John Lennon once said that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” It’s horribly cliche now, but I’m sure it was novel, deep, and profound when he said it. I think he was wrong, however. In my experience, life appears to be much more cause-effect oriented than Lennon seemed to think. So far, my life appears to be the sum of a series of plans enacted, more or less effectively, with rather predictable results.

I spent most of high school, for example, planning to go to college. My grades did restrict those options a little but the basic plan was go to college, get a degree. I followed the plan, and now I have a degree. Senior year of undergrad, I started looking for a job. The plan was to find a good “transition to the real world” position. Check. It goes like this: Plan>>>Execution>>>Result. I find this pattern troubling.

The problem with this outlook is that puts a hell of a lot of pressure on the individual to make good plans. In Lennon’s worldview, it doesn’t really matter what you plan to do. You can count on life to just sweep me up and carry you where you’re supposed to go. Sure, that’s a problem if life decides to carry you over a waterfall but it’s also liberating. Don’t worry about what to aim for–just chill out.

The cause-effect model is much more stressful. If your plans actually matter, than they’d better be good because if life ends up sucking you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.

I often complain that I hate buying things like pens because there are just too many options. Rollerball? Gel ink? Fine point? What brand? Making plans for life presents the same dilemma with infinitely higher stakes. Law school? Travel the world? Get a real job? What city? There are too many questions, and not enough answers.

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