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  • Brendan Stec

Life as a Flâneur: Not Trying to Plan Too Much

A "flâneur" is (traditionally) a man who wanders around the streets, enjoying the atmosphere of the city, with no destination or plan of where to go next.


As I embark on my career after college, I hope to embrace the uncertain future as a flâneur, an opportunistic wanderer with a sense of adventure, not as an over-planning, over-scheduling tourist.

I can’t predict what will happen. I can’t predict the people I will meet, the chance opportunities I will encounter, or the problems that will invariably surface. But I can control how effectively I respond to them. I can do this by exerting less control, by not forcing my will too much, by going with the flow, by making lemonade out of lemons.

A tourist freaks out when his flight is canceled; he may miss his bus tour of the Amalfi Coast. A flâneur plans on the go - he has no bus tour to miss - he gets there when he gets there. A tourist must go to Perfect University for an MBA to get the Perfect Job. A flâneur doesn’t plan so far ahead, preferring to take whatever opportunity, sometimes arising out of thin air, that is best for him at the time.

Unfortunately, the technologies we carry in our pockets provide with us with a dangerous illusion of control, encouraging us to be tourists. Thanks to Google, we presumably always know the answer. Thanks to Waze, we feel like we’ll always make it on time. Alexa prevents us from us from oversleeping. The e-calendar prevents us from forgetting that boring meeting.

In becoming schedule-ized, optimized know-it-alls, we become allergic to uncertainty and variability. We become allergic to saying “I don’t know” or "let's just try it." Dependent on immediate answers, addicted to feeling in control, we embrace the mechanical definition of Success!, in which we assume future success only comes from knowing exactly where we’re going. And that we’ve always known where we wanted to go.

But I encourage you to reflect on your past, to realize how difficult it would’ve been to plan where you got to in your life today. Personally, I started high school as a 5’ 3’’ (hopeful) basketball player, but I left as a dedicated cross country runner. I started college wanting to work on Wall Street, but I left entering the technology consulting industry. Along the way, I created relationships that were better than expected, and I lost a few I thought I’d always have. “The only constant in life is change” is how Heraclitus aptly put it. Going forward, all I can expect is that things will be different from how they are today.

Is the solution, to live in a world we barely understand, to gather more data of the past in a fruitless attempt to build some over-optimized plan for the future?

It’s probably better to live by the following mantra popularized by the Stoics:

Amor fati.

"Love of fate.”

This just means embracing what happens to you, for better or for worse. It means seeing the world how it is, not how it should be. It means trusting a well-cultivated process, taking one step at a time always, while believing that the right opportunities will present themselves in due time.

It means not getting too caught up trying to control the world and how it will play out.


Further Reading:

(1) Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

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