Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll likely affirm that I am the world’s most dedicated planner and time manager, so if you were aspiring to that title, I’m sorry. Every August, I rush to Staples to procure—along with many other organizational supplies—a new planner and fill in birthdays, appointments, and color-coded to-do lists. My Rover colleagues might recall that I once spent two weeks tracking my schedule in half-hour increments, constantly updating a detailed chart to determine how I could better accomplish my daily tasks. I’m no longer ashamed to admit that I am addicted to Post-It notes, and I even have a notebook dedicated solely to to-do lists.
This confession—perhaps my first step to “recovery”—illustrates my familiarity with setting long-term goals and planning carefully to reach them. I hope it doesn’t seem that I’m bragging about my organizational skills, because, in fact, I’ve recently realized that these habits are not something worthy of pride. Planning has been my way of trying to control a life that is unpredictable, often frighteningly so. But reflecting on my college years now, four months after graduation, I can more clearly see how my time at Notre Dame was a slow, difficult lesson in the fact that no amount of planning can actually give me—or anyone—control of life. Of course, we can and should plan for the future, set goals, work at self-improvement, and so on. But if we don’t couple these tasks with a healthy realization of the fact that, at the end of the day, God is in control and we are not, we will always be met with disappointment.
The possibility that I might plan too much snuck up on me now and then during college, but I was resistant to it, because I was attached (literally) to my planner, to this security blanket of sorts that had never let me down. But as graduation approached and I was forced to reflect, somewhat sentimentally, on my four years at this amazing university, I could see that the best things that had happened to me were those that had been unplanned. Notre Dame was my first choice, my long-term goal, the fruit of my planning, but the people and events that made my time there most rewarding, those that most contributed to my personal and spiritual growth, were those that I never could have predicted or planned.
My freshman year, I was randomly assigned to Pangborn Hall (R.I.P.), where I met my best friend, and where, right next door in Fisher, I met my boyfriend. Four years later, I feel certain that they will be part of my life forever, along with other friends and professors I met completely by chance. Somehow, I found my way into the first class that Patrick Deneen taught at Notre Dame, “Intro to Political Theory.” Without this class, and the ensuing courses I took with him, I would not have found such fulfillment in my political science major, nor would I have studied the ideas that are now central to my political philosophy and my work at National Review. Though I found the Irish Rover my freshman year, had older students not encouraged me to become more involved in the paper, I would have missed out on close friendships, been detached from the fight for Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, and lacked the outstanding preparation the Rover gave me for my pursuit of a career—a vocation—in journalism.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of the countless blessings I found at Notre Dame, but it’s evidence of the fact that even the world’s most proficient planner can’t plan for everything, and, more importantly, evidence of the fact that I shouldn’t try. Ten times out of ten, God’s plan will be better than mine, even if His plan sometimes involves more hard work and more suffering. We are all guilty of trying to control our lives in some ways to avoid hardship, by planning obsessively or putting off difficult decisions or choosing the easy path instead of the one we know is right, but these efforts won’t make us happy in the long run.
The truth of this lesson that took root at Notre Dame has been confirmed by my life post-graduation. If you had asked me a year ago, I never would have guessed that, today, I’d be living happily in a studio apartment in New York City. I loathe change of any kind, I’ve never considered myself a city person, I prefer to be with family and friends, and I easily become lonely when I’m far from those I love. Much to my surprise, though, I haven’t yet regretted my decision to spend this year here, and I’m inclined to believe I never will regret it, because I’m confident that this is what God wants.
Despite the fact that I live alone, I’m rarely lonely. I’ve met like-minded, intelligent, funny people at my job, people who have made the city feel smaller and more like a home. The city is less daunting than I thought it would be, the people are down to earth, and even the subway is easy to navigate! I discovered an excellent parish community in midtown Manhattan, and I found an apartment right across the street from Brooklyn’s biggest and most beautiful park, where I can wander for hours and feel as if I don’t live in a city at all. And, most importantly, I’ve found my job to be an excellent means of fulfilling my calling as a writer and contributing to the public conversation about the role of politics in improving American culture.
I wouldn’t have found any of these things if I had relied entirely on my own masterful planning; I found them not because I had control of my future but because God led me to them. I intended to apply to this fellowship, but I thought I’d end up in Washington, living close to family and friends, playing it safe. If my time at Notre Dame hadn’t taught me that life’s biggest blessings are often unplanned, I would not have had the courage to believe that God’s plans for me here in New York would be better than my own. From a self-diagnosed over-planner to anyone who doubts God (so, everyone, at one time or another)—make growing in trust your number-one goal. He never said life would be easy, that He would take away our pain, or that we’d be saved without striving to cooperate with His grace. But, if we learn to set down our calendars every once in a while and embrace all things for His sake, I have every faith we will be rewarded.
Alexandra DeSanctis graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2016 with a degree in political science. She is a William F. Buckley, Jr., Fellow at National Review magazine in New York City and she writes daily for National Review Online. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.