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Publisher’s View: As you mean to go on

“Where do you want to be in 20 years?” a friend recently asked me. “What do you want your life to look like? How do you want your days to be spent?”

I stopped chewing my salad, and my eyes got wide. I’m just trying to get through today, I thought. I don’t even know what I’m planning for dinner.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good plan.

But plans these days don’t extend decades for me. Right now, discussions in my household sounds more like “I’m dropping her off at 6.” “Chicken comes out of oven in 35. Be listening for the timer.” “After baseball, I’m stopping by the grocery store.” “Can you pick him up from your parents’ on your way home?”

Big plans.

Not sexy plans, but daily plans that must be discussed to keep a family of six functioning. Do we need more milk? What are we doing with the dog while we are gone? Have you signed him up for driver’s ed?

But, oh, how the daily plans can keep you in the weeds.

I need a 1950s housewife, I tell myself, to run the show. I dream of coming home to a hot meal straight out of the oven and a clean house, with the children bathed and sitting on the couch watching Howdy Doody. After dinner, the kids can go play kick-the-can with their friends in the street and no one must be driven anywhere and it’s a Norman Rockwell painting mixed with Betty Crocker and all tied up in a grosgrain ribbon.

But that’s not a plan, of course, that’s a fantasy.

And fantasies don’t focus on future goals.

There was a time when all I did was plan for the future. I will take these classes so I can get this kind of job so I can work in this field. I will get married and have children and a dog so I can have a family and a house and have a Christmas card that shows my family and my dog. I will be happy because I have a job, and a family and a dog and other friends who send me Christmas cards with their families and their dogs and we have all ended up where we wanted to go. The future.

OK, OK. It was a bit less Rockwell and a bit more Rocky Horror Picture Show getting here. But now that we are here, where are we headed?

That is the real question that my friend was asking me. What’s next? What do you want it to look like?

Her questions are not what our culture is asking. Long-term goals seem so last century. Instead, most people are planning their short-term dining reservations and travel plans, short-term employment (until the next opportunity) and short-term service plan for the latest smartphone.

Everything happens so fast these days that long-term planning goes by the wayside.

When my children were babies, I read and reread a book called The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg.

I had two takeaways:

1. Why, oh, why can’t this English nanny author come and save me from this wretched colicky child who will not sleep through the night and whose high-pitched, blood-curdling screams could wake the neighbors two streets over?

The second takeaway was more useful.

2. “Start as you mean to go on,” she wrote. Simply put, don’t create bad habits that you will have to break later. If you don’t want a child to become dependent on a pacifier, don’t pop one in her mouth every time she makes a peep. If you don’t want an 8-year-old sleeping in your bed, don’t let him in bed with you when he is a toddler.

Start as you mean to go on.

This sage advice has stuck with me over the years, and it has forced me to look at the ultimate results of my actions instead of the immediate decision at hand. Sometimes.

Other times, I make quick decisions in the moment, such as spending an entire vacation eating and drinking everything in sight and only owning up to my indulgence later after splitting the zipper on my skinny jeans.

So, thanks to my friend, I’m going to come up with a long-term plan. A plan that is more intentional and deliberate than accidental and sloppy. I’m going to set some goals that will get me where I am headed in the next 20 years. I’m going to start as I mean to go on.

I don’t want to split the zipper on my skinny jeans of life.