Planning and Presence 7/17/2023

At a glance, these topics seem to be completely unrelated, but I would argue that conceptually they are at war with one another. The interaction between planning and presence have been at the forefront of my mind as of late, and I would like to share my thoughts.



Planning


Conceptually, planning is simply the act of organizing future actions. On a daily basis, one must plan. From asking oneself “what am I going to eat for breakfast?” to “What steps will I take to solve this problem” everybody plans in some form. However, planning can evolve into something much larger in scale. A high achieving high school student may plan years ahead in terms of courses, extracurriculars, volunteering, and more with the intention to craft themselves into a well-rounded college applicant. An individual may have a 10 year plan for themselves to achieve some form of success. Planning exists on both a micro and macro level, and exists as a way to consider the future.



Presence


In contrast to planning, presence is the act of being in the moment. Now, everyone experiences presence in the capacity that they experience the moment they are in. I can presently be engaging with a Youtube video, or social media, or even my work; meaning that each one of those topics could be presently occupying my headspace.



However, personal and interpersonal presence has been diluted in our current age. I think anyone can relate to the experience of someone you have been talking to suddenly taking out their phone, killing the conversation and interpersonally becoming unpresent. This situation also occurs on a personal level. An example I can think of is simply how I used to wake up. Prior to a month or so ago, the first thing I would do upon waking up in the morning was to grab my phone and check social media, or other content. This is disconnecting from my own personal headspace to interact with something else. By consistently engaging with other content, media, or other interactable objects, we dilute or in some extreme cases eliminate time spent personally present. The benefit of personal presence can take up its own blog, and I am in no-way an expert, but the team at Headspace is, so I have attached a post they made about presence here.



My Battle with Presence versus Planning


I used to be a habitual planner. I would attempt to plan my day to a T, and would become frustrated with things that got in the way with my plan. During my high-school years my most prominent arguments with my parents did not spawn from wanting to go out drinking, sneaking out, or other standard teenage behavior. No, as my mother can attest, our largest arguments came when my daily plans were interrupted by the need for me to do something that I had not accounted for. Legitimately, if I had accounted for a chore, family event, errands to be run, or other things that some rebellious teens are always angry about doing, I was always fine and happy to do them. But, if I had failed to account for something my parents had planned for me, I would be a complete little shit, no sugar coating it.



My journey to become able to cope with changes to plans, and ultimately begin to practice presence/mindfulness began is a journey of dealing with family and personal medical emergencies throughout my late teenage years. Between my freshman year of high school, and the end of my freshman year of college, in chronological order I went through my mothers first breast cancer diagnosis and double mastectomy, my fathers freak golf ball size benign heart tumor and open heart surgery, my mothers breast cancer recurrence, second double mastectomy, and radiation during the early days of the Pandemic, and my own softball sized benign bone tumor that caused me to break my femur and its occurrence. These events were all hard, and all through micro and macro plans I had out of whack.



My response to my own health event, specifically the cancer scare side of my tumor, was to become hyper present. After major surgery on my femur to remove the tumor and install the hardware that is still present in my leg, I was thrown into a hyper present headspace. Prior to this ordeal, I had spent my Freshman year of college being hyper academically and extracurricular-ly vigilant. I interviewed and joined the Michigan Sport Consulting Group, the Michigan Recreational Sports Personal Training Mentorship, and I became the Treasurer of my dorm’s Hall Council. All the while, my peers were out joining fraternities and sororities, which at the time I disregarded as a waste of time. But, after being so hyper future focused, and then having such a traumatic experience, I decided that the next semester would be devoted to being present, exploring both my academic passions by taking completely random classes while I evaluated my major and my social life by joining Greek Life. I would spend this semester taking 16 credits, 12 of which were STEM, in physical therapy 3 times a week, working on a client facing project for the consulting group I joined the semester prior, and pledging a fraternity. I was way too busy to plan out my entire day, let alone my entire future. The thing is, I was enjoying everything I was doing and would do this again 10 times out of 10. I was completely unconcerned about planning the future, I was just having fun.



Now I am grateful for that hyperbusy, unplanned, hyper present semester, as it led to a strong group of friends, the discovery of my love for programming (I took my first CS course out of curiosity that semester, which would lead to be transferring out of the School of Kinesiology into the CS Program), and overall made me more able to live in the moment, without a plan. However, living without planning in some capacity is untenable and by the end of that semester I was quite burnt out. I spent the last year of my education taking the lessons I learned from my “I just had a traumatic experience and want to have fun” and meshing them with my ability to plan and execute, to manage one of the most fulfilling, fun, academically challenging, and busy years of my life.



The belief I now hold is that planning is important but should not be rigid, and should allow for change, often in response to being mindful of my own present feelings and needs along with the needs of those I care about. I have found that I am most happy and fulfilled when present and wholly devoted to my current engagements, am making my plans flexibly, and am taking time to evaluate my needs and feelings on a daily basis. For me, planning and presence can be thought of as the two sides of a balance scale, and when the sides of that scale are in-line, my mental health is at its best.