When I was very young, I fell in love with books. And it wasn’t long before I realized I wanted to make books—about the time I realized books were made by people and not delivered from the ether. I mentioned other career goals as a child (teaching, curing cancer—really worked my parents up with that one, they still won’t let it go), but by the time I reached my pre-teen years, “writer” was it.
Of course, life hasn’t quite worked out that way yet, entirely due to my own flaws and failings. I’m working on changing that.
But even if I can turn that around, even if I can do it relatively quickly and successfully (far from a guarantee)—do I still need a Plan B? And how do you find something to play second fiddle to your lifelong dream?
The way the world works, so far as I have come to understand it, you need certain things to live and you need money to get those things. It’s as simple (and complicated) as that. Add things you want, and you need more money. The amount of money you need for the expense of things you want and need (and the things you don’t want, such as medical emergencies and car repairs) depends on the lifestyle you choose and the way the fates align.
But the point is that you need to get a certain amount of money—and you probably want even more than that. All of our careers, all of our lives, are about getting that money. You might also want a family (you’ll need money to support that lifestyle); you might look for spiritual fulfillment or creative hobbies (you’ll need money to fund the time and expenses of those goals); you might want to help others (again, you’ll need money to support yourself around the time that you give to others).
All of life = money. Unfortunately. And, for the foreseeable future, reality.
Choosing a career (and thus the bulk of your life) happens in a few ways. In the best and ideal scenario, you find something you enjoy doing and figure out how to make money doing it. That’s what writing is for me. Perhaps it’s the components of writing—daydreaming, worldbuilding, etc.—but that’s what I want to spend my time doing. But making money at it may be beyond my control even if I can get my act together enough to actually write.
So the struggle of my last few years (and, probably, my next few years) is figuring out another career. Sometimes people just fall into them; you get a job, you get comfortable, you climb the ladder, and there you go. My latest job might have become that except for the fact that the only way to climb the ladder was to invest thousands of dollars and several years into a graduate degree, and I just wasn’t that comfortable.
And sometimes you don’t have the luxury of even being comfortable, let alone happy. You need the money, you find a job, any job, and you work. That’s where I’ll most likely end up, and there’s a respectful dignity in hard work, even if there’s not much joy.
I don’t really want this to devolve into yet another whining-about-having-to-work thing. Welcome to the world, honey, right? I’m enough of a brat already.
My point is that the idea of a Plan B on the side of pursuing your life’s dream… does it help or hurt?
That may seem like an obnoxious question, considering that few people would choose a Plan B if they had an option of Plan A, and so most people have to live in Plan B regardless of whether it helps or hurts. But I do think that there is a part of society which encourages us to play it safe—too safe.
How many people wake up in their forties and fifties and realize their comfortable Plan B is now their only plan? Isn’t that the source of the famed “mid-life crisis?” How many people give up on their dreams before they even give them a chance?
But I want to be clear—this isn’t about people who work hard to support themselves and their families while pursuing their dreams. Sometimes Plan A just doesn’t happen the way we need it to, and there’s no “giving up” in working to live. And that’s something I’m reconciling myself to, because while I dream of Plan A swooping in and being my life (my only life), it probably won’t no matter what I do. And working a Plan B while living a Plan A is still pursuing the dream.
Yet I’m still going to treat my Plan A like a Plan A—like a dream that I am actively pursuing and pouring all my energy into. I’m not going to cave in to some external pressure to get a normal job and live a normal life while letting my dreams wither and die within me. I’m going to take chances and be a little stupid to live the life I want. I’d rather give it everything I have and fail than wake up one day and realize I never really tried.
There’s no shame in a Plan B life (there’s no shame in any life, truly). But it’s only a Plan B if there’s still a Plan A, and that’s something I’m going to keep in mind.