Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What's Your Five Year Plan?

In this post, I mentioned that I wanted to get back to the subject of planning, being flexible, and changing direction.

Cliches crop up for a reason, and clearly the the cliche about telling God our plans resonates with most of us. We've all had carefully laid plans mercilessly dashed.

Of course, ultimately it's mercy-full, but we often cannot see that at the time.

When I was a young atheist, working in the business world (hmmm ... sounds like the title of something: "Young Atheism!") I already knew that God enjoyed dashing plans. Of course, I didn't call Him "God" back then. I called Him "fate" or "destiny" or "the forces at work in the universe" or "luck" or "karma" or "my crummy life."

I had never planned to work in the business world, you see, and yet that's where I'd ended up.

Backing up a bit, I hadn't planned to go to college, either, until my senior year of high school. But, since I didn't know what else to do, and I wanted to be an actress, I decided to go major in theater for awhile. Then I added on an English major and a philosophy minor. I stayed as far away from the business people as I could (no offense to you, Business People ... I was a bigoted thing back then.)

So, how did a Theater-English-Philosophy girl end up donning suits, working in business, traveling to New York, and visiting clients, all the while feeling she was an imposter playing dress-up?

I had to eat. And pay bills. And the acting jobs in Omaha, Nebraska weren't exactly rolling in. Neither were the novel-writing or philosophizing jobs.

And, so the fact that I enjoyed not starving forced me to take the first job that came along, and because I had nothing better to do than work hard (okay, my obsessive-compulsive tendencies were also at play, making me ultra-organized) I got promoted and ended up going on those business trips, marveling at things like seeing the Waldorf-Astoria from the inside.

And, while I was working and being promoted and going on business trips, I was asked by a colleague, "What's your five-year plan?"

I almost spat coffee all over my desk because the question sent me into a fit of laughter.

"My five-year plan?" I asked, recovering from the near choking. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, where do you see yourself in five years? Do you plan on working on an MBA? Do you still want to be here?"

Still laughing, I said, "I don't even know where I see myself next week. I certainly didn't plan, five years ago, to be doing this with my life. I can't imagine knowing where I'll be five years from now." And, because I regularly quoted lines from Casablanca, I added, "I never make plans that far ahead."

And, in a way, I still live by Rick Blaine's philosophy. When my colleague asked me where I'd be in five years, I would never have guessed that the answer would be, "In a small town, living the life of a newly baptized Christian."

Or, that five years after that, my answer would be, "I'm Catholic."

Five years after that? "I'm homeschooling now. And -- oh, get this! -- my husband is now Catholic, too."

Nope. Wouldn't have guessed a bit of that when I was sitting in my room at the Waldorf (that was only once, by the way ... business accommodations were usually a bit more humble) enjoying a drink from the fully stocked fridge.

My point is that I can make all the plans my organized little heart desires, but God (as I now call Him) can force me into flexibility at a moment's notice.

So, given that reality, should we stop making plans altogether?

To be continued ....

(ETA: The follow up post is here.) 


Jennifer said...

If I weren't out of coffee right now I would have spit it all over my keyboard - so shocked I was when I read your title. I have never given any thought to long term planning, though it sounds like a really good idea. Wow Karen. My afternoon just filled up with a big bunch of thinking. I can't wait to read DETAILS on your own. And if your in the neighborhood, could you bring by some coffee? My car's in the shop. Or can you tell me if I can re-brew the stuff from this morning? Thanks.

Alice Gunther said...

Karen, I love this post. Thank you for giving me so much to think about.

BTW, my five year plan is to remain in denial that five years from now my oldest will be ready for college.

Karen E. said...

Jennifer, I almost spit out my coffee when I read that you were out of coffee! :-o You can actually rebrew, but it will be weak and almost decaffeinated.

I think the point I was leading up to was that I don't have a five year plan! But, as usual, I'm not sure what my point is. :-) I'll get back to you.

Alice, I just adopted your five-year plan. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled onto this blog...it's so nice to periodically be reminded of the oh-so-many others who kind of stumble thru and bounce into God's grace...without a five-year plan!

Willa said...

My thought is that you keep planning, but that like with everything else, you hold on to the plans loosely and keep in mind what the plans are for.

I always think of St Francis of Assisi, who planned to be a soldier, and planned to build a church. It wasn't that his plans became a joke, or irrelevant, it was that they were fulfilled -- consummated? -- in a unique way.

Karen, like your life, mine has been so full of unexpected, grace-filled twists and turns that I can relate to everything you say. I'm interested in reading the next post, since it sounds like you have more to say on this.