Actually, no, I told him.
He’s the man who sells us our insurance and Jose and I were in his office yesterday morning pricing life insurance. Automatically seeking the least expensive price category, I looked at “elite preferred non-tobacco” — i.e. really healthy people!
It was marked N/A. Because we’re already too old.
Frankly, I’d never considered pricing life insurance, but that’s why I married a man whose most common phrase is: “Be careful.”
I never planned much of anything, I realized, when asked.
Which shocked me into writing this post…
From the age of about 12, I wanted to become a journalist, and ideally a foreign correspondent. I knew I never wanted to have kids. I figured I might get married eventually, but it was never anything I thought much about or fantasized over; I’ve now done it twice.
Hmmm, not so much. I knew I wanted to move to New York for work, but did not know exactly how that would happen. I did start writing for major American publications in my mid-20s, freelance, to start building some contacts. I even interviewed for a staff job at the Miami Herald in my late 20s. But actually leaving everything behind?
I ended up meeting an American medical student in Montreal, fell in love, got a green card through my American mom, and crossed the border to follow him, for good. I still had no definite agenda beyond finding work in my field and eventually, as I did, marrying him.
I would say, truthfully, I’ve spent a lot of my time and energy preparing for these goals:
— I studied French and Spanish throughout university to gain fluency
— I started freelancing before I was 20, so I learned a lot, quickly, about my industry and made contacts within it
— I knew I wanted to write a few books, so I took workshops and attended conferences which taught me how to write a proposal and find an agent
So why haven’t I been more directed in plotting a specific direction and set of coordinates for getting there quickly and efficiently?
I’ve always had self-confidence and have bounced back from some very rough times emotionally, so have always (correctly) assumed whatever shit showed up, I’d cope somehow.
I have good skills, and a variety of them.
I have savings.
I’m pretty smart.
I don’t take drugs or drink to excess, which could seriously cloud my judgement or decision-making.
I’ve also been faced with some serious headwinds that impeded my younger/idealistic assumptions about what I’d be certain to achieve professionally: three recessions since 1989; 24,000 journalists fired in 2008; having to re-start my career at 30 (i.e. losing the first eight years’ hard work and social capital when I left Canada).
And being fired from a few jobs also killed some of my drive. It’s painful and humiliating and every time it happened I lost a little more appetite for climbing back into that harness with a clear action plan ahead of me. Having my first marriage end within two years also shook my sense of certainty about planning for the future.
But, if I look back over my career and life, I’ve achieved pretty much everything I’d hoped for without a tick-the-box meticulousness.
Especially living in an affluent part of the gogogogogogo United States, I see a lot of people making themselves (and their kids) crazy when they fail to achieve their specific goals — getting into X college or Y company, not earning as much as they’d expected to by 25 or 30. I think that attitude adds tremendous stress, unnecessarily.
I always knew the broad outlines of what I most wanted:
interesting, well-paid work
a loving and loyal partner
a safe and attractive place to live
enough disposable income for cashmere, decent wine, tickets to the ballet occasionally
My mother, now in a nursing home at 76, inherited enough money in her 40s that she never had to take or keep a job. So she traveled the world alone for years. She never taught me the normal tools: how to dress, wear make-up, stay employed, find and nurture a husband, balance a checkbook. Nor did my Dad, a celebrated film-maker, still world traveling and kicking ass at a healthy 83.
They’re fun and interesting people, but normal and conventional life issues like wills, insurance, planning for the future (beyond, crucially, save money and stay healthy), just weren’t part of our conversations.
So, did I plan to be 55?
Hell, no more than I planned to be 17 or 29 or 37 or 42.
Are you someone who does a lot of planning?
How does that affect your life?