Sometime around junior high school I began to hear people talk about their Plan. The Life Plans included attending XYZ college or university or a job/career path they envisioned, the vehicle they planned to drive, the number of children they would have. Their confidence shook me a bit because my family seemed more seat-of-the-pants when it came to living. Initially that embarrassed me a bit.
If you’ve seen the movie “My Life in Ruins,” one character asks, “How do you plan Life?!” That line resulted in a kind of benevolent flashback to my childhood. At any family event, some new- or non-family member would approach one of us kids and ask the obligatory question, “And what are you going to be when you grow up?” In response, any older family members within earshot would snort. Not surreptitiously. Full throttle. When the stranger looked surprised, an elder, typically a great aunt, would shake their head, and snap, “They’ll BE adults. How do you plan life?!”
My dad apprenticed as a machinist in his teens because nobody would let him live with them rent-free after he dropped out of high school. The machine shop was the first place that would hire him. He caught on quickly, left the job to enlist during WWII, and eventually bought the business. When I asked him if machinist or business-owner were careers from his Life Plan as a kid, he laughed. Really laughed. “I was just hoping to survive, punk.”
The same with my mom. She took “secretarial science” in high school and accepted the first job offer she received, in a law office. If that did not work out, her backup plan involved joining a contemplative convent and avoiding humans as much as possible. Soon after my parents married, mom quit working outside the home and spent the rest of her life surrounded by humans.
As far as I could tell, my parents and my grandparents, along with all the great aunts and uncles I knew, invested little energy in Life Planning. They took a step or two and made adjustments. Rent a small house. Have a baby. Adjust. Have another baby. Adjust. They worked incredibly hard, took responsibility for themselves and for helping others, and followed some guidelines they’d inherited. My dad’s big Life Rules were (1) pay yourself first (put 10% into savings), (2) next, take care of survival needs (keeping a roof over your head), and (3) pay the damnbills (keep the lights and water on, put food on the table, pay the bare minimum for necessary clothing and transportation, donate to important causes), and (4) whatever’s left can go for Fluff (entertainment, car expenses, eating out or treats, other non-necessities).
Dad practiced what he preached. Whether they wanted something small, like new garden tools, or something big, like a new car, dad put extra money into savings – equivalent to what they might make in weekly or monthly payments. When they had the $$, he paid cash. (I still think that’s amazing, though I know previous generations didn’t have as many choices as the generations starting with Boomers. Still, I wish I had soaked up more of their financial discipline!)
Their more relaxed approach to planning seemed a bit old-fashioned to me as I approached my teens, but looking back, I’m a little jealous of their faith. Mostly I’m jealous because I lived in a mainstream world where Life Plans appeared both Normal and Necessary. However, my Plans (even ones I accomplished) never seemed to work out the way I expected. Failing to achieve the expectations led to suffering. Eventually, I realized when I made difficult decisions, even a “wrong turn” generally did not lure catastrophe to my door.
Recipes flopped. Good bosses left the company. Job offers fell through. Relationships disintegrated. Friends turned into enemies. Family relocated. Pandemics erupted.
Life gets messy and I’m realizing that both the trying-times and the glorious-days usually happen, plan or no plan.
It’s good to have the backup of a downloaded map or a road atlas before a road trip, it makes sense to study hard and to prepare for the rigors of medical school if you want to be a Medical Doctor, and I still believe it’s good to have personal goals as we move forward in life. However, for me, attachment to Big Plans brought me to my knees more than once. And when it started to hurt or the hanging-on felt like a trap of my own making, I eventually learned to loosen my grip a bit, to look at it from another perspective, to be willing to let go or to hold on, to make decisions based on what felt the most loving and for the good of all. I learned to trust that every experience came with possibilities for growth. More on that another time.
Before I create a few goals for each year, I consider:
- what makes me happy and how I can spend more time doing more of that,
- if I can find a way to generate income or good doing what I enjoy, and
- asking for advice, but always weighing my own counsel most heavily (it’s my life).
And even though planning for every contingency is too time consuming, the willingness to adjust goals and hold loosely to expectations has given me a lot of peace…and a few good laughs.
You deserve peace and joy. Whatever your goals (or plans), may you find the path that serves you and those around you with joy. And may you have the strength to make adjustments to keep yourself at peace and your life flowing with ease.
May you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong. You deserve it.
Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you are in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[i] If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[ii] to connect with someone who will have your best interests at heart. Your tender heart deserves respect.
Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis
[ii] If you’re uncomfortable speaking with someone, try reaching out to the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. To speak with someone, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.