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Tackling the Long Term

Me (in the green shirt holding the bird cage) with my family. Even as a young girl, there was one thing I knew would always be in my long term: parrots!
Me (in the green shirt holding the bird cage) with my family. Even as a young girl, there was one thing I knew would always be in my long term: parrots!

When I was little, my folks (and most everyone else) liked to joke that I was “5 going on 35.”

I was apparently very mature for my age. Or any age. I do remember being a rather serious child, very much in my own inner world at times, and sometimes feeling like I saw the world and the people in it differently from my peers.

An example – one day an older neighborhood girl was babysitting my brother and me. Her younger sister accompanied her and began to talk about some problems she was having with her boyfriend.

I was about 10 at the time and had never had a boyfriend. But when she told me her issue, I instantly understood what was going on with the boyfriend and quickly explained to her the most likely reason why he was behaving the way he was (although now I don’t remember exactly what it was he was doing).

She looked at me – shocked – and said, “You are right! But how do you know this?” I had no idea. I still have no idea.

Now I suspect it is just because I am an introvert and a natural observer of life and people. Maybe I just had seen the same pattern play out with other peer relationships. Or perhaps I saw something similar to what the girl described on a television show. All I know is, whatever I told her worked, and it resolved her issue with her boyfriend.

That being said, as a “mature” 5, and 10, and 15, and 25-year-old, I was very faithful to my parents’ assertions that I should always have a long-term plan. So I did. For instance, I was saving for retirement the moment I paid off my student debt. After college, I chose a career with a stable company in a beautiful place (California) and anticipated maxing out my 401K plan so I could be secure the rest of my life.

The only problem with this very wise long-term plan is, it didn’t fit me. 

It didn’t factor in my eating disorder, an illness that was quietly (pardon the pun) eating me alive. It didn’t factor in that I hated – HATED – my good job at that stable company, and that I thought about driving off the road every day during the endless miles I drove each month around my sales territory.

It didn’t take into account that California, a place I had dreamed of living, turned out to be an unfriendly host. I had trouble making friends and even more trouble keeping them with all the hours I worked and the miles I traveled.

In the end, that whole “long-term plan” scenario lasted less than 3 years. Then I was off to New York and then India to do humanitarian work. When I got back home to Texas a year and a half later, I bounced from job to job while recording a CD of my original music. Somewhere in all of that I also inadvertently started a career as a motivational speaker.

And it has been like that ever since. My life…well, it seems it is allergic to long-term planning. My idea of “long-term” is tomorrow – or maybe next week if it is something we need to get tickets for in advance.

I have a vague idea that I’d like to retire in someplace lovely and full of nature, and preferably someplace with actual seasons. I might like to live in a tiny house on wheels so I can take it with me and travel in style, just like my two turtles, Bruce and Malti.

Recently, my boyfriend challenged me to think longer term. Or I think what he might have said was, “I’d like to see you thinking a bit more about the longer term – like what will happen in 20 years, where you’ll be, what you want.”

So I’ve been trying. But I honestly just don’t know.

In the years after I did the bulk of the necessary brass tacks recovery work to overcome the eating disorder, I somehow lost all sense of a long term that includes more time than today and tonight.

I just don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Mostly I don’t care because I am already very busy worrying my way through today. All the while, I am aware that there was a long span of time in my not too-distant past when I didn’t really even want to wake up the next day and wouldn’t have much minded if I didn’t. I spent most of my young life starving and scared and miserable, and all I did during those years was worry about the future.

So now, post-recovery, technically I am in my own long term right now, and it pretty much feels like a miracle I’ve even made it this far. Perhaps it would be foolish to press my luck.

And with all the chaos in the world, I don’t have any way of predicting or controlling my tomorrow anyway. I could get hit by a truck. Or worse. Today could be my last day. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and spend all my cash (which would take about five energizing minutes in my current situation), but it does mean that, given the choice, I’m going to choose to spend my energy living well today rather than fretting about living well tomorrow or next year or in the next decade which may never even happen.

I do understand there is some merit to thinking longer-term. For instance, if I want a tiny house, I am going to have to save up to buy it, so that means putting my “long-term hat” on in terms of how I plan my days and how I spend my work hours. I will also have to work on logistics and research – where, how, how much, et al.

But I get that far and draw another blank. Because, truly, I have no idea what I will want or need in 20 years. Or even 10. Or 5.

In fact, my long-term plan looks more like this: live as well as I possibly can today, and tomorrow will (hopefully) take good care of itself.

And while I’m not sure the long-term planning fairy would give me an “A” on this assignment, it somehow still feels right to me. And that is really all I have to go on from where I am today.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a long-term plan? For that matter, what does the phrase “long-term” mean to you – 2 years? 5 years? 20 years? What does your long-term plan look like? Do you think people are more likely to make a long-term plan if they have kids (I do!)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tackling the Long Term

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2016). Tackling the Long Term. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Sep 2016
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