Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.
Not John Lennon
As I get older it’s clear that I still struggle with one of life’s lessons and that’s that making a plan for your life is a loser’s bet.
I’m sure it’s the case with many or most that we make plans and we sometimes make many plans as we go through life. When I was in school, probably junior high, my plan was to go to college. For me, at that age, it was as simple as that: I will go to college. I had no clue what I might go to study, I had no clue how to get there, but I had the plan: go to college.
I accomplished that plan, but there were certainly issues with the execution. Because I was stubborn about where I wanted to go and I didn’t have a grasp on how to look for scholarships or grants, I graduated with a non-trivial amount of student loans. I think if I’d had better guidance in my life, perhaps role models who might have steered me, I might have accomplished the same basic goal but much cheaper.
When my daughter was getting ready for college, because I was participating to provide some of the financing, I encouraged her strongly (which one might read as: told her how it was going to be) to first attend community college for a couple of years and then finish the degree at university. My rationale was that it would be significantly less expensive and the amount that I had to help would go further and she would graduate with less debt.
After I graduated school, my life plan revolved around getting a job and, soon after, learning how to be a parent to my son and a husband to my wife. The part to be learned was how to balance between demands from my job, demands as a parent and the demands of my relationship. Frankly, I don’t know that I did that well finding that balance.
Because I went directly from college to a job and a family, I never had a period in my 20s where I could just focus on me or just focus on a relationship or just focus on my job. My choice, no doubt, but I have enjoyed watching my kids have that time in their 20s to focus on learning how to care for themselves, learn how to work a job, learn how to stand on their own two feet before they commit to a long term relationship where the focus moves from the individual to the couple.
The Life Plan in my 20s was all about learning how to be an engineer and how to be a parent. In my 30s the Life Plan was all about becoming good at my job and trying to survive parenting. My son and then my daughter headed in to their teenage years. They went, as my wife and I say, “To The Dark Side”. The good news is, they came out the other side and I was able to recognize the person who came out that other side as a more mature version of the person who went to the Dark Side. But, inbetween? Yeah, that was tough. That was about survival as much as anything, and hoping that it was all going to work out.
In my early 40s, it was less about the Plan and more about accepting transitions and recognizing that life is about focusing on the 20% of life that I can impact and letting go of the 80% I cannot. I divorced, learned how to not be in a relationship, learned how to be a single parent – generally it was about working out my own personal issues and trying to learn more about me – something I failed to do when many might have in their early 20s.
Then, I met a wonderful woman and partner and the notion of a Life Plan moved from survival to looking forward together. There was still learning how to be an effective partner and how to work with someone who is smarter than me in some very real ways and learning to appreciate that and be proud of that. When we first started out together, it would irritate me to no end when she would make an intuitive leap to a conclusion and I knew she was making a leap and she ended up in the right place and faster than I did. I couldn’t figure out how she did it! Still can’t. I’m pretty sure she threw the first few games of Scrabble to take it easy on my ego, but she won’t admit it. And playing Boggle with her is just a waste of my time. Her brain is wired differently than mine and better than mine in some very real ways. But, I like it!
In the mid-40s, I believed that what I wanted was simply a single, solitary decade where the kids were grown up and out of the house and focused on living their lives and the elders (parents, mostly) were healthy enough and enjoying their lives and I’d get a decade to focus on me and my stuff, including my life with my wife. It’s clear that is simply not going to happen and I’m sure lots of folks could have told me that would be the case. Kids still need parents. Maybe less, maybe differently, but they aren’t done growing up in their 20s any more than I was done growing up in my 20s. And, sadly, the need to help our parents as they get older grows with time. So, the curve of need from the kids extended in to this decade and the curve of need from the parents started sooner than I’d hoped. And, in fact, they overlap on some days.
Maybe I’ll get that decade some day, but it’s not going to be soon and I’m not sure it even matters.
Plans are fine things to help us think about priorities, what we want to do, where we want to go, both personally and professionally. They can help give us structure where we lack it and direction where we need it. Those are all good things.
But, the paths of our life are seldom straight because those paths intertwine with the paths of the people in our lives, and I wouldn’t change that aspect. I certainly wouldn’t wish to not be part of someone’s life because that fact might complicate my own. Part of the joy of having kids includes being part of their lives long past when we kick them out of the house to stand on their own two feet. Same goes for our parents who had us. We do for each as best we can and hope that maybe they’ll do the same for us when we need that help.
Note: According to the Web, the quote from the start is actually from Allen Saunders – 1957.[box type=”shadow”] Note: Images courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitaljourney/ and licensed via Creative Commons
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