On my fourth day as an undergraduate, before Week One had even started, a second-year Land Economist, who was sitting opposite me at a College Family meal in an ASK restaurant on Bridge Street, leaned forward and with biting determination put to me the following question.
“You’re an English student.” (That is, English Literature.) “I’ve always wanted to ask an English student. What are you actually going to do with your life?”
“Well,” I might have said, had I been gifted with more foresight, “on April 19th 2014, for example, I’m going to wake up early for some reason, I’m going to watch the sun beautifully appear, I’m going to wash my hair and I’m going to have problems because the Vaseline I’m going to put on my face the previous night is going to wash off into my hair and I’m going to…”
Here it occurs to me that it’s interesting how ‘going to’ can be used sometimes for a thing that will inevitably be the case and sometimes for a thing I’m firmly resolving upon. In the list that follows, there are examples of both. This is what (I think) I’m going to do with my life. I’ve had time to ponder the question now. (In October 2007, in the ASK restaurant, all I did was burble.)
1) I am going to make mistakes. This is an example of an inevitable fact.
2) I am not going to flap about them (any more). This is an example of a firm resolution.
3) I am not going to make lots of money. Unlike my Land Economist interrogator, who had, it seemed, big financial plans.
4) I am going to make lots of money. Depending on your point of view, an ELT teacher earns as stupendously much as whatever Land Economists become.
5) I am not ever going to go deep-sea diving. Call me chicken if you will.
6) I am not going to become either Prime Minister or the Archbishop of Canterbury – contrary to the surprising expectations of my Head of Year 11. But I hope I’ll see other, more suitable women become Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
8) I am going to decide that I’m going to do stuff. My lack of plans in October 2007 does not prevent me freely and responsibly making or discovering plans now.
9) I am not going to be bound to what I’m going to do. Sometimes other things come up that are non-negotiable, better, and/or more important than one’s plans. My plans will therefore be considered interruptible.
10) I am going to do a variety of things both exciting and boring – whether I plan it or not. With luck I’ll do at least some of them ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’.
11) I am going to love people – because the L’Oreal advert is right.
12) I am never going to regret the fact that I was an English student – be this reasonable or no.
13) I am never going to be superstitious about this number.
14) I am going to write non-comprehensive lists of things.
But, after all that, perhaps the sentence starter ‘I am going to’ is the wrong one to use.
Considering various heroes among Christ’s followers, from the apostle Paul to Brother Andrew or Jackie Pullinger – people who did important and amazing work where there was great need – they stand out as individuals whose names we know, but they did what they did with other people.
The work was a team effort and the result of a shared dream. Perhaps we shoot ourselves in the foot, sometimes, when we try to make plans on our own. We do, it seems to me, all have our individual visions and gifts, but maybe we are most fruitful when these dovetail together in the places that most need hope. Complete the following sentence: we are going to…