Didn’t you plan to be 55?

Universal Life Insurance Company
Universal Life Insurance Company (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

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.

Holy shit.

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.

But planning?

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

intellectual challenge

good health

a loving and loyal partner

dear friends

frequent travel

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?

10 thoughts on “Didn’t you plan to be 55?

  1. I’m a bit of a planner, but I do realize that life doesn’t always work with your plans; in fact, sometimes it completely clashes with it, so you have to try to be flexible.
    By the way, your dad’s a famous filmmaker? What sort of films has he been a part of, if I may ask?

  2. By nature I’m a “take it as it comes” kinda guy, but I’m in my mid 30’s married and with a 4 year old. We’re looking for a 2nd and final baby, so my responsibilities are cut out for me for the next 20 years. I BETTER have a plan. But I’m also planning for when those 20 years pass, I will become less hectic and will travel with my wife just the 2 of us. I plan on having fun 🙂

    Thanks for the post.

  3. franuby

    I think I am that person that plans to the extremity and then runs close to insanity at a well mapped out failure. You reckon extreme planning is an emotional threat?

    1. Now, there’s a phrase…”well mapped out failure.”

      I do plan, but generally for short-term stuff like social and professional engagements, travel, etc. I’m not convinced one can map out one’s life.

  4. Personally I never made specific life plans for certain things by certain ages, but I always had a very clear and specific direction in terms of what I wanted to do, right back from when I was at school. The exact way I would do it, though – that I never knew, or could plan for. I’ve had so many curve balls thrown at me in so many ways that it was always a case of adapting, re-trenching, re-figuring. So – no plans. But I knew where I wanted to go, and was determined, by hook or by crook, to make sure it happened – which meant being realistic, cynical, and hard-nosed with myself as needed. (Writing’s rejected? Why? OK. Learn. Don’t repeat the mistake. Next.)

    I get asked today about how I’ve managed to publish so much. Well, it wasn’t luck. Not for one single second. Quite the reverse, in fact. Most of it was a side-effect of my push to write (and to try and fund that writing). But I couldn’t say that getting to that point was planned in the sense that your insurance broker imagined.

  5. Wow..i feel like a super over planner after reading the post.But then again,Indians are a bit of over planners.However,it never really stresses me if things don’t work out as planned.Like,according to my plan,i was supposed to be studying elsewhere,but I’m quite happy with my present college too.I had never planned on taking up writing or blogging,but still I’m doing it and enjoying myself thoroughly.
    I especially loved the broad outlines for life that you’ve pointed out.
    Lovely post:).Gave me some inspiration for my next write up 😀

    1. Thanks.

      I may have ended up sounding a little more slackerish than I am, as I’m extremely driven and determined. But I aim for larger life goals instead of narrowly defined ones, generally. At 16 (!) I decided I wanted to live in Paris, NY and Rome. I’d done Paris by 25 (on a fellowship), NY suburbs by 30…and don’t care about Rome any more… 🙂 Now I’m aiming for France in retirement. And, the financial freedom to stop working!

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