I had a 65 year plan for my life. It started at age one and ended at age 65 when I actually wrote that I planned to die of cancer to which I was predisposed. I was always a bit morbid, but in reality I saw it as liberating. I wanted to complete everything that I wanted to complete by age 65 so that then I could die at anytime satisfied in the knowledge that my list of desired accomplishments had been met. Apparently in my teen years I viewed life as a set of chores that must be accomplished before you can be looked upon with admiration from your peers and your posterity. My plan had many milestones. I can remember giving myself a generous portion of time to earn my PhD. I set the year for 2007, because you know, things happen and I shouldn't rush the experience to finish by age 26. I wasn't supposed to meet my future wife until after age 25 and we were to be married when I was 28. Kids would come at age 30 along with the PhD. Fatherhood and career would have the same starting point. Both were the realms in which adults lived their lives and there was sort of an aesthetic beauty to the idea of accumulating knowledge in your twenties and applying it in your thirties. The age of 30 seemed a natural pivot point for life. For some reason I believed that a zero in the ones position of a number held some mystic power that could be tapped through proper planning. During this time it should also be noted that I regularly rotated the canned goods in my cabinets so that all of the labels faced forward. I feel both these activities are related somehow.
But as you will remember this writing began with the statement that I had
a 65 year plan for my life, past tense. Comparing my life to what I had planned, it is hard to shake the notion that I have failed. I have recently turned 32, but I have no doctorate and I am not a professor. I am still working on my masters degree, and doubting that I chose the right path to begin with. I don't write this to complain or to get down on my life, doing so would be an act of megalomania. I have a good life, a wonderful wife and good job. I have good friends and I get to enjoy so many luxuries that are beyond the reach of so many. Only a right jackass could complain about my life, but at the same time others have accomplished so much more it's hard not to compare, even if just for the sake of learning and maybe even a mid course correction.
I have been reading Outliers
by Malcolm Gladwell and one of the characteristics that most often accompanies great success is time. Time spent doing what it is that you will be great at. He even mentioned a rule of 10,000 hours, that most people whoa re great at what they do have spent about 10,000 hours doing that thing. But time is something I have never had much of. When I look at my calendar I see lots of different colors. Blue for work and all of it's meetings and deadlines, red for Fresno State and the classes I'm taking and projects I'm working on, green for the community college I teach at, and black for my personal life. There isn't much black on my calendar. I have multiple calendars, but I am only one person. I do so much at the same time because I feel I have to, but it means nothing gets my full time. I can't devote enough time to get 10,000 hours to do any one thing.
People like to view success as being determined only by the individual effort you put into your pursuits. But usually that work needs to be paired by a few lucky breaks. Like a person lucky enough to be born into a family where they can attend school without working. I didn't have that. I have always had to earn money with some of my hours and pursue academia with the rest. Adding to my time shortage is that darned plan. I want to have the things that a successful 30 year old should have, like owning a home, and so we take on obligations that further strain our time. But still, I stick to the plan. And when you look at it, I have not failed, I just live a lessened version of what I planned. I am close to finishing a masters degree, which is not bad for a poor kid of out of the inner city. I do teach at a college, it's just at a community college as an adjunct, where I teach only a couple courses. The wife is spot on, although she did come a little early for the plan. And the kids can wait, I really only put them into the plan because I felt I should. My life is just a discounted version of what I wanted in the areas I wanted. And yet in other aras it's much nicer than I had planned.
Perhaps the problem is that I had a plan. The best chefs in the world all say the same things about their menus. They change based on what is good and fresh in the market. If they chose the menu and then went out to find the ingredients that were needed to make the things on that menu they might get a lucky break, but more likely they would just get a subpar version of what they wanted. Their quail wouldn't be so plump, their produce would be off season and not as flavorful. I think you are already working out the analogy in your head, so I won't belabor the imagery. Maybe the problem was my approach to life in the first half. I was told I could be anything I wanted to be, perhaps I should have been told that I might be anything so I better go out there are find out what I am going to become. That who we become is more about the outside world than our inner desires. It has as much to do with where we are born and the industries that prevail in that region as it does with what we want to become. It has to do with the friends we happen to meet and the parents we happen to be born to, and the teachers we happen to get and the experiences we happen to have.
For the first 32 years of my life I have been surrounded by fresh ingredients for a great life, but have chosen to follow my plan even if only loosely. But while there are many factors of my life which are under my control there exist many more factors that are not. My life, and I imagine yours as well, are the result of the intermingling of those things we can and can't control. It might be that very successful people know this and look to the uncontrollable parts to see where their effort would best be served. Like that great chef walking through the market, they don't know what they are going to make until they begin. I say this knowing full well the potential despair that will be felt by my generation with the near collapse of our economy. This may be a problem that we cannot recover from completely, and it seems unlikely that things will go back to the way they were for quite some time. Those things which are beyond our control have really changed the landscape of what is possible. Plans are being tossed aside with despair. I thought this might be a good time to reassure myself and maybe others that it is okay to toss out your plans, but that is no reason for despair. I just have to alter my mindset and look externally for my cues rather than internally.