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  • Michelle Buyer

#68: The Life Plan


Consider this a formal warning that what I write next is going to scare the hell out of both of us. Thanks to recommendations from several friends, I read the Defining Decade and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k. Embarrassingly enough, my favorite genre to read is “self-improvement.” To put it plainly, self-help books. I love my life, but there’s always room for improvement. I want to make sure I don’t miss anything, and it feels self-indulgent when I come to find out I’m doing things “right.”

I have two big takeaways from the Subtle Art: 1. Life will never be free of problems, but we select the problems we want to spend our days solving. 2. To use the author’s words, “We have to choose what we want to give a f**k about.” We don’t have time to care about everything, and we’d drive ourselves crazy if we did. Rather, we choose where to put our effort and ignore the rest. As it turns out, I already live by these principles, but I can now put words to them.

I felt a strange sense of calmness as I worked through an entire Saturday a few weeks ago, and admired the most beautiful rainbow outside my apartment window. While I was stressed beyond belief that I wouldn’t figure out how complete the task at hand, no part of me was upset that I had to work over this weekend, or the subsequent one. Rather, I was excited that I’m important enough to have to work over the weekend. I always wanted enough additional responsibility at work to challenge me. It felt like an accomplishment that I needed to work over the weekend – not because I wasn’t productive during the week, but because there was simply too much to do. I chose that problem, and I’ll continue to choose the struggle for balance between work and my personal life. I hate the word “sacrifice” in any personal life context. The minute I think of something as a sacrifice is the minute I no longer want to make that “sacrifice.” However, reading this book forced me to confront everything that I have sacrificed and will sacrifice for the sake of my career. I hope I continue to not think twice about it.

Choosing what to invest in and what not to invest in has been a special talent of mine since I was a toddler. When I have my sights set on a goal, there’s no stopping me. As my mom said, I’ll either get what I want, or destroy myself in the process. This also means that when I don’t care about something, I really don’t care. I can recite the USTA record of any opponent I ever had, but I’m still not quite confident in my ability to read a clock. I can go into great detail about cost centers and EC2 fleets, but I can’t stand being in an art museum unless I’ve had a few drinks, minimum. I could be better at caring about certain things, but at least I’m committing to the principle…

Anyway, the real reason I began this post was because of the Defining Decade. The book offers research, anecdotes and hard truths about our 20-something years. None of this is really new information, but it reminds me to plan intentionally for the future, especially as I turn 24 this week. If you’re going to ask me if I feel older because I’m turning 24, the answer is a definitive yes. The change from 23 to 24 feels larger than any other shift I felt before. Here’s an over-simplification of what I learned:

1. Whether I like it or not, the decisions I make now impact every aspect of my future, statistically speaking.

2. Choice in partner (spouse in my case) has the greatest impact on happiness for the rest of life, making it the most important decision I’ll make.

3. Personality development happens more in our 20s than any other decade, even adolescence. It’s much more difficult to change your personality after age 30.

4. According to research, fertility declines at age 30, and declines significantly more at age 35. I need to think ahead to how old my husband and I will be as we raise children, and our parents ages as well.

5. The time is passing whether I acknowledge it or not.

Each of these things give me pause, but 3 and 4 make me especially nervous. During my development phases as a child, it was my parents’ responsibility to make sure that I learned strong values such as honesty, resiliency, hard work, etc. If I was “screwed up,” I could’ve blamed it on them. I can’t, because they did an amazing job. It’s my turn to develop myself now, and I’ll have no one to blame if I screw it up. I’m constantly afraid I’ll do the equivalent of drop myself on my head. Up until I learned this, I was enjoying my 20s. Now I’m just paranoid I’m going to do the equivalent of drop myself on my head.

I never thought twice about having kids at some point in my life – I figured I’d start thinking about it seriously around 29 or 30 so that I can have 2 kids a few years apart by the age of 35. Now you tell me that my prime fertility years are before I’m 30, and the longer I wait, the more I jeopardize the intelligence level of my children? That was a mini anxiety attack. I have a feeling it’s more of a prolonged anxiety attack.

I’m a huge proponent of straightforwardness, honesty and constructive criticism these days. I’d rather know as soon as possible so that I can fix the issue and move onto another. I laughed as the dentist tried to find a nice way to tell me to get an electric toothbrush without offending me. (For the record, I don’t have any cavities, but genetically speaking I’m more prone to plaque buildup.) I looked at him, said okay, and proceeded to order a pink electric toothbrush within five seconds of leaving the office. I have a very blunt, concrete list of things I can improve on at work. I know how much the way we say things matters in how information is perceived, but when it comes to personal development, I need all possible feedback, even if might hurt me. Ultimately, I’m the one making decisions for myself, so I can decide which feedback requires action, and what to disregard, respectfully.

All this is to say that I just received invaluable feedback about planning and decision making. I have 6 years before I turn 30. In the next 6 years, I need to study for the GMAT, go to grad school, save as much money as possible, move back to Chicago, get married, have kids and buy a house. While these things aren’t listed in a particular order here, I have strong preferences for the order in which I’d like to accomplish these things. I suddenly became the person with a life plan. Unlike other things in my life, there’s flexibility and margin of error in this plan. Also, I wrote it 20 minutes ago….Can you believe this started as a fitness blog?


Age

Career

Family

24

GMAT, L5 increase directly to saving

Intentional dating, life experience

25

Career growth translated to increased saving

26

Grad school

Marriage

27

28

Chicago Suburbs

29

Continue working and increasing saving

Buy house, plan 1st kid

30

31-33

2nd kid

For obvious reasons, the live, more comprehensive version (with the ages of my parents) of this plan lives in my offline journal. Even if this plan is totally incorrect, I feel good knowing that I’m thinking about these things early enough that I’m able to be flexible, incorporate someone else’s plans, change my mind, adjust to circumstances, or all of the above. No matter how stressful it’s been, I freaking love my job. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, even if it means I work a few more Saturdays. However, I won’t claim that I can predict how suddenly it might change, and I would like to attend grad school, which means I need to prepare now. Standardized tests are on the top of my first-world nightmare list, but if I can learn how to ski, I can make the GMAT my b*tch (or destroy myself trying).

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