Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Plan B

Today is Wednesday, April 10, 2013.  

This quote from Dolly Parton caught my eye today.  I believe it is a short version of something Jimmy Dean once said, and I suspect that even Dean probably got it from someone else.  Businesses call it contingency planning.  Most people call it a backup plan, or Plan B.

There's a lady online who has created a coaching business where she helps people create a Plan B for their lives.  With the high incidence of divorce and job loss these days, it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear that she has many clients.  

She posed some questions on her site that I thought would be good to answer for myself.  If you've been thinking that you might need a Plan B in your life – or maybe a Plan C or Plan D, I invite you to answer these questions for yourself.

1.  Are you where you thought you'd be?   To this question I must answer a resounding NO. I have to qualify that, however, by saying that I've never had a terribly clear plan for my life.  In high school, as I've mentioned before, I had a vague idea of being married and having several kids.  Somewhere in there I would also be a teacher, but it never crossed my mind to think how I would make that happen.  Frankly, for a girl who had only one or two dates in high school, it was pretty unrealistic of me to think of myself being married in the first place, but then, high school girls are not known for being realistic. 

2.  Are you doing what you thought you'd be doing?  If you mean did I think I'd be a teacher, well, yes, I've always wanted to be a teacher, and have never really thought of myself in any other profession.  And at one point, I knew I'd also retire.  I just didn't think I would retire when I did, and, as I've already mentioned on this blog, I had no particular plan for my retirement years, either.  I did want to do some writing, and I'm doing that now, but I never really considered writing a blog on a daily basis.  So maybe my answer to this should be both yes and no.

3.  Has your life gone "according to plan"?  What plan?  Seriously, I've never made a long-term plan in my life.  I have more or less bumbled from one thing to the next.  I am in awe of people who planned anything in life, especially if they were able to execute their plan.  I've known people who planned their university academic career so that they could land a particular type of job and women who planned their weddings – and I'm thinking right now of a woman who actually bought a dress, hired a caterer and booked a venue before she even had a boyfriend!  She managed to snag a really nice guy, too, just in time.  He thought it was cute that she had the whole wedding planned.  But they're divorced now – bet she didn't plan on that.

4.  Are you happy with your life?   I feel another yes-and-no answer coming on.  My life is nothing to write home about, but certain parts of it I am content with. I'm happy that I had a pretty good run as a teacher.  I think I influenced some kids positively, and made some contributions not only to the various buildings I worked in, but also to the district as a whole, as well as to my specific area of expertise teaching English as a Second Language.  Could I have done things better, or at least differently?  Oh, sure, but for the most part I don't regret anything I did, and I can say with some pride that I never got to the point of being totally burned out.  I always gave it my best shot. 

I'm also glad that I stepped onto a path of conscious spiritual growth when I did. Looking back, I see that it wasn't an abrupt thing at all, but a very gradual process of waking up that took at least 20 years.  Now I can see that the experiences I had before actually stepping formally onto the path were necessary ones for my spiritual unfoldment.  All in God's time, as they say.  

In the matter of friends, I think that I have some pretty fabulous friends.  They just don't live close by me, and in any case, I haven't ever spent a great deal of time socializing with anyone.  My friends and I keep in touch and socialize when we can, and I am proud to say that, because of my membership in certain Yahoo groups, Facebook, and Meetup, I have friends from every corner of the globe, both male and female.  I have single friends, friends in various types and stages of relationships, married friends, divorced friends, and widowed friends.  I have gay friends, straight friends, and even some friends who are bisexual.  I can even name one friend who is a cross-dresser – happily and conventionally married, by the way.  I have friends of all political persuasions and spiritual paths.  I love the diversity of my friends, and have gained much from them.  Although I wish I had more friends who lived nearby and had time to socialize – now that I have time for that – I can't complain.  After all, through the miracle of social media, I hear from a great many of my friends each day and am able to follow their lives and their interests.

It is the area of relationships that my life seems to have been a bit of a disaster.  Once again, I have to stress that some of what I've experienced has been for my growth as Soul.  Still, I feel that it would be nice to have someone special in my life, and I'm trying to be as open as possible to that.  It seems there are a lot of men out there around my age who are feeling the same way.  I just haven't found a kindred spirit yet.  This part of my life I'd have to say is one that I'm not really so happy with, and  yet I also have to admit that I'm OK being single, and have come to appreciate having time to myself.  If I ever get into a relationship, I will have to make sure to create some time alone each day, or I will probably go mad.

5.  Are you feeling stuck?  Yes, although I'm aware that things are changing, slowly.  I'm very gradually creating the life I want to lead now that I'm retired.  I wish I knew a how to get my book published, but I also know that it's not quite ready.  It will be, soon, though.  When I hear stories of how long it took others to get their books written and published, I feel a bit better, especially when I hear of an author who didn't get published until he or she was in their sixth decade of life.

6.  Does something need to change?  Yes, definitely.  In fact, things are changing as we speak.  But not necessarily according to any long-term plan.  Maybe that's what's bothering me.  No long-term plan.  I sometimes wonder if that's even necessary, given the fast pace of change in the world today.  Certainly, if one does have a plan, it has to be reviewed and altered as one goes along.  I guess that's why I was drawn to the quote about trimming the sails.  I do need at least a destination, even if I don't end up there, because if you don't know where you want to sail, then how would you know which way to trim the sails?  These days I'm much more comfortable with making changes than I have been in the past, so I guess it's not really important to make an iron-clad plan that can't be altered.  Rather, it's more important for me to set a general direction and then make course changes.  If at some point I choose a new direction based on where I have already been, then so be it.

There's another business online that sells a whole package of online tools for managing change.  Some of the things in their "toolkit" include: Leadership Skills, Team Management, Strategy Tools, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Project Management, Time Management, Stress Management, Communication Skills, Creativity Tools, Learning Skills, and Career Skills.  On reflection, I can see that all of these things could be as useful for me as they are for those who are in the midst of their working lives. I'm going to take a brief look at each of these, taking the terms at face value, without necessarily referring to what the source web site has to say.

1.  Leadership Skills:  When it comes to my own life, I need to be a leader, not a follower.  I'm no longer interested in following the crowd, following convention, following fashion, or being labeled as "normal" in society.  I feel the need to step up to the plate, and be the captain of my own ship, to mix metaphors a bit.  I realize that if I don't make decisions and execute them, then others will make decisions for me; life will go on, and I'll be swept along with the current.  Been there, done that.  Now it's time to lead.  From here on in, I will be paying attention to ways in which I can bring some of my dreams to fruition, even if the result is not exactly what I originally envisioned.

2.  Team Management:  Here, we're talking about interpersonal skills.  That means making and maintaining friendships, and reaching out to others in general.  It means making an effort to keep up my end of the friendship with those people who are positive and supportive, and letting go of relationships that are going nowhere.  At one point, I had access to this one neat quote – I think it may have been in a professional magazine for teachers.  Anyway, it listed the types of people everyone needs to have around them.  The list included someone who agrees with you, someone who challenges you, someone who supports you, someone who encourages you, someone who motivates you, someone who defends you, someone who admires you, someone who looks up to you, someone who mentors you, someone who stimulates you, someone who entertains you.  The article stressed that some people in our lives fill more than one role, but that no one person in our lives can fulfill every one of these roles.  I also remember having dinner with a teacher friend who told me bluntly that her husband was a good and decent man, a great father and excellent provider, but he was not good at dealing with her on an emotional level, and she'd become much more appreciative of her women friends, because they filled her needs in a way that her husband simply couldn't.  She said that her husband was aware of her feelings, and that he seemed relieved that she no longer asked of him what he couldn't really give her.  She also realized that some of her husband's friends filled some of his emotional needs that she wasn't willing or able to satisfy. I thought it was very practical of her, and I began to appreciate my friends for their various strengths.  Everyone needs to assemble a "team" of people around them who can fill their various needs for love, companionship, security, excitement, or amusement.

3.  Strategy Tools:  I'm assuming that this term has something to do with knowing what kind of personality we have, and the strengths and weaknesses inherent in our personality styles, as they relate to gathering, processing, and acting on information about the world.  In Meyers-Briggs terminology, I am INTJ: Introverted (as in introspective), Intuitive, Thinking (analyzing) and Judging (I like to act on information and come to decisions.)   In Kiersey temperament terms I am a "Rational" and within that group, a "Mastermind."  (And no, I'm not working on a secret formula to take over the world.)  In Gregorc terms, I am "Concrete Random."  I am task-oriented, efficient, and detail-oriented.  I like to think and do.  I prefer to be practical, and I like to make things work.  A lady who came to one school where I worked to tell us about our Gregorc type made an analogy of the four types in terms of putting together a bookshelf, which I really appreciated, having put together a bookshelf on my own a couple of times.  The Concrete Sequential people read the directions first.  They read direction number 1 and do it, then read direction number 2 and do it.  My mother is like this.  People who are Abstract Sequential like to look at the Big Picture first, so they read all the directions to the end and look at the picture to figure out what the end product is like before going back to the beginning and following directions in order. Sequential types always manage to make a perfect bookshelf.  Abstract Random types are highly creative, and they might be able to design a bookshelf, but they can't put one together, so they get someone else to do it.  Finally, Concrete Random people throw away the directions, which they can't relate to, and lay out the pieces, then put the bookshelf together by trial and error.  When they're done, they have a perfectly good bookshelf, but they always seem to come up with a few extra screws.  That's me. My dad is like that, too. 

4.  Problem Solving:  I'm definitely a problem solver.  I like to use the trial-and-error approach, and I tend to solve problems as I go in a hands-on way, rather than doing a lot of planning first.  I like original and creative ways of solving problems and appreciate the opportunity problems offer me in terms of learning.  I struggle with meeting deadlines and working within limitations. I hate keeping records and other types of paperwork.  I have trouble prioritizing and accepting the situation when change is not possible.  I solve problems my way, and don't feel the need to do things the way others do.  I'm independent and self-directed.  My competition is with myself, rather than with others.  I generally have several projects going on at once.  I fear structure and am notorious for not reading the directions before plunging into an activity.  

5.   Decision Making:  This is one thing I'm good at. I can't say that I always make the right decision, but at least I'm comfortable once a decision has been made.  I do have trouble choosing between two things, so I end up doing things like buying two different shades of fingernail polish, like I did just the other day, because I can't settle on only one.  If I have a choice of doing two things, and can find a way to do both, then I will do both.  

6.  Project Management:  It's funny, but I can manage a project pretty well when it involves other people, and I have had several experiences in my life where I successfully headed up a team of people to produce something.  I have several "projects" in mind here at home that are in various stages of completion.  That's one thing I'm not so good at: completing projects.  I often put a project on the back burner for months before finally finishing it.  I guess that's OK, as long as it is just an art project, but my book project, for example, seems a bit stuck.  I will have to work on this one.

7.  Time Management:  I have to say that I'm much better at this than I used to be, but this is also an area that I need to work on.  I'm much better at taking steps in advance to plan for an event, whether it is moving from one place to another, taking an extended trip, or leading a book club for kids.  I'm good at making lists, and these days, I'm much better at actually crossing things off my lists. 

8.  Stress Management: Now that I'm retired, I have much less stress in my life, and this has been such a blessing. Now I have the time to get as much sleep as I need, and I can afford to do things I really enjoy, such as listening to music, playing little games on the Internet, chatting with friends on Facebook, and watching the occasional movie on DVD.  I'm also better at getting quickly into meditation and stepping back when I feel that my emotions are beginning to overwhelm me. 

9.  Communication Skills:  In terms of expressing ideas, this is something I excel at.  I have a deep and wide vocabulary, and am not afraid to use it.  I have learned over the years to communicate fairly simply and clearly, perhaps because of my extensive experience in communicating with those whose native tongue is not English.   In terms of expressing my feelings, I'm not so successful.  I tend to keep my feelings to myself, sometimes reasoning that people should be able to figure out for themselves how I must be feeling, other times reasoning that it doesn't matter, anyway, because it won't solve the problem.  I realize that some people actually appreciate knowing how another person is feeling so that they can modify their behavior accordingly.  This is another thing I will have to work on.

10.  Creativity Tools:  This could mean anything, and I have no idea what the company who created this phrase had in mind, but to me, creativity tools include a sense of fun, a willingness to be flexible and spontaneous, a willingness to suspend judgment and a willingness to think out of the box and take risks.  I'm a little better at some of these things than others, but in general I consider myself fairly creative.  The one area I haven't been too creative in is the area of relationships, though.  That will be something to consider in the days ahead.

11.  Learning Skills:  This is another one of my strong points.  I love to do research and learn new things.  I'm a hands-on learner, which is why I was able to learn to use a computer when many others my age were afraid to start.  There are still some areas of technology that I have let pass me by, but I am confident that I can get with the program if I have to.  These would include learning to use an iPod, a smart phone (probably an iPhone, given my fondness for Apple products), and maybe an iPad, as well.  We'll see. 

12.  Career Skills:  When I saw this last one, I thought, "Oh, I don't need to think about this one; my career is over."  But is it?  Once a teacher, always a teacher, but I am beginning to think of myself as other than just a teacher.  It's high time that I started thinking of myself as a writer, and considering that my career.  It may not be a moneymaker right now, but it definitely has potential.  We'll see where this leads. 

These are the elements from which I will have to create Plan B.  Never having had a plan for retirement, perhaps I should call it Plan A After the Fact, but I guess Plan B is as good a term as any. :-)

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