Sunday, August 21, 2011

Backup Plan

Michael Thompson/
When I was starting my career as a writer many moons ago, my father suggested that I have a backup plan. I suppose he believed that my chances of supporting myself with writing alone were iffy, so he suggested that I get my teaching degree.  Well, many boring (to me, anyway) education classes later, I got not only my certificate to teach English at the secondary school level, but also my permanent certification which required me to take even more boring (to me, anyway) courses at the graduate level. I was fully prepared to institute my backup plan, should I ever need it. Thankfully, however (for myself as well as for the students I might have had), that certificate is still sitting somewhere in the back of a closet. I have never used it.                       
            So! My question is, are backup plans really so necessary, or are they somewhat of a hindrance, causing us to not give our “all” to our dreams? If you truly believe that you are going to succeed at something, do you really need a backup plan? And if you honestly trust that you are going to fulfill your intention to do something, then why do you need to have some other plan hovering in the back of your mind?
            I suppose, for practical reasons, it’s sometimes good to have a backup plan in place. For instance, if you’re invited to dinner and you are a vegetarian, do you have a plan for what you will do if the hostess comes out carrying a big, greasy lamb stew? Or, what will you do if a huge, fallen maple tree has just blocked the road you’re taking? Or, what might you do if you were planning to wear your white skirt but when you take it out of the closet you realize it’s been eaten to shreds by moths? And what if you really want to go to Harvard, but Harvard rejects you? Does that mean that you should just throw up your hands or should you try getting into the community college around the corner?
            OK, you may have backup plans for all of these scenarios. But do you need a plan for what you’ll do if you really want to be a musician, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or if you want to learn how to ride a horse or play the piano or if your heart’s desire is to climb a particular mountain?
            I set an intention to become a writer when I was five years old, and despite my dad’s well-meaning advice I never wavered from that path. No, I didn’t get rich and famous, but I have been able to pursue my dream on many different levels, and sometimes I wonder if I hadn’t been so dogged in my pursuit, if I had ambled off in another direction, or taken a few years off writing to teach, would I ever have gotten back on track?
            In any case, I’m not advising my kids to plan backup careers, even if it can be difficult to get jobs in the fields of architecture, psychology, and computers (especially in the current economic climate). If they ever become vegetarians, however, I will advise them to keep some nuts or granola bars in their pockets!

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