Imagined Plan B Futures

I’m a dreamer. I make manic lists of all the places I want to go and the things I dream of learning—anything from cello to Portuguese to beekeeping. I try to separate the careful planning and pursuit of goals from this other part of my personality—the part that wakes up in the middle of the night desperate to watch sign language tutorials or book a trip to Nepal.

Whether this sign is full of potential or desperately terrifying is all a question of attitude. (Photo taken Summer 2013)

Whether this sign is full of potential or desperately terrifying is all a question of attitude. (Photo taken Summer 2013)

I don’t know if these inclinations are helpful, motivating forces, or if they will slowly drive me nuts. At least I’ll have a written record of the process, either way.

Goals are on the other end of the spectrum: they are the thoughtful, considered futures that incorporate the things I love with the things I’m good at, and could imagine pursuing for the long sweep of my life and career. These are things like writing, public speaking, education, and social justice work. They are deep passions that can someday fall into a career pattern and will be continually renewed by new skills or interests. The activities that draw my energy in the day-to-day push me toward these future goals.

But sometimes the short-term details are a bit hazy.

A couple of years back, I began to develop my “Plan B” list. It started when I first considered pursuing a Master’s degree: that became my “Plan A” and I began accumulating the various credentials, test scores, and advisers that I required to make the decisions and to be successful as a Master’s student. But early in my senior year of college I wasn’t 100% certain that I wanted to pursue that Master’s, and I also wasn’t sure I would get in.

I began to develop a spectrum of other options: of alternate plans for the years following graduation. I started talking them over with people, and finding ways that they fit within my larger life goals. They had to do with skills to be gained and experiences to be had. They were ideas I loved in that manic, dreamer side of my personality, but also satisfied my more methodical, practical self.

This "Plan B" list has been a mainstay of my life ever since.

I maintain my “Future Plan B” options with full daydreaming passion. But I also cultivate them as possible stepping-stones to the future, if my Plan A should ever change course or stop being viable.

Here are some of mine:

  • Build a freelance writing business that’s scalable to full-time work if needed.
  • Teach English in another country.
  • Seek cost-of-living supported interning with one of the organizations I’ve been involved with in the past (my favorite two options currently are No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes and working with Sister Helen Prejean).
  • Be a volunteer with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
  • Work with an adult education/volunteer coordination program in Guatemala.

These are only some of my longest-standing dreams. Some are overlapping—the freelance writing is already a partial reality, and could dovetail nicely with a year WWOOFing or working with an NGO.

Two directions: a decision at sunset. (Photo taken in Nogales, Mexico at the border of Nogales, Arizona. Spring 2009)

Two directions: a decision at sunset. (Photo taken in Nogales, Mexico at the border of Nogales, Arizona. Spring 2009)

My particular “Plan B Futures” have to do with me and what I would most love to do if I was suddenly faced with an “…OK, what now?” moment. Perhaps, if it came down to it I would do something far less adventurous. But I’m actually kind of living one even as we speak—working as a writer/researcher for a multimedia production company in Dublin. This is not where I imagined I would be three years ago. It’s probably not where I will be in another three. But it’s perfect for the moment.

This list, for me, is a way of taking pressure off. It’s a way of knowing that I have options—that my current situation is a choice and what happens next is up to me.

Any of these options, if undertaken for a season or a year, could push me toward my desired long-term futures. They would be fodder for a better understanding of the world, for networking and fiction writing, for another year of deep engagement with the world. My Plan B options stick with me in the back of my mind as great alternatives to my current day-to-day. I have others, some more fantastical and some less adventurous. The list comes back to something I mentioned in another recent blog post:

You cannot lose time. You can only gain experience.

The moment I most needed this Plan B list was when I was flying to Washington DC to interview for the Mitchell Scholarship. On that long flight I did almost nothing to prepare for the interview ahead—I didn’t practice a speech or go over my notes or imagine how I would answer any particular question. The time for that was long past anyway. Instead, I wrote out in great detail what I could accomplish in each of these Plan B alternatives, how I could make them happen, and what they would mean for my futures. I planned out just how I could move to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and the work I could do there. I listed out the steps necessary to apply for a job working on immigration issues on the US/Mexico Border and the various connections I could call upon to maximize what I could offer the organization and what I could gain from that experience.

All strictly hypothetical daydreaming (but constructive daydreaming) while heading to Washington DC for the biggest interview in my life. By the time I landed, I almost hoped I wouldn’t get the Mitchell so I could have that time for my alternate plans...OK well maybe that's overstating it. More accurately, by the time I was interviewed, I could see clear alternate paths that meant the stakes weren't so high. I knew that I could build remarkable and exciting year, regardless of the decision by the selection committee. This is a remarkable freedom in that circumstance.

As a college student, you need to think always about how you are building to everything that happens next in life. How will you use this summer? Your year after graduating? What combination of joyful engagement and strategic action can you dream up? What do you need to do to make it happen? Who do you know who could help?

Having these dreams for alternate paths makes me feel more happy and fulfilled in my day-to-day. It allows me to imagine all kinds of action and to feel confident in my current choices. And I take steps to maintain open doors to these other options. Perhaps someday I’ll need them, and if so I imagine the disruption will be a productive one.

So. What’s your Plan B imagined future?


If you liked this post, you might also enjoy related posts "The Gap Year," "A Disruption," and "Inventing an Internship."

Please share any thoughts here! What could you imagine for six months or a year of changed circumstances? Where might they take you? What would expand your mind and broaden your opportunities? What good might it do to have a list like this in the back of your mind?

Or, alternately, do you think this whole thing is a bad idea in general? Please let me know!