Thursday, April 24, 2008

(Don't) Think About It

Life coaches and self-help books would have you believe it’s possible to plot a detailed plan, follow it to the letter, and achieve the success you so richly deserve—in any endeavor, or in life in general. Yes, there are people out there who really believe this. And I’m sure there are those for whom the tactic actually works. As for me…well, I’ve never quite mastered the trick to planning ahead.

I think it’s because, early on in the process, one needs to at least visit the idea of possible glitches, or road blocks, or undesirable outcomes. And that’s where two major aspects of my personality—my tendency toward negativity, and my inclination to over-think things—kick into overdrive. I get lost in the "What ifs," never to be found again.

I was a smart, competitive student, back in the Stone Age. But I could never catch a vision for college. Would-be mentors encouraged me to think about it, so I did. And that, of course, was the kiss of death. My mind immediately latched on to the negatives. College was expensive. College was hard. College might just chew me up and spit me out. In the end, I created some kind of vague cost/benefit analysis in my mind, balancing the outlay of money against the end result. And since, at seventeen, I didn’t yet have a clear idea of a career in mind (and to this day, I don’t know how anyone can expect that of a seventeen-year-old…) I opted out. Didn’t go. Went to work instead. Eventually I came to regret the decision, came to rue the flawed and incomplete thought process that led me to it. For awhile, I even tried to blame my parents, my counselors, the system…for robbing me of an experience I really should have had. But it was me (I?). All me. Classic me.

That same stubborn, inevitable tendency toward self-sabotage steered me away from many life experiences that came naturally to "normal" human beings. Like procreation, for example. Generations of women before me just…had babies. They didn’t think about it. It was what was done. Lucky me--I arrived on the scene at a time in history where having children was becoming a choice. Something you thought about. Uh-oh… On top of that, I discovered I had physical problems that would make getting pregnant anything but natural (think fertility treatments, multiple surgeries, heavy-duty hormones and in vitro as an expensive and not necessarily fool-proof last resort.) All that travail to produce little humans who could, in the end, be sources of major heartache (See? There’s that negative thought process kicking in…) Um…I’ll pass. And there are times, now, when I regret that decision. Maybe I wouldn’t have been the disastrous parent I’d always imagined I would be.

Given my history, why am I not…still in high school? (Assuming an increasingly graying and wrinkling student could have flown under the radar for thirty-five years…) The truth is, I’ve learned to work around myself. I know that if I want to do anything at all, I have to JUST DO IT. Hmmm…that’s a catchy little slogan…

It’s a little tricky, because I have to want something badly enough to throw caution to the wind and go after it. And usually by the time I understand I want something, I’ve over-thought it to the point of talking myself out of it. In order to move at all, the only two directions I can allow my mind to take are, "I want to do that" and "I can do that." I can’t predict an end result; I can’t contemplate where I might be in five or ten or thirty years. I can’t try to peer down the little side roads I might encounter on the journey. The Evangelicals call it "stepping out in faith." Other people might call it something else, like "cluelessness." I prefer to think of it as "selective analysis." Or getting out of my own way.

"Overthink" or "Don’t Think at All"—these two concepts have dominated my life. And when I get down to thinking about it (oh no!) neither is really THE solution. Each has saved me or damned me at various times. "Overthink" kept me away from drugs, alcohol & cigarettes as a kid; I surrendered my virginity to "Don’t Think". "Overthink" kept me out of college and rendered me childless. "Don’t Think" propelled me into an unthinkably long and happy partnership with the love of my life. "Overthink" has robbed me of valuable experiences, but has occasionally saved me from myself. And "Don’t Think" has put me on the path to my richest rewards, but has not always led me to a place I wanted or needed to be.

Most recently, "Don’t Think" buckled me into the thrill ride of restaurant ownership well beyond the age of reason for that endeavor. Will this ultimately pan out as salvation or damnation?

I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it too much.


  1. Ok- my theory live in the moment but plan for the future! Too late for me so I just live and laugh- Dannelle

  2. this could be my life...LOL This whole entry made me laugh, at myself.  I've even been down the "owning a coffee shop/deli" thing and then switched directions.  In my 20s and 30s I gave up on the idea of having children.  Then one day, when I was close to 40, I thought I was dying -I was so sick.  But nope, just having a baby - the first of 2 surprises.  Two more unplanned (but blessed) avenues to travel.  Now I have these 2 little boys, I am trying to get a business up and running and your entry made me stop to think - is this a "don't think" moment or a "overthink" moment time of my life??  I finally quit blaming my parents for not making me go to college - although that was probably just last year!  Have a great day and keep moving forward!

  3. Although I tend to plan, there is much here that I can relate to...because at heart I am an intuitive person, and at most critical junctures in my life, I've taken the plunge based not on planning but on my gut instinct...

    So I relate...

  4. I just finished reading "The Geography of Bliss" and it seems that balance between overthinking and not thinking is part of the art of happiness.  All I can say is I relate, and it's so good to read you again.

  5. You have judged your acts prematurely....It's not about where you are, where you might have been, what you might have learned or what you currently feel.

    It's about what you are going to become!

    You're not there yet, so roll the window of life and stick your head out...You can't imagine what will come next!
    Marc :)

  6. Those folks who think that they can plan everything to the minute must work in nice safe places where nothing bad ever happens. That and the coaches and authors who are pushing this stuff are making a mint of the rest of us. And I suspect that when they get what they thought they wanted it turns sour on the tongue.

    Dreams are scary, dangerous and take us places we never thought we'd go. Follow your bliss and soar with the eagles.


  7. I prefer 'don't think' to 'over think' because every time I think overly much or  overly long I end up wishing I'd just not thought about 'it' and gone ahead and done it.  :::sigh::: We are, at the least, our own worst enemies some times.