Torn: Managing Expectations and Goals

Image credit: Christi

by Bryn Watkins

So, I’m torn.

Just last week I was in Sacrament Meeting listening to the speaker laud an eleven-year-old girl who had outlined her life, in its entirety, all the way down to spoiling the grandkids with warm chocolate-chip cookies every chilly Sunday night. Everything in between matched up as you’d expect–graduate high school, go to college, marry in the temple, make babies, mother excellently, marry kids in the temple, get kids to make babies. It was, sincerely, quite remarkable.

Since I’m about to head to university for the first time, I felt the little girl in the speaker’s story staring up at me expectantly from my past. It’s time to figure everything out, right? And I couldn’t be at a better place to do so–I’ll be at BYU, the world’s capital of young, experienced, returned missionaries of both genders, ready to start both careers and family lickety-split. The focus and drive at that place will be palpable. An entire campus full of young men and women–peers– who know exactly what they want, and when they want it, and how. Unfortunately for my expectant little past-self, I barely manage to remember how I want my eggs to be cooked at Denny’s (over-medium, my dad reminds me). Knowing how I want to order my life is, well, a far taller order.

So then the other half of me chimes in. I am just eighteen, after all. If I find a happy, focused future intimidating, I can instead invest in the moment. I can carpe that diem until I’m at least through college. I can adventure into a social life as well as make my foray into volcanology, and Malaysian art history, and Canadian literature, and even spelunking, on the side. That’s what youth allows. Exploration. Growth. Most of my peers from high school have no idea what they want from their life yet, and not only is that allowed without the pressure of an eternal perspective, but it is in fact romanticized. (YOLO! as they say). Remove from their equation of development the hard drugs and alcohol, and I have myself a totally Mormon-and-pop-culture-kosher adolescence.

And this is where I find myself torn right in two. I feel like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.

See, I’m not an adolescent any more. To pawn off my future, on, well, the future, is something I may have gotten away with as an eleven-year-old. And yet even then as an eleven-year-old I was blessed with the opportunity to imbue my life with a longer vista than an earth-focused life would allow. I do know where I should be aiming. And in my heart of hearts, I really want to aim there. Yes to college, yes to temple marriage. Yes even, and perhaps especially, to spoiling the grandkids with warm chocolate chip cookies every chilly Sunday night. So how can I appropriately temper these foci? (Did I really write foci? Too much adulthood too soon?)

Anyway, I turned to my good friend Ernest Hemingway to help me concentrate my untamed interests and indistinct future plans–which range, for me, from ballet to becoming Ban Ki-Moon to maybe even going on a date someday. Hemingway said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end,” which I find moderates my two shoulder-angels quite nicely.

On the one hand, I find the urgency to charge forward into the future, both socially and professionally, overzealous and ultimately short-sighted. While I acknowledge that, as a freshman, I need to at least pick a point at which to point, I think it would also be wise to establish myself as an individual–both in a career and in my own bachelorette social life– before worrying about marriage and babies and (ackh!) grandbabies.

However, on the other hand, I find the emphasis on the temporal foolish as well. Now is the time to explore and have fun; but it’s also the time to work, and accomplish, and, dare I say it, get there.

Another good friend of mine, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, remarked, “It is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions.” Frankly I don’t think there’s much harder adversity in the world than the battle against adulthood (which unfortunately, to date, has never been won), but I do think that his words might be prudent in application. Slow down. But focus.

I’m not saying I don’t want those warm chocolate chip cookies some chilly Sunday night fifty years from now…I’m just aiming to practice a few batches on my young, spontaneous friends first.

So weekend before finals, my place. You’re invited.


Bryn embarks on her freshman year at Brigham Young University this week and will be chronicling her journey for us. Last year she spent a season dancing professionally with the American Ballet Theatre in New York and loved learning from the experiences that opportunity granted her. In her free time, she likes baking, reading, making music, hiking, watching movies, and road tripping around the nation with friends. She has many interests and is so far unsure where they’ll take her, but she’s certain to have lots of adventures along the way. 

6 Comments on “Torn: Managing Expectations and Goals

  1. During my second year in college, my sister-in-law asked me out of the blue if I wanted to intern for her uncle who was a state senator in Utah. I was majoring in biology education and the 12 quarter-credits of political science had nothing to do with my long-term educational goals. Still, sick of sitting around and watching my barely-out-of-their-teens friends drop like flies to the clarion call of marriage, I said yes. It was a strange move for my never-spontaneous self and I spent six weeks commuting from Ogden to Salt Lake watching the political process unfold in a rather small way.

    It changed everything for me. Oh, I still went ahead with the biology education degree, but I decided that I was tired of sitting on the sidelines in my own life. At the legislature I had met all kinds of people working very hard to make a difference. . . and I wanted to make a difference. I’m not saying that goals and directions aren’t awesome, but I think we always have to leave room in our souls for the opportunities disguising themselves as “detours” as well.

    Best of luck!!

    • Very well-said, Nan. My granddaughter, very multi-talented, Bryn Watkins, will appreciate your comment, I’m sure.

    • Nan,
      I interned in the UT Legislature as a college student as well – it was a far cry from my Linguistics degree but hanging out with my poly-sci-focused cousin for a summer really made me interested in the political process. It was fascinating and life-changing for me as well. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Oh I just loved reading this! It makes me recall all of the plans that I had when I was about your age, and even more-so, it makes me realize how much I’ve learned in the 10+ years that have passed since then. I wish I could tell you about everything I’ve learned, but I know that you’ll have your own learning experiences (both exhilarating and heart-breaking) along the way that will teach you more than the words of another ever could. Still, I can’t help but offer two pieces of advice:
    1) Few things will ever go exactly as planned. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan, but don’t be so married to one particular plan that you’re not open to other opportunities.
    2) Take advantage of as many experiences as possible. I say this both as a career counselor and as someone whose life is very different from what she thought it would be. A variety of experiences will help you learn about your self, the world, and the many opportunities available to you. Go on study abroad, date that nerdy but amazing guy, write an ORCA grant proposal (do they still have those as BYU?), push homework out of mind for a few days and take a weekend roadtrip, spend a few dollars of your student budget to attend the fabulously-done musicals and performances in the HFAC.

    I’m looking forward to your posts and the experiences you’ll share with us!

    PS: This post is amazingly well-written.

  3. I know this is shallow, and I certainly don’t want to detract from the upcoming college/adult experience, but I just have to know….did someone from this site actually make those chocolate chip cookies pictured. Because as a woman who has been an adult for 20 years now, all I care about is making and eating cookies that look like those.

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