I can’t exactly pinpoint the day I realized I could no longer plan for my future, but it wasn’t long after I received an e-mail informing me that I could not return to campus. I was alone in New Orleans on spring break—a trip I’d planned months in advance. I had bought my plane tickets seven weeks ahead of my departure to ensure the cheapest prices, and I researched places to stay. I knew exactly when I’d brave the crowds to get beignets from Café du Monde, and where I would sit during Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, and I had a weeklong pass for buses and streetcars. The first few days of my trip were great—I wandered among the enormous mausoleums of the city’s many cemeteries and perused the side streets of the French Quarter. I knew that there was a disease going around, but it hadn’t yet been labeled a pandemic. The only outbreak I knew of in the United States was at a nursing home in Seattle. I didn’t realize that the coronavirus was spreading quietly all around me.

And then the dam burst. Campuses were closing, cities were shutting down, and ICUs were beginning to fill. The world was in crisis, and there was no clear rulebook for how to live day-to-day. I scrambled to change my flights, and headed home with only what I had packed for a weeklong vacation. I would not reunite with my belongings from my dorm for three more months.

I felt restless in a way I hadn’t since the summer between high school and college, when I packed my bags six weeks before I left Indiana for Duke. That, too, was a strangely unbounded time, where I had no structure to my days and nothing to do except try to predict every aspect of my upcoming semester and plan accordingly.

But this summer in 2020 was different. Information trickled in slowly. At first I thought I’d be home for two weeks, but then the entire semester was moved online. I hoped my DukeEngage would run, but it was canceled, and a few weeks later so was my fall study-away program. I tried to set goals for the summer and pick new courses for the fall, only to find out later that all students would have to re-register much closer to the beginning of the semester. For a week, my family was on high-alert, waiting for my little brother’s COVID test to come back after he’d had a fever for a few days—thankfully he was negative. Somewhere in the midst of all this it finally hit me: The future was fluid. I didn’t have enough information to know what the world would look like in a week, much less in a month.

I turned to three questions that have become something of a mantra of mine: What do you have? What do you want? What do you need? Instead of planning my future in meticulous detail, these three questions allow me to assess the pros and cons of my current situation, identify goals, and prioritize my basic needs. With these, I can practice flexibility as plans change around me, and cultivate resilience in the face of dire crisis. As more curveballs are thrown my way, I am better able to respond to them by re-evaluating my situation. I no longer need to plan. I adapt.

Halloran is a junior studying English, creative writing, and history. She is the cofounder of Duke University Stand-up Troupe, and has previously won multiple departmental awards for her creative writing.

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