I’m a planner. I have lists upon lists. I keep a tight calendar. If there’s one thing I can say I do fairly well, it’s manage my time and tasks. In graduate school, I would plan to have my papers done a full week before they were due. When planning out both my master’s thesis and my dissertation, I set a goal turn-in date and planned backwards from there. I knew where I needed to be by when. I had a strict writing schedule.
But I’m also a roll with the punches kind of person. I plan because I know things can happen that will mess things up. I planned to have my papers done a week in advance because I had a small child at home, who was prone to illnesses (yay, daycare!) and if I needed to be at home with him, I knew no work would get done. I planned for the unexpected. I still try to work that way most of the time–build some buffer in or have a contingency plan in case something comes up–but it’s not always possible. And when the unexpected happens and I haven’t planned for it, I just figure it out.
Big life changes have happened over the years and I’ve just figured it out. A change is really just an opportunity. It’s a chance to see things differently, to learn something new, to work with different people, to see new places. I can’t tell you how often my plans have gone askew because someone dropped by to talk or emailed to ask for a meeting. I have always been glad when that happens. The conversations have been interesting. I’ve learned something about the person, myself, a topic of mutual interest, or learned something entirely new. Having to stay up late three days in a row to finish a paper or presentation because the time I set aside got eaten up by something more critical means I have less time to stress over the small stuff and focus on what’s important and get to the point. Sometimes, I learn what I’m capable of under pressure.
In the Robert Burns poem that the title alludes to, the speaker feels the mouse is better off, living only in the present, not concerned with what happened in the past and what’s gone wrong as a result of bad circumstances, nor worried about the future and what plans might go awry down the road. The poem casts we humans as pessimists, full of regret and fear. Yes, there are those among us who only regret and worry, but it seems a depressing way to go through life. I’ll take the mouse’s approach and seek opportunity when circumstances change.