Your Future Plans Can Wait, It’s Okay


In the six or so months since the new coronavirus pandemic began, I’ve gotten kind of used to a lot of what some are calling the “new normal.” I’ve more or less embraced WFH life. I’ve begrudgingly accepted Zoom therapy. I now own a large collection of fashionable animal print masks. But one thing I haven’t adjusted to, no matter how hard I try, is how impossible it still feels to plan for the future—or to even imagine what my future might look like.

As someone with entire spreadsheets dedicated to mapping out present and future plans and goals, I’m struggling with this. A lot. I can’t stand not being able to decide whether I should see my family for the holidays this year. I’ve gone back and forth a million times on whether to postpone my plans to apply to grad school, not knowing what the world will look like next fall. I’ve pulled my hair out trying to decide what my next book should be because who knows what will be helpful or obsolete by the time it comes out? I’ve toiled away in therapy sessions trying to piece together a plan for how to move forward in any realm of my life with even a shred of confidence.

I’m clearly doing GREAT.

But okay. You don’t have to be as type-A as me to be feeling stuck and miserable amid this pandemic. People don’t do well with uncertainty, as therapists have told me countless times over the past six months as I’ve reported on mental health and the pandemic. Whether you consider yourself a “planner” or not, it’s unlikely that the pandemic hasn’t left you feeling uncertain about at least some aspect of your future, whether it’s planning a wedding, making a career change, having kids, or just fearing for the state of your relationships, finances, or mental wellbeing.

As a mental health writer, one of my first instincts is always to find answers. And as much as I’d love to be able to write an article like 9 Useful Tips for Anyone Trying to Plan for the Future Amid a Pandemic, what I’m realizing is that for many of us, the best thing to do is to just…stop planning ahead. At least for now.

Taking things “one day at a time” is common advice that I’ve often found cheesy and hard to implement. But I think I’m finally getting it. Because, well, therapists often recommend dealing with uncertainty by focusing on what you can control, which definitely doesn’t include the future. Plus, it’s so much easier to fall into worst-case scenarios than it is to think, “Hey, what are all the ways things could work out for me?” At this point, aren’t we just torturing ourselves? There’s no way that trying and failing to figure out the unknowable isn’t leading to a ton more anxiety, stress, hopelessness, anger, and pain.

So I don’t know who needs to hear this (I do, I need to hear it) but it’s okay to hit pause. It’s okay to decide to revisit certain goals or future plans at an unspecified date down the line. It’s okay to accept that you’re not going to accomplish very much or do very much or change very much for the foreseeable future. It’s okay to tell your brain to shut up when it starts to wonder things like, “What if my life never looks the same again?” It’s okay to embrace a sense of tunnel vision where you only look as far ahead as the next month, or the next week, or the next day, or the next hour. Tunnel vision, I think, is our friend right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s easy. But the first step is giving yourself permission.

Back at the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote about the importance of lowering your expectations. I wrote, “We’re simply not going to be at our best right now, or our healthiest or most well-adjusted, and pretending otherwise will only add insult to injury.” And honestly, it’s been difficult to accept that I need to embrace this sentiment for much longer than I first anticipated.

But for many of us, we need to keep on committing to self-compassion and loosened expectations—even if it means pushing against your urge to plan ahead and instead take things one day at a time. Everything else, well, we can figure it out later.


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