Plan A, Plan B or what’s next?

“The world is filled with people living their backup plans.”

I don’t remember when or where I heard this line in the last year or so – but I remember feeling like it was meant to be both a judgment and a motivating call to action. I couldn’t help wondering – Am I? Am I living my backup plan?

My earliest “plan” – of memory – was “going to heaven.”

I have vague memories from early childhood, when arguing with my 7 siblings, of shouting, “You’re just mad because I have to go to heaven and you don’t.” And saying things like, “I wonder why I have to go to heaven?”

Then one day, in my tween years, when I wanted to write my autobiography (at 12 years old!), I approached my mom. “Can you tell me stuff from when I was really little?” I asked, trying to sound casual and without purpose, as I plopped on the couch next to Mom, who was sitting in her favorite spot, smoking her cigarette and drinking her tea. 

“Well, there’s the time I took you for an ice cream cone; you were about two and a half. You were sitting at one of those outside umbrellas and you looked up into the sky and said, ‘I don’t know why I have to go to heaven. I guess Daddy’ll have to take me to heaven.’ I thought right then and there that I wouldn’t be around when you died. About a year later when I was giving you three girls a bath, Karen announced that she would be a mommy and you would be going to heaven. It creeped me out, for a six-year-old to even think something like that. After that, whenever you’d get mad you’d pout and say, ‘You’re just saying that ‘cause I gotta go to heaven and you don’t.’  It was all just weird. You stopped saying it all just after Dad left.” 

Dad left my mother with her eight children, when I was about 8. At about that time, I began claiming I wanted to grow up to be “just like Sr. Mary Louise,” my 2nd grade teacher.

As I became one of the “tough kids”, being like Sr. Mary Louise was no longer in the cards. I allowed other ideas to float in and out of my “what do you want to be when you grow up” fantasies as my interests changed. But becoming a teacher stuck with me as a thread throughout. And when I didn’t dream of owning a bakery or a food truck, I could easily respond with: I want to be a teacher, get married, and have 12 kids – if anyone asked. For a few minutes in high school, I switched from “teacher” to “counselor.”

I didn’t have any PLANS. I had ideas.

I applied and was accepted to two colleges – and as I waited for PELL grants to come through, I worked at the Social Security Administration. I wasn’t too concerned about my future or how things would turn out. I remember my sister sharing John Lennon’s Watching the Wheels because I didn’t have any real plans.

Then, a few weeks BEFORE my 18th birthday, I visited a friend who’d entered a convent, and decided to do the same!

Long story short, I spent 13 years in the convent. During that time, I’d become “just like Sr. Mary Louise” – I was a sister and a teacher, and my primary intention was to become a saint (i.e., go to heaven).

In the convent, I also attended a culinary program and got an associate’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition – and ran the retreat house kitchens for several years. I baked 40 dozen cookies every Tuesday afternoon and dozens of apple pies EVERY Friday. And I’ve made more cinnamon breads, lemon bars, and crescent rolls than I can count. Not to mention the thousands I’ve fed three meals a day. (Pretty close to owning a bakery and a food truck.) I then returned to school and graduated from the University of Hong Kong to become a Master Teacher and went on to teach for more than 20 years.

I never had 12 kids, but I’ve taught hundreds (if not thousands) and, since leaving the convent, had three wonderful children of my own. And I’ve written a memoir (desire to write an autobiography?)

So the question I’ve been struggling with for the last few months, and wondering since hearing, “The world is filled with people living their backup plans” is, am I?

I never had a specific PLAN and have already lived out the ideas of my youth – my backup plans. I certainly never PLANNED to be a consultant and coach to nonprofits but I do enjoy helping others do good. And, I had the opportunity to give a TEDx talk (another “idea” I’ve had along the way).

SO…Is it so horrible to have no plans? To live your backup plans? Or to just live?

I don’t have answers to these questions – still – I’m feeling an itch I can’t seem to scratch – I can’t help to ask, what’s next?

Are you living your Plan A, your backup plan, or wondering through life asking, “What’s next?”

10 comments

  1. Hi, Janet – I love learning more about you through this post. What a provocative post it is.
    For me, it is hard to discern most of my Life Plans from my Life Back-Up Plans (not to mention my Spur-of-the-Moment-Winging-It Plans) because somehow mine have all merged together. I am extremely grateful that some of my original Plan A’s did not come through. (Plan A #1: I was the only girl in our Grade 2 class who did not want to be a teacher. Reality #1: I spent 32 years as an educator (teacher or Principal) and honestly loved every minute of it. Like most of us, I have a long list of where my original Plan As morphed into new and better plans along the way. For that, I am incredibly grateful!
    Thank you for this very thought-provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So happy you found the post thought-provoking! I think many Spur-of-the-Moment-Winging-It Plans are the best often work out best. I knew my husband about 6 weeks when we got engaged and 6 months when we got married — 25 years ago! And I’m sometimes frightened when I see people unable to “morph” their plans. Thanks for joining the conversation…

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  2. Hi Janet – lovely to read a few more insights into your very interesting back story. I always wanted to be a teacher but my parents thought that university was wasted on girls so I went on to become a dental hygenist because it was a paid training program. I don’t think I ever had a true Plan A after the teaching one. Once I got tired of teeth I just kept reinventing myself with jobs that fitted in around the family. The closest I’ve come to feeling like I’m “just living” and relishing every day is right now. All the drama in the rear view mirror, my family settled and happy, and me with a true sense of contentment. I can’t ask for more than that.

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    • I’m sorry if your Plan A was thwarted – by your parents’ narrow thinking – but I think sometimes we can plan too much. It seems that you’ve certainly created a wonderful life for yourself and your family without a plan! Thanks for joining the conversation…

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  3. I always think it’s amazing when people can recall what they wanted as a child. I’m not sure what I “wanted to be when I grew up” and my best friend from high school can’t recall either (although I recall what she wanted). The closest she could recall was “you wanted to be a good girl”. Not very aspirational. So I’m not sure I ever had a Plan A. I went to college to become an engineer… mostly because I fainted at the sight of blood, which left out being a doctor, and was too much a conflict avoider to be a lawyer. I liked math and science, and it was assumed that I’d be a professional….so engineer. Yes, being the good girl meant meeting expectations…assumptions. Loyalty kept me with the same company for 32 years. Not really any specific plan, more like easier to stay than leave. As I write this, it sounds quite lame. Nothing to write an autobiography or memoir about, for sure! Still I found the quote on Plans intriguing. And it was nice to hear more of your story (I new a bit!).

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    • I hope part of what I was trying to get across in my post is that not having a plan isn’t “lame” — you seem to have created a wonderful life – just by living. Right? 32 years with one company — wow! And the retirement “work” you’ve been doing seems to be grounded in plans that have led to so much growth and – from what I can tell – happiness! You go girl! Thanks for joining the conversation…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Janet! I loved hearing about your childhood memories of going to heaven. I’ve read a number of books about reincarnation and there are a number of people who believe that many children are born with a sense of what it was like prior to be “incarnated” but that it is trained out of us fairly soon. Cool that you have such memories still.

    As for planning–I’m a planner for sure. The thing is, I do my best not to be too attached to my plans so that I can easily switch to plans A, B or whatever should the need arise. I like that kind of flexibility but find having NO plans just feels wasteful or something. And don’t get me wrong, I can plan to do nothing and sometimes I just do nothing cuz I want to relax, but I’m happiest having a sense that I know where I am headed. All of us are different though huh?

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    • Kathy – so interesting about reincarnation – I’ve never thought about it that way! Thoughts to ponder…Since so much of my life I believed I would die before I “did anything,” I struggled to plan. Now, I think it isn’t a habit or a practice. LOL. And I like the idea of plans with flexibility — and relaxation is certainly a great thing to plan!

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  5. Interesting read. Made me think…am I living my Plan A life? Nope!! Probably more like Plan E or F. But I wouldn’t trade it. I wanted to be a doctor as a child…a pediatrician helping children in Appalachia! Then, when pre-med required more of me than I was willing to give, I decided I would marry a doctor and be an artist instead. Neither of those plans panned out. Majored in art education. But wound up working as a librarian. And like Donna said, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Twenty-five year career that I loved.
    I think that is the blessing of life and being human. We can make plans and think we have ‘it’ all figured out and then…BAM, the rug gets pulled out from under us – or maybe we decide to rip up the wall-to-wall carpet of our life which leads to even better things.

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    • Leslie, I so totally agree that rugs get yanked and we rip up carpet — and can create so many wonderful worlds and memories with the new directions. And – hey – I was a high school librarian for a while too! Thanks for joining the conversation…

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