How about Plans C, D and E?

University College, south side, University of ...
University College, south side, University of Toronto….My alma mater, (Victoria College, actually.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think many of us have a Plan B — or are already living it.

But how many of you have thought far enough ahead about plans C, D and E?

Here’s a recent blog post chosen for Freshly Pressed by a woman who’s 40, in Toronto, the hometown I left in 1986. In it she discusses how it feels to face a life she did not plan for:

Life sure hasn’t gone the way I planned. That’s an understatement. I thought things would be different. As a kid, I used to think that life got easier as you got older. Now here I am pushing 40 and boy was I wrong about that. The older I get, things seem to get more complicated and every decision I have to make feels like the weight of the world.

Being a grown up is hard.

Hell, yes!

I am now at an age that feels absolutely geriatric, 55. Ahead lies a diminishing number of years on this earth, and physical decline. Cool! If I don’t have a few back-up plans (what if I get really sick? what if my husband dies?), I’m toast.

I’m writing this post sitting in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. I came by train from New York on Sunday to compete Monday for a fellowship that, if I win, offers $20,000 for six months to research an issue of interest to me. There are 14 finalists and they’ll pick maybe six.

I have to plan on not winning. Not to be negative, but realistic.

I have so many other ideas I can barely keep track of them all: writing (and I hope selling) two more non-fiction book proposals; three assignments from The New York Times and another which I hope will send me on my next trip; a conference I hope to create next fall; rustling up people to donate their talent for a fund-raiser; planning travel for 2013…

My point is that “planning” your life is truly a fool’s errand, no matter how comforting it appears. You can aim for goals, and likely hit many, if not most. But some you are going to miss.

If you do not grasp this reality, young, you may face a life of tremendous frustration and bitterness.

Some dreams will be snatched out of your grasp. Some people will disappoint you and betray you and lie to you and disappear. Some things are just shitty luck: infertility and/or miscarriage; accidents; disability or chronic illness. You still have to deal!

Here are some of the twists and turns my life took after I chose to leave my hometown of Toronto, age 30:

— Took a newspaper job in Montreal. Hated it! The winter was brutally long, cold and snowy. The crime rate was crazy, and frightening. The paper’s management were…not what I wanted.

— Moved to a small town in New Hampshire to follow the man I planned to marry, an American. I tried harder than I have ever tried in my entire life to make friends, and it proved impossible. He was doing medical training, so he was either gone, exhausted or emotionally withdrawn.

Moved to New York City to make it as a journalist. I was promised a month’s try-out, paid, at Newsweek International. When I called to confirm my start date (after we had moved to NY and bought an apartment and he had changed training programs) they said “Oh, we have an internal candidate. We don’t need you.” I insisted and still did not get the job.

And that’s only the first five years!

My life since 1989 has included a two-year marriage to the doctor; three recessions, four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, losing a few staff jobs, three days in the hospital with pneumonia, dating a convicted criminal…and writing two terrific books, finding a lovely new husband and enjoying my new left hip.

None of this was planned.

Sure, I had some hopes: good journalism jobs (check); get married (check, check); write a book (check, check). So I’m happy with this. But so many things have blown up in my face, metaphorically speaking, along the way as well.

If you are not ready — emotionally, physically and financially — to adapt to whatever life throws at you, you’ll waste a lot of time when things go south in a fog of cognitive dissonance, moaning “What happened?” instead of packing your parachute.

Here’s a great blog post by a young woman writer whose blog I enjoy, about being prepared and knowing she’s not a victim. It is a choice.

How has your life turned out?

As you’d hoped and expected? Or…?

23 thoughts on “How about Plans C, D and E?

  1. So true, life has a way of shifting our focus, testing our will, changing our direction. When I was young I thought I’d become a dancer and hike the bruce trail. Well, the dancing took me to California & Australia, but now 25 years later its something I only do when I like a song on the radio. That idea went by the wayside long ago. Now the hiking thing…well, that I’m still working on. As for planning…I have alot of things I can do and I guess you could say I have back-ups. Funny thing is some of my back-up plans would probably make me more money, but not make me more happy. πŸ˜‰

  2. When I was a senior in high school one of my teachers had us make a list of goals and where we wanted to be 5 years after graduation. I wrote that I wanted to have graduated college and be married and starting a family by then. check, check, check. Is my life 20 years after that everything that I hoped and expected? Probably not, but that does not mean it is not good. Many personal goals and dreams have been shoved aside to make room for others. I did not expect to have to put my dreams on hold to raise my family, but that is what happened and new goals came from that. Now I am busy helping my children learn how to set goals and achieve them. I have also started to dig some of mine out of the closet and adapt them to my changing circumstances. I take life as it comes and try not to expect anything. I have found that expectations lead to disappointment. Life is an adventure and if you expect the road to be straight and aren’t prepared for unexpected turns, then you will find yourself in the ditch a lot.

    1. It’s interesting how differently we want our lives to turn out. I didn’t want to marry at all in my 20s and only married at 35, (the first time.) I didn’t ever want kids, as I knew they would demand, as all kids do, a lot of my time and attention and I wanted to focus on my career. Everything has trade-offs…

  3. You are so right. I have at times been completely broadsided (!) by what has happened – a short and very nasty marriage to a narcissist, for instance – but I also don’t regret that experience, or any of them, actually. It’s a cliche, but I’m a better person because of them. Btw, I also just had my left hip replaced – it’s so great!

  4. Thank you so much for linking to my blog! πŸ™‚ I have spent a long time in a fog of cognitive dissonance, and have had a lot of help moving forward out of victimized thinking. The key term is cognitive– because as you state, in life, stuff happens! I formerly perceived that *certain* things would not happen to *me* and I happened to be incorrect, which is much more nonchalance than I previously felt about it.

    Your reflections are so helpful. What I’m hearing is that even the adventurers I admire don’t always get what they want, or strive hard for, but it’s still worth working toward happy dreams, and working with the world we have rather than the one we imagine. Honestly, I’m grateful for my life. There’s a lot of good in it that I had no control over, and I can make the best of that, too. πŸ™‚

    1. The whole problem with being adventurous — as every risk has consequences — is that nothing is going to work out 100% of the time. If it does, frankly, you’re aiming too low and playing it too safe. That’s one reason failure and rejection don’t crush me or many of the people I know and/or admire…it’s pretty normal to “fail” at stuff when you’re aiming high. I’d rather aim high, as I do, at a whole pile of targets at once, and when some of them fall through, as they likely will, well it’s annoying but hardly devastating — because it was just one interesting option among many, not I’LL DIE IF THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN (or if it does.)

      The three events that really shifted my thinking were the end of my brief/miserable marriage; getting pneumonia and dating a criminal. All three taught me to be MUCH clearer and tougher about setting my boundaries and defining my limits.

      Shit happens to ALL of us. It just does.

      1. Those are definitely game-changers in the limits department.
        Scattering energy among projects and goals is a good juggling act to get the hang of, especially for us creative folks.
        As an artist, I was taught to turn failures into something else… or at least to bravely erase what was not quite working.
        Enjoy D.C.! πŸ™‚

  5. Rudyard Kipling said it best,

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    I think when we hold tight to a plan and things about us are changing, then we are doomed to fail, trying to get the best from how things turn out because you never have all the information needed at the time you make a choice. It is always at best a considered guess as to how things will pan out. I try not to moan too much when the wheels fall of the bus, but I am a man so some whining is allowed. Just got to keep plugging away and enjoy the times we have


  6. I read that article too, and I was surprised, first to see Cherry Beach, which I love, but also because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about myself a lot lately. I’m in the process of trying to figure out where I’m going next, and what I’m doing, about so many things, in my more maudlin moments I wonder if it’s really worth planning at all. But the planning gives me hope, and I think it’s valuable if only for that.

    1. If you’re feeling too pooped to even plan, maybe it’s time for a break? You might need some time to just re-charge, get rest, have some un-directed fun. The thing that helps me the most is to share some of my plans with a few smart friends. Their (truthful) encouragement — or helpful questions on the weaknesses inherent in my ideas — helps me think stuff through and know people love me even when I am “unproductive.” I think we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to figure everything out alone and it’s TOO much and it’s not realistic.

      Hoping you feel better soon! Go to the Island and visit my wedding church. It might make you as happy as it made us! πŸ™‚ The Island always makes me feel happy.

  7. For me things, at least writing-wise, have turned out broadly as I’d hoped. Partly because I had a very specific direction, strategy and method for getting there, involving a lot of hard work and very little return, but that’s the industry for you. In the process I cycled through Plans A, B, C, etc etc – on the principle that if one approach didn’t work then a different one might. It generally seems to have panned out. The challenge now is meeting the new and very different writing world offered by the advent of the web. That’s still unfolding. We’ll see. Plan Z, anybody?

  8. I’ve just turned 29 and earlier this year I reflected on how differently my life had turned out to what and where I thought I would be at this age.

    Although I have dealt with some terrible events and some massive failures I know i would not be the person I am right now if it weren’t for them. I feel like I am a stronger and better version of the person I was ‘supposed’ to be by now.

    1. I didn’t start “failing” until I was 30 — moved to a new city and hated it; crashed at a job; married the wrong guy. It was a hell of a shock to “fail.” It’s life. Like you, it left me smarter, tougher and better able to make wiser choices.

      This notion of expectation causes a great deal of suffering!

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