Stick it to the plan

Two lane blacktopWhere am I going
How do I get there
What should I bring along
Are people kind there
Is peace of mind there
Will I finally belong
Cause you know ships sail their courses
And heroes ride horses
They know where they belong
But I travel in circles
Quickly to nowhere
Singing my unfinished song

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself – Well… How did I get here?
Once In A Lifetime

From the moment we are born, everything conspires to fill our heads with the word “should.” Our parents, the environment, and all of the other people how come and go in our lives essentially program what we know, who we are, and even influence that which we desire.

Boys like blue and play with trucks. Girls like pink and play with dolls.

At some point, though, after enough growth, the individual can exceed the sum of their parts. They can question anything they want about their own life. Is the religion of my parents, the religion I’ve known my whole life until now, is that the religion for me?

As you get older, you want things. Perhaps you want a flashy car or you want to get pregnant and have baby and/or rush out and be married. Do you ever stop to wonder, “Why do I want these things? What is it about these particular things?” Is it truly what I want or just the predictable output of the programming I’ve experienced since the moment I was born? How much is really me and how much is just random chance because I ended up in this part of the world and with these specific people?

You may find yourself getting out of school and taking one of two common paths – Jumping right into more school or going directly to work.

Perhaps you’ll become independent and established and have your own home or apartment. You’ll populate it with possessions and begin taking on financial obligations and debt that make regular income a very important part of your life. The more you owe, the more you have to work. Unless you are one of the few to be independently wealthy, that means you’ll be working a full-time job, perhaps more. The more you own, the more you work, and the more you want, and the more you consume. You may find yourself in a cycle where it becomes very hard to break free.

At some point you may realize you aren’t doing what you want at all. You might be doing what everything but. You may have been deceived by the should.

Lately, following the death of Steve Jobs, there has been a lot of blather about being that square peg that refuses to be placed in that round hole. Be different. Be unique. Be someone who changes the rules and changes the world. Refuse to conform. Write your own destiny and never compromise, never do what they tell you.

I can’t help but wonder. How easy is that? What would that world look like? What if seven billion people collectively said, “You know what? I’m going to do what I want. I won’t let anyone else tell me what to be.”

I don’t imagine that world would have very many ditches.

So what is your life path plan? Besides finishing high school and going to college and/or getting a job, what are these other paths? I see kids these days dropping out of high school and not getting jobs. They just sort of flounder, either living off mom and dad or bouncing from place to place, using it up, then landing somewhere else.

I don’t imagine they put a lot of thought into their future or any sort of planning on where they want to go. They just sort of exist. But what if they tried? They are actively rejecting the traditional life paths that most of us took, so what are their options to go forth and be different?

In the movie Into The Wild (based on true story) a young man graduates from college as a top student, gives away his possessions, donates $24,000 to charity and then hitchhikes to Alaska. Now that is a person decisively making a choice and deciding what they want. True, in the end, it didn’t work out quite so well, but the boldness of the choice is breathtaking. Could I do something like that? I highly doubt it.

Man sitting on a park benchAnother year has passed me by
Still I look a myself and cry
What kind of man have I become?
All of the years I’ve spent in search of myself
And I’m still in the dark
‘Cause I can’t seem to find the light alone

Sometimes I feel like a man in the wilderness
I’m a lonely soldier off to war
Sent away to die – never quite knowing why
Sometimes it makes no sense at all

I can understand that some kids may want to reject traditional dogma and decide their own fates. But how many possible life paths are out there? What is it they can really do to achieve what they want? If they reject the traditional 9 to 5 what will they be doing instead?

I can respect a non-traditional choice as long as it is conscious, not drug-induced, and makes sense on some damn level.

I really want to know.

13 responses

  1. I am not qualified to answer your question. I’m over the age limit and a little outside your target audience with this post. Plus, I am not a gerbil. 🙂


    1. The part I find so perplexing is how something like a gerbil could have ever come from me, since I am a gazelle of cheetahs and shiznit. Damn peculiar if you ask me.

      I think you should have tried harder. Here are some life plans I’ve thought of so far:

      * Run away and join the circus
      * Career as paid political plant in angry crowds
      * Flash mob consultant
      * Professional medical marijuana consultant
      * Join the military
      * The Waltons (never leave the house you grew up in then inherit it)
      * Donate body to medical research early
      * Drop out of high school, go on food stamps
      * Finish high school, go to college
      * Finish high school, go to work
      * Marry someone rich
      * Win the lotto
      * Inherit a lot
      * Professional moocher (#1 path of industrious gerbils)
      * Sail away in the merchant marine
      * Unemployed poet
      * Starving artist
      * Ethicist/moralist
      * Go to the seminary/become a nun
      * Try to become America’s Next Top Model
      * Plasma donation specialist (unless on drugs)
      * Can/bottle collector
      * Online survey completion tech

      Any I forgot?

      News from the grapevine is that my son the gerbil was discharged prematurely from his job (aka “fired”) as a part-time dishwasher at a local restaurant. I’m impressed. He outdid himself. I thought he couldn’t aim any lower!


      1. I didn’t’ realize you were serious about a list of life plans. I just thought you were bitching…as usual. 🙂

        I will take this blog post and raise you a blog post of my own but with a twist. Stay tuned.

        Side note: your list is really long. I’d start working on it immediately. If you want some help, I’ll take “win the lotto” and “inherit a lot.”

        Your bestest friend in the whole world,


  2. My, aren’t we both waxing philosophical today?

    I’ve been thinking similar (and highly controversial) thoughts as I pass by the tents in McPherson Square every day or when I happen to get home in time to catch the late news and glimpse the occasional occupy-er’s title: e.g., “freelance journalist.”

    Where can I sign up to be a freelance journalist? That’s what I’d really like to do.

    P.S. I was listening to Shawn Colvin while reading your lyrics. They went together nicely. Maybe you two crazy kids should collaborate.


    1. Freelance journalist. Brilliant. That would be a wonderful life path. I think it’s pretty easy to do, too. I spent $80 on a journalism textbook and I even have a copy of the AP Style Guide from my old newsletter editing days.

      I don’t think you sign up to be a freelance journalist. You just do it. I did that for something like six solid years. It was hard work, thankless, but fun.

      I’d never heard of Shawn Colvin before. I just listened to Round of Blues and loved it. Thanks for the 411 on that! 🙂


      1. To me, Shawn’s a goddess. I especially love her cute little hiccup-y thing. I’m sure she would not appreciate that.

        Freelance journalist would be a groovy gig, except for the lack of health insurance and retirement plan.

        I suppose that explains the tent city.


  3. BD, that’s the trouble with being a jack ass of all trades. You never know when I’m serious.

    I’ll take a double helping of “win the lotto,” too. But, actually, I wasn’t thinking about a plan for me. I was more worried about the aimless youngsters out there. I’ve already given up on myself.


  4. Hrm, well. I never had a life plan per se. I knew I should stay in school because that seemed like a good way not to end up a crack whore. Once at uni (which I paid for), I worked like a mofo and graduated head of my class. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have worked so hard, not been head of the class, puked less from stress and networked more. I didn’t need to be #1 to keep my scholarships. Couldn’t tell me then, though.

    Now? I pretty much wait for my company to fold. LAME, I know. I’ve been here my entire adult life, minus 2 years of teaching secondary school. I don’t want to be a hs teacher and I don’t really want to work as a graphic artist anymore. I reckon some kind of tech or medical position guarantees job placement better, so when we finally close, I’ll look to those.

    As a kid who raised herself and had to be responsible for even the adults around me, I may not be inspiring but I sure as hell do the dishes. I don’t get people (like Brother) who cater to their kids, even when there’s no money. They don’t even EXPLAIN there’s no money, they lie to cover it. How are those kids supposed to magically become responsible by age 16 if they never needed to clean their own clothes, just pitched a crying fit when their favorite sweater wasn’t clean? Or pitched a fit about icky school meals (that are NOT icky in this case), which are SECRETLY only .40 a day because their parents don’t make enough money? They whine for better when they can’t do better. They pitch a fit and say, “Fine, I won’t eat.” They need to know THAT is what you get because THAT is all there is money for, now eat it or at least drink the fing milk.”

    But parents don’t want their kids to “know.” They don’t want their kids to ruin a few loads of clothing, so they don’t have them take care of it. If a kid CARES about what he’s wearing or what she’s eating, they can know how it ends up on their plate or in their dresser drawer.

    So there!

    It’s easy: if they were “forced” to be responsible, they may not be stellar but they’d tie their own shoelaces.


    1. You’re preachin’ to the choir. Of course, I think I was spoiled rotten as a kid which may have a lot to do with how things turned out for me. I didn’t get certain realities about life until I was already a grandpa.

      Perhaps it is my experience talking, but I find it sad to watch youngsters flounder with no real aim or purpose in going after what they want, even if that turns out to be a non-traditional life path. Figure it out and get with it. Don’t just float like a feather on a breeze like Forrest Gump and shit.

      We all have parents and they’ve all shaped up with quirks in one way or another. At some point we get beyond that or we don’t.


  5. How many people toss away “the norm” and end up like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? I can tell you it’s pretty damn small. There’s a reason society is the way it is — it’s that it works for many more people than it doesn’t, especially in creating an environment in which to successfully raise young (though you can make some arguments that the balance of that in our current society is beginning to tip back into the other direction).

    Going your own way is fine — even admirable — if you don’t mind being poor, or homeless, which I would think is a pretty significant possibility.

    Question: if one chooses to eschew society and ends up broke and homeless, should society turn around and pick them back up with welfare, etc? That is, if you opt out, does society owe you the “no biggie” of letting you back in when you change your mind?

    For what it’s worth, my cousin left home at 18 and joined the circus. He was a poop-scooper and then became an animal trainer. He spent some years drugged out in Venice Beach and then became a roofer in Texas and Colorado. He met a woman, moved to New Mexico, and built his own house. He looks older than he is, and his life hasn’t been easy by any stretch, but really, he didn’t turn out so badly.


  6. What I’ve told my son the gerbil is, “You don’t have to graduate and go to school or graduate and get a job. You get to decide what you want. If you want something else – something weird, something different – that’s fine. Just figure out how to get it.”

    All evidence in so far indicates my gerbils don’t want a normal 9 to 5 existence. But they aren’t moving in any other direction, either. It’s the squandering I find objectionable and, methinks, so will their future selves.


  7. I went to college because it was expected of me. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I “grew up” so I just majored in English cause I liked to read. I graduated no more prepared for life than when I went in. It was pretty much four wasted years and a lot of wasted money. If I had it to do all over again I would have taken the money (college fund set up by my grandma) and run. Traveled around the country, gone to Europe, volunteered at an animal sanctuary, anything.


    1. No pressure but if you want to swim in the Olympics you have to decide by the age of two.


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