"Where do you see yourself in ten years?" is a question we hear a lot.
It’s a question I personally used to find difficult to provide a concrete, eloquent answer for. My reaction was always the same: at first a moment of discomfort, a sense of being caught off-guard. I always extricated myself by focusing on a more romantic angle; let's call it "living in a hacienda in Latin America with my husband and a tribe of kids."
But today I enjoy the challenge of that question. At least I like to try.
Maybe it's because I'm no longer afraid of giving the wrong answer. I don't feel the need to run anymore. Maybe it's because I've accepted that there's always been more than just the plan. There are feelings.
My personal difficulty also came from the fact that I started working when I was really young and felt like I had in some ways stumbled into experiences that "happened to me" (like the chance to work in fashion and cinema). I was still getting to know myself and understand what truly makes me happy.
And everything was made that much more bitter by a nagging desire to be accepted and appreciated, to be part of the group, or to fit in well with the position that I was predestined to fill.
But that's not the issue.
What I would like to reflect on today is the almost mechanical mania that we seem to have to try and plan everything. It's a mentality that drives us to make irrevocable decisions upon which we base all our "being" and "doing." This is the plan that seems the most desirable to me, these are the steps they tell me I have to follow in order to get there, and now I'm going to work hard to do it.
People also told me that in order to be happy I have to be successful, I have to be famous (Andy Warhol and his famous prophecies...), I have to own at least one "holiday home," better yet two, a beautiful car, a sexy partner who knows how to roll up his sleeves, and I have to post on Instagram pictures of all the beautiful presents he gives me and show what a beautiful couple we are. I have to have a plan.
The plan, in and of itself, has been analyzed through and through, and furthermore has become a wellspring for a booming business -- from self-help books to modern gurus and life coaches.
Focus on the voyage, once the goal is clear, you'll arrive where you want to go. Especially if you do these many exercises every day.
Personally, I appreciate and would like to hear more about "be mindful of your intentions," "do unto others as you'd have others do unto you," "Karma is a boomerang."
In order to avoid misunderstandings, I'd like to emphasize that when I'm talking about an "exaggerated," "morbid" plan, I'm not referring to setting up a precise strategy and planning each step toward the thing you want to obtain. Trying to avoid wasting time and stimulate everyone to organize and work well together.
Another thing I should make clear: we're not talking about organization either.
I imagine that those of you who are, like me, parents, share the same appreciation for a well-planned vacation, or for the ability to organize everything in the time available and not stress about it too much.
That's not my point.
I've always wondered how we can possibly include in this decades-long plan all the changes in perception and direction that are inherent in our own personalities, growth, in the human experience. How can we include that evolution? How can we include that morning you wake up and, after a long period of uncertainty, you finally accept that this thing you thought you wanted so much isn't really what makes you happy?
A moment that made me pause to consider, and that scared me, took place recently when my sister Emma, who lives in Paris and is 16, told me that the French scholastic system requires you to decide what professional direction you want your education to take when you're 14, and from that moment forward all your decisions must be made with that choice in mind.
Listening to her talk, I became increasingly anxious, and finally I asked her not to definitively exclude any possibilities right now, please; to leave her interior door open. Life might just decide to show you something else you'll be interested in.
That's a lot of pressure to put on an adolescent, to force him or her to make choices that, as they say, will "influence your life forever"!
Fortunately, when she was five my father told her it didn't really matter if they failed a year at school. Together with her mother we spent a lot of time trying to get that stubborn girl to understand that in any case it was important to work hard, do your best and, as far as possible, try not to waste too much time during the early years of your education.
I just hope that all these plans don't castrate us.
Most of all, I don't want to find we're busy chasing a false promise of happiness. The saying, "Achieve of all these successes, own all of these things and you'll see that you're happy," frightens me.
One interpretation that has always comforted me in this sense, and to which I return whenever it feels most like we've truly built a world that seems more and more like a farce, made up of dogmas and prejudice and expectations, is the book of Ecclesiastes, by the legendary King Solomon. My father recommended it to me.
"For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man's trouble is heavy upon him. If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?" (Ecclesiastes 8:7-8)
Here's a question I'm particularly interested in: Hasn't the journey surprised you too?
Isn't it possible that by planning everything, by constantly evaluating these plans and balances, in the image that we're trying to represent, that we nurture everyday through, for example, what we decided to post on social networks; isn't it possible that right as we're in the middle of all this overload of information we lose sight of the "present moment," because our gaze is always aimed at that which has yet to arrive? Don't we worry too much about the way we're perceived? About when we'll "make it"? About this cursed thing called "reputation"?
Aren't we becoming too calculating, too cynical, too wedded to our goals? Forever too critical of others as well? Too dedicated to analyzing every move others make and draw conclusions from them?
Something doesn't add up in this theory of sacrifice, of the "I'll work all my life like a pack mule so that I can enjoy it when I retire." Of course there are seasons in life that require an investment in time and energy. But I'm wondering if we shouldn't pay more attention now, when we're making decisions that allow us to create a life for ourselves that provides enough time to feel serene and inspired on a daily level? A life less exposed to the pressures of what we feel we have to demonstrate, both to ourselves and to others. A judgment of self that is less determined by what we do, but by whom we truly are.
I'm not an utopist, nor a hippie, nor even really nostalgic.
We live in a world in which we accept the fact that economic profit is worth more than a human life. People who can't afford a given cure, die.
One year ago, in May 2014, I lost a friend: Mohammad Asab, a 58-year-old Egyptian who lived in Luxor, and who died of Hepatitis C.
Egypt has the world's highest rate of Hepatitis C. Even today, eight out of ten cases of infection take place in the hospitals themselves, because doctors and nurses often use the same syringes (or other single-use instruments) on more than one patient. The virus kills 40,000 people per year; one out of ten people aged 15 to 59 will contract it. The disease appears to still be spreading, at a rate of roughly 165,000 new infections every year. A treatment that has proven to save lives and doesn't have too many collateral effects exists, and has been produced in the United States. It costs 100,000 dollars.
On July 15th, 2014 Egypt announced that it reached a deal to obtain this treatment at what they defined a "significantly reduced" price. Reuters reported it would cost roughly 900 dollars for a 12-week treatment.
At the risk of coming across as too sentimental, I still have to ask the question: Do you think that Mohammad's five children and his wife imagined, in their own personal "10 year plan," that this would happen to them? That Mohammad would have ignored the illness for years in order to keep from being prescribed medicine that he couldn't afford, to the point where he had to spend the last money the family had set aside to pay for two nights at a hospital in Cairo?
In a world like the one we live in, I can't help but place my hopes in my own generation. I wonder what we'll do over the next 10 years to make this world a little more the way we'd like it to be for ourselves, for others, for our children.
What would happen if, rather than focusing all our energies on such sophisticated plans, we listened a little more to our hearts?
This piece was originally published on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.