“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?”
Originally published at http://janetmarycobb.com on March 29, 2021.