During the fifteen years I worked with teenagers, I often encountered kids who had their whole lives planned out. I’d let them explain it all to me — what classes they’d take in high school, what college they’d get into, what degree they’d earn, and what job they’d get after that. I’d listen, smile, and respond, “What if none of that happens?” Responses ranged from blank stares to combative denial.
I didn’t ask the question with malicious intent. Instead, I wanted to help kids learn life doesn’t often go as planned. “What if you can’t take the classes you want,” I’d probe. “Yeah, it’d suck. But, maybe you end up in an elective you enjoy more than this thing you’ve planned. That could change everything for you.”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the 1986 John Hughes movie, is about a teenager wanting a break from their life (whether the teen in question is Ferris or Cameron, well, that’s up to you). The protagonist of the film is overwhelmed. They are desperately seeking a moment of release.
Ferris looks at the camera at one point in the movie and asserts, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
We need to listen to Ferris. It’s time to stop and look around; otherwise, we can easily miss everything else going on in our lives.
If I took an informal poll, I’d venture to guess 2020 isn’t going as any of us planned. I know I didn’t include a hospital stay and increased anxiety on my 2020 to-do list. But 2020 has also been a pretty fantastic year at the same time. Both my wife and I changed jobs for the better, we bought a new car, and my wife is completing an MBA.
Even though I often asked kids, “What if things don’t go as planned,” it’s hard to ask the same of myself. Objectivity is impossible when we’re observing at the micro-level. Every once in a while, we need to zoom out and take a look around.
Since we only share fractions of our whole selves with the world, it’s important to realize we each experience joy, sadness, growth, hurt, and hope every day. Like Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, some days we wake up hoping for a day without responsibilities. Other days we feel like Ferris, ecstatic and free from burden.
If you’re feeling a constant state of overwhelm, I get it. I’ve been there, and in some ways, I’m still climbing out. If that’s where you are, take the lead from Cameron in Ferris Bueller. Take a breath and let out some emotion (maybe don’t trash a $250,000 sports car, but you do you). After you let it all out, take a look around, and see what parts of your life you may have missed. It’s all there, waiting for you to experience.
As we all start planning for the new year, it’s easy to set lofty goals. But it’s important to remind ourselves that our plans can and will change. I’m trying to remind myself of this daily, especially as I see 2021 resolution posts pop up. Our plans changing isn’t a hindrance. Instead, let’s embrace the changes as we take a look around and experience our whole lives.