes down everything in a planner. From my day-to-day activities to a list of long-term goals I keep in the back, I memorialize everything using my favorite pen. Ninety-nine percent of the time, my to-dos get accomplished when they’re supposed to. But when that 0.1 percent doesn’t go the way you want it to and the item gets scribbled over, it can be demoralizing. And when you encounter the “blue whales” of missed to-dos—not just a canceled appointment or a small deadline overshot, but the really big, life-altering ones—it can be devastating.
These blue whales can pop up in multiple forms: marriage, careers, babies. For me, it was marriage and the traditional timelines that were embedded into my brain from the moment I was old enough to know what those things meant. I had issues when things didn’t work out, and to this day it’s something I still have to work on. I always want to do more, to fix “it.” A few years back, I learned a very important life lesson: You can’t control everything. I learned to let go of my “fix it” tendencies and embrace what is. Life does happen. Plans do change. People grow and evolve. My first marriage (and the timeline that went with it) was 100 percent derailed—but in the best way possible.
No one plans their divorce when they’re standing at the altar saying “I do.” On my “I do” day in June, I remember thinking: “This is it. This is my one shot at happiness.” Divorce was a dirty word in my book, and I didn’t want to be that girl. But then, quickly, I was. I was the girl who realized two years into her marriage that it was toxic; that if she didn’t abandon it, she’d spend the next 50 years unhappy and alone. The girl who took a hard look at her relationship and decided it wasn’t what love was supposed to feel like. I am that girl, and I’m not ashamed. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make for myself, and only I could make it. Scribbling my name on those divorce papers meant when ready, I could find a love that felt like coming home; a love that consumed me, built me up.
What most call coincidence. I consider fate: Jake and I soon found each other. Last September marked two years of marriage—of what love is supposed to be. I let go of the disappointment, the shame and the guilt of getting divorced. I set myself free, and what I found in return was better than I could have ever imagined.
Timelines, on the other hand, were a little easier to let go of. They were instilled in me from a young age: You go to college, build a career, find a partner, get married, buy a house and have lots of cute babies. (There’s a white picket fence in that story somewhere.) But life doesn’t operate on a timeline. The simple fact is that life is messy, and you may skip steps or circle back to them. I put so much pressure on myself to have everything accomplished before the age of 30. But by writing them down in pen, trying to force these life events to happen, I did myself a huge disservice. I wasn’t actually living. Instead I was following a grand plan that wasn’t actually grand at all.
When I met my second husband Jake, things were a lot different. He worked on the road and was traveling to new places every few months. That didn’t exactly follow my new timeline. I was still working at the family business, and our plan was to get him home as soon as possible. Two years into our marriage the business closed, and I was lost, scribbling out all my original plans and panicking about what we were going to do. Jake became the sole income provider in our relationship, which was a whole new relationship dynamic. My timeline had exploded. I made the decision to finish my degree by taking online college courses. After a year, I decided to shake things up. I went on the road with him, knowing it might be a few years before we were ready to have children and build a home. There’s nothing “traditional” about our lifestyle, but in this moment it’s what best for us. We’re enjoying the adventure.
Six years ago I would’ve picked stability over creativity, fear over adventure and dreadful, restrictive timelines over intuition, strictly for the sake of following a carefully written plan. Today, I’m more flexible. But learning to be more flexible to these types of plan changes didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen without pain. It meant I had to give myself a little grace, a little trial-and-error and the time to do what felt right, versus what looked good on paper.
Writing down life plans in pen kept me inside a bubble—but I didn’t want to be contained. When I learned to be flexible in my methods, I discovered life is a lot less stressful that way. So, I sharpened my #2 pencil and popped it. I’ve been having fun ever since.
Ashleigh is currently traveling the U.S. with her husband, Jake, and just finished her B.B.A. at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. She’s a content creator, social media manager, and blogger on all things business. When she’s not working, you can find her out exploring new cities with her husband or wandering around the office supply aisles of Target. Connect with her on the ‘gram @ashleighkluck.