The problem with the Five Year Plan

Thailand, 2014

If you asked me about my Five Year Plan when I was a senior in high school, I would have given you a perfectly rehearsed elevator pitch. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and it seemed like there was nothing stopping me.

Nothing that is, except money. 

I knew college was expensive, but it didn’t seem to bother me. Being the overachiever that I am, all will be fine and I would get the scholarships I need to afford a higher education.

I spent my time in high school building up the perfect academic career that should be enticing for most universities & scholarships.

But it didn’t work.

I’ll spare the long saga of being rejected after the final round interviews of several full-ride scholarships. Talk about a blow to the ego and my entire academic future. 

As is the life of an entrepreneur, it was time to pivot.

I was told that university is the only solution for a straight A, overachieving high school graduate. The basic five year plan. Go to college, take out an obscene amount of college loans, and hope that you’ll actually find a job in your field. Then spend more years than you want paying off those loans.

I was classically conditioned to desire the basic five year plan since I was a child. But after the blow of not getting any scholarships, something felt different inside of me. 

I felt a rebellious streak. For the first time in my life, I wanted to break the rules.

The Five Year Plan wasn’t working out for me. Out of sheer desperation and confusion, I swapped my thinking to the Five Day Plan.

Within the next five days, I found a job teaching English at a small Burmese-led nonprofit organization in southern Thailand.

I bought a one-way ticket to Thailand and never looked back.

I haven’t looked back since.

Token white girl becomes guest judge for a Ladyboy Beauty Pageant.
We marched 3km in a parade and my skirt only fell down twice!
I still only know 4 chords on the ukulele.

The Five Day Plan is the reason why I moved to Thailand. It’s the reason why I discovered the Rohingya community and started impulse-buying flights around the world to reunite with their families.

At the time, I was strongly discouraged by my peers and teachers to ditch my college plan and move overseas…but now I find myself invited back as a guest speaker to high schools and universities to share about my experiences. Nice to see those tables turn.

The Five Day Plan has pushed me to take more risks, stay out of my comfort zone, and challenge my perspective of the world. Sometimes it’s worth the risk. 

I was all excited about my ground-breaking realization that sometimes you need to take life one day at a time. I was practicing staying flexible and ready to roll with whatever life would throw at me.

But my transition from a Five Year Plan to a Five Day Plan was a choice.

I was quickly confronted with the reality that many people around the world, my Rohingya friends included, are not given this luxury of a choice.

They live the Five Day Plan out of necessity to survive. 

World's Largest Refugee Camp: Kutupalong, Bangladesh. Photo by Nihab Rahman

Displaced, stateless, persecuted, and constantly on the run. Willing to risk their lives and give their life savings to a human trafficker who promises to take them somewhere safe.

They live out each Five Day Plan, wondering if it will be their last five days.

This is a harsh reality for refugees around the world. 

As an 18-year-old venturing on her first solo adventure abroad, I was blissfully unaware of this reality.

Clearly, I had a lot to learn.