In stage one, start approaching a new season in your life – a year, a summer, a change in career. Realize that you need to develop a plan. Go to the drawing board; start dreaming dreams and start imagining. Come up with an ideal, a concept of the place you’ll be if this new phase in your life goes perfectly. At this phase, you probably won’t be thinking very realistically. Stage one is a time to ignore the realities of your situation and picture a life that may or may not be possible for you.

In stage two, start making lists. Draft piles and piles of them – lists of internships and jobs you’ll apply for, lists of skills you’ll master and fears you’ll conquer. Start writing emails, inquiring after the companies and apartment complexes and roommates who will solidify your dreams for the upcoming season.

In stage three, fail. For a handful of disappointing reasons that may or may not be legitimate, fail to secure any of the opportunities on your list. Go with the safe option, the one that doesn’t require a lot of effort. Chicken out. Realize that there are things in your life tying you to another place. Understand that for whatever reason, your dream for this season can’t become a reality yet. It doesn’t matter how it happens, but you have to fail if you’re going to enjoy a life that isn’t what you’ve planned.

In stage four, make more lists. Try valiantly to pretend you’re not upset about the way this season turned out. Decide that even if you didn’t get what you wanted, you can still make the most of this time in your life. Make lists of computer programs you’re going to learn, blogs you’re going to write, money you’re going to save from part-time jobs. Immediately ignore all of these lists, because the way you wrote them is just so chiding and really, you’re disappointed and you’re tired and you can’t deal with all that self-improvement right now.

In stage five, sink. Stop trying. Start sleeping. Convince yourself that this is okay, that everyone needs a break every now and then. I’ve worked so hard, you’ll tell yourself defensively as you click through the 45th page of your Tumblr dashboard. I need to do nothing, to be nothing for a while. Socialize and spend time with other people only in bursts, then return to your bedroom where the stacks of discarded clothes and books are silently piling up. You will hate this phase, but you will do nothing to remove yourself from it.

Stage six will start with something small. You’ll make a list and actually finish one or two things on it, and you’ll remember how good it feels to be tired not because you’ve slept all day but because you’ve worked hard. Or you’ll find something new to enjoy, something you never would’ve found without this detour. Or you may just read a beautiful sentence or hear a crystal-clear line in a song, and realize that no matter how ridiculous it sounds, there really is something solid and indefatigable about the human spirit and there really is something wonderful about life.

You can’t force stage six. You will try to, but it will come when it’s ready to come. Until then, hold on. Wait. Remember the times when your life was what you wanted, and realize that you wouldn’t have appreciated one second of them if you’d never lived through times like this.