Looking down at the French streets outside my hotel window, I almost started crying. It was 9:30 AM, an hour and a half after I wanted to start our day, and we were therefore 90 minutes behind schedule for day two of my family’s four-day trip to Paris. We had a lot to do that day: strolling around the Luxembourg Gardens, sipping hot chocolate at Angelina, exploring the 7th Arrondissement, visiting the Eiffel Tower.
And I was freaking out. I was mad at myself and my family for sleeping in, irritated and panicked at the thought that, oh my god, our itinerary is all messed up now and we won’t get to everything on the list.
I was yelling at my family, rushing everyone out the door, speed-walking to the metro; I was tuned into some kind of pseudo-biological clock that ingrained an inclination toward structure into my identity.
Never mind the fact that we had spent the last thirteen hours on various airplanes and were now adjusting to a completely different time zone, nor that 9:30 is a normal hour to wake up anyway. I wanted—needed—to go to sleep that night assured that the trip was going according to plan.
Looking back on that morning, all I can think is, What is wrong with you? You’re in Paris. Calm down. I spent so much time planning and thinking about how the trip would look, fantasizing about the perfect Parisian vacation, mapping out all the places I wanted to go to make sure we maximized our travel efficiency. And for what? I was so caught up in checking destinations off a list that I forgot I was on vacation in the city I had dreamed of for years. Obsessed with my expectations, I forgot to experience Paris. (And it was so beautiful!)
I have always been organized (a natural-born planner, if you will), and it’s certainly come in handy for academic situations. But for literally every other encounter in my life, it really sucks. My anxiety around ambiguity and adventure can make it difficult to enjoy the spontaneity that others seem to love. It can make me feel guilty for not being more carefree, as if someone is wrong with the way I view the world. It can make me feel insecure about my identity.
I’ve definitely become a little more relaxed as I’ve aged out of middle-school perfectionism. I’m learning to leave more time and energy free of expectations. Part of this may be because I don’t like cleaning my room anymore or because I’ve just become lazy, but I definitely have created a better mindset for myself to grow.
Here’s a disclaimer, though: I take antidepressants and regularly go to therapy, and I definitely think mental illness has played a role in my “type A” personality. There’s a fine line between being organized and being anxious, and that line is a bit blurred in my case. But there are so many things I have done and still do in order to detach myself from the whirlwind of expectations I might bring into my daily life. From deleting social media (which I highly recommend, seriously, from the bottom of my heart) to not journaling, giving myself the space experience the moment—without worrying about documenting it or making sure it looks good or follows a plan—has allowed me to understand myself as I experience my life.
All the ways I’ve changed since Paris are part of my own timeline, an erratic and, fortunately, completely unstructured narrative. All the ways I’ve changed have made me a better person, albeit one with clothes strewn all over her floor. Learning to erase this internal pressure for everything to go exactly as planned can be frustrating and regressive sometimes, but it also gives me the opportunity for self-awareness and growth.
I’m going to Amsterdam next spring break with a close friend, and aside from our apartment and iAmsterdam pass, we haven’t made plans. It is so deeply liberating to allow for exploration, to release a bit of control. We have no itinerary, no checklist, no Instagrammable locations in mind. I love it, and I’m even more excited for Amsterdam than I was for Paris. Without all the planning, I can be excited for the experience, not for any specific location or photo or restaurant. Without all the planning, I can feel how much I love my life.
By Katherine Williams