Four Steps Ahead

I’m a planner. I’m a planner by nature, by necessity and even by profession, having planned and executed several fundraisers and events in my career. I’ve always considered it, if not entirely a perfect quality, certainly a necessary one.

Now, I’m not so sure.

When I wake up on a Saturday morning, my thoughts immediately go to the day ahead. Inside my mind, there is a stream of dialogue that sounds something like this:

What time is it? Can I sleep longer? Where are the boys? Are they still sleeping? I wonder how long they’ll sleep. Oh, the Professor is in bed with me. Sweetie. Where’s Lancelot? Oh, it’s 5:30. He’s probably up for the day. What are we doing today? We have Buster’s birthday party at 2:00. Or is it at 3:00? I need to check. Have I wrapped his present? I can do that after breakfast. What should we do before the party? Do I have anything for lunch? Oh, I hear the coffee grinder. Lancelot is definitely up, and he’s making a pot. I bet we’re running low on coffee beans. I need to add that to my Costco list. What else do we need there? Veggie sausages? We could have those for breakfast. Unless we are out of them. Do we have time to go to Costco today? Is Lancelot going to make breakfast today, or just coffee? Will there be food at the party? Should we eat beforehand? Yes, but not pizza – there will probably be pizza at the party. If we go to Costco, I also need berries and flatbread. What are we doing tomorrow? Oh yes, watching the Broncos with my parents – do we need to bring anything? Pizza? Can I use leftovers for school lunch on Monday? What’s that sound – is that Huckleberry? He’s still getting over that cold – I wonder if he’ll be okay for school on Tuesday. Do I have all his teacher’s gifts? What time is his pageant on Thursday night? Am I supposed to be working on lyrics with him? Maybe we can do that this morning. Maybe on the way to Costco. Should I shower right now? What time is it? I’m closing my eyes – I can still sleep for half an hour, at least. Is Lancelot going to make breakfast? Does he know we have veggies sausages?

And then it hit me with a jolt. The Professor, my sweet, warm, cuddly 5-year old, was snuggling with me in a soft bed before 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday. There was nowhere else for me to be. Why couldn’t I just shut my darn mind off and enjoy the moment?

I’m not even a terribly busy person. I’m a stay-at-home-parent to two pretty great kids. They want me to play with them, but not every waking second. I don’t have a “job.” I have a manageable circle of friends with few social obligations. Yet, my head is constantly spinning. I’m always focused on what everyone in my care is doing now, next, and after that.

I feel like life is a constant play and I’m the stage manager. It’s my job to make sure everything has been procured, set up and prepared before the curtain rises, and then I’m running around monitoring the action with one eye while my hands, feet and mind are busily checking that the next scene is ready to roll. It’s not that I worry, or that I’m anxious, necessarily. I just want to keep all the balls in the air. I’m managing our most precious resource – time – and I don’t want to waste it.

I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve heard many, many people talk about the same things – the incessant “What’s next?”-ness of our lives, the feeling of just barely keeping it all together, the wondering if what we’ve done is enough to keep our lives running smoothly. If it’s not worrying about the kids, or Christmas, it’s worrying about the next project at work or the upcoming vacation to pack for or the Board meeting or the uncle’s birthday or the survey results or the tickets to buy or the reservations to make. There’s always something to plan for.

If we are constantly planning, when do we get to actually live?

Our society is fast-paced and our lives are overloaded. We feel we have to look ahead and plan in advance because we don’t want life to pass us by. But is that very idea, in fact, making life pass us by?

I’ve been reading much lately about mindfulness and the importance of living in the moment. Is mindfulness the element I’m missing? Are we all missing it? Are we so focused on the road ahead that we are missing what’s in the car?

I still believe there is a great value in planning, but now I’m starting to see that it has a shadow side, too. It’s not worth sacrificing the pleasure of everyday moments just to be prepared for tomorrow’s events. I’m still a planner, and I can be pretty good at it. It’s a necessary skill. And I’m ready to tone it down a little bit.

While I plan, my life is passing me by … and I’m no longer content to let that happen.

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