I have a friend who once told me I should’ve had a plan B, C, D…Y, and Z.
Generally speaking, I understand backup plans to be nothing more than roads to some specific destination. They’re supposed to be next-in-line alternatives just in case the shortest and toll-free routes don’t get you to that desired point. Operative words being “supposed to be” because oftentimes they have led me somewhere I really didn’t intend to go.
In a recent Facebook post, personal development coach and founder and CEO of The Happy Black Woman, Rosetta Thurman, also perfectly sums up how plan B actually deters and distracts us from plan A. She writes:
You have a plan A, but you're so afraid that it won’t happen that you spend most of your time on plan B. What’s plan A? Plan A is what you really want your life to look like. It’s all your deepest goals, dreams and desires. Plan B is the ‘secure route.’ It’s that job you hate. It’s the city you’ve been ready to leave. It’s all the relationships you’ve grown out of. The problem with plan B? If you spend too much time on it, your plan A will never happen.
The crazy part is sometimes the detour to plan B is so reflexive that it took a minute for me to realize I was lost.
I have this grand vision of being a fulltime writer. I’m crafting captivating stories that form in my head as I cruise down palm tree-lined highways towards a sunny beach that’s adjoined to the pristine and picturesque boardwalk that houses art deco condominiums fit for Architectural Digest. I’m setting up my makeshift office in a fancy juicery where I sip kale smoothies while I pen pieces I’m assigned by editors of mainstream glossies.
Other days I’m developing themes, constructing meaningful dialogue, and working on my best-selling manuscript because one day I’ll get into my dream school and achieve that master’s degree. Then other days still, I’m traveling because I’m actually ‘bout that jetsetting writer life with my professional writer friends who frequent SXSW, BlogHer, Afropunk, and the Essence Festival.
My annual goals reflect writer stuff.
I’ve even familiarized myself with a few neighborhoods where I could live and a few spots where I can hang out to people-watch, shop, and dine, and I’ve spent enough time in that city to know I love it, I fit in, and that I’ll thrive there fulltime.
But that’s where those street signs get twisted.
What I’ve planned is a venture into a new territory. Literally. Whispers of doubt tell me I can’t get there just yet while more vocal ones point out that it’s too far, and I don’t even know anyone out there. I peruse my list of close contacts only to find east coast education and finance professionals. I’ve yet to build that creative network or make new friends. I reluctantly presume my tribe is right, and I pull over to scrutinize my road map. But I get confused.
While I enjoy writing, or rather putting together a story, I have distinct stipulations and limitations. I hate daily writing. I hate scouring the internet for entertainment gossip because I don’t get joy out of reporting someone else’s salacious secrets. There’s also only but so much I can write about myself, and I hate turning everyday experiences into potential criticism and analysis pieces. Unless something resonates with me, sometimes I just want to have a conversation, watch television, or read a book simply for the enjoyment, not for work.
I question whether I have the stamina to even endure a freelancing lifestyle because I hate the daily pitch and monthly receivable processes. I hate that some editors can be so particular that they’ll dismiss your idea because you emailed them at the wrong time of day. God forbid their email notification sounds off at 7:18 p.m.; she’ll blacklist my ass over a technicality. And I also hate that payments are often processed untimely. I’m team biweekly direct deposit.
I fear the unknown, and without personally knowing someone who’s been there to give me some direction, I find myself following side roads that are more familiar to those around me than they are to me. The sad part is they never intersect with writing.
What I do know is that I have a degree in finance. I’ve spent over a decade manipulating numbers, but I’m not too keen on perfunctory tasks and multiple reconciliations. Teaching was the rational suggestion because every city needs a teacher, including the one where I long to live. But the way my college transcripts are set up, I’m not “highly-qualified” to teach English or even reading. My courses place me in the math category. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a math teacher. It’s an in-demand STEM subject. It’s truly necessary. And it was one of my strong subjects: I mastered geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, and AP calculus in high school.
So I convinced myself I could write after the school day is over and during the spring and summer breaks, and I quickly embarked on this journey without fully considering the feasibility of the route.
I applied to two teaching residencies: one that could or could not take me to my target city because I had to rank 10 choices, including two high-needs areas in which I had no interest of ever living and a second program in Baltimore. I got accepted to one in Baltimore, and for some odd reason I actively pursued it and disregarded everything else.
It had been over 20 years since I’d computed a limit or a derivative. I had no clue what a matrix was or how to multiply two matrices or if two particular matrices could even be multiplied without constantly referring back to the rules of sizes and dimensions. I still can’t remember.
I attended orientation and learned that I had to pay for not only the evening graduate classes that were required for my Maryland license, but also the summer training that gives the new hires our student teaching hours. That money would be automatically deducted from my paycheck. I honestly wasn’t feeling the would-be hundreds of dollars debiting my beginning teacher’s salary.
I also had to pass Praxis II-secondary math before I even stepped into the classroom. I had already passed all three parts of Praxis I – math, reading comprehension, and writing – but for the life of me, I still couldn’t achieve the minimum score for Praxis II after two attempts.
Since I generally don’t fail, my mind suddenly became consumed with unit circles, functions, second derivatives, and quadratic functions. Never mind that there would still be classes for me to take, lessons to plan, assignments to grade, and after-school clubs to lead or that those tasks would leave very few hours for me to pen poems, craft short stories, or submit to writing contests so I’d at least have a competitive MFA application. My priority shifted to passing that exam.
I went another whole year down the teacher path. It wasn’t until I was answering short answer questions in preparation for the final interview round with my first-choice residency that I realized I had drifted way off-course. I hadn’t published a single article, completed one short story, or applied for one fellowship. I also didn’t want to spend money I didn’t have to teach math when I never really wanted to teach in the first place. Teaching math was tangential – pun totally intended – to everything I had ever envisioned.
Last month I listened to InStyle magazine’s fashion and beauty editor-at-large, Kahlana Barfield-Brown, talk to podcast host and CurlBOX founder Myleik Teele about how she built her progressive writing career during their “Stick with your Plan A!” episode. Barfield-Brown started as an intern at Suede (an offspring of Essence magazine) and went to another internship at InStyle. But when that internship ended, Barfield-Brown accepted a buyer position with Nordstrom in her hometown of Seattle, mainly because her boyfriend was still there, yet she was determined to work fulltime for InStyle in New York. A week later, she was back on a flight to Manhattan. Barfield-Brown explained that when you go with plan B, it only derails plan A.
Plan B isn’t an extension of plan A. It’s actually an extinction of plan A.
It’s a subconscious belief that I really don’t have the faith to accomplish what I set out to do after all so I formulate this irrelevant, but safe, just-in-case plan.
It’s the detour that dead-ends in the wrong field within the wrong city and state.
It’s taken nearly half of a decade for me to realize that all of that unnecessary effort I put into fulfilling some unfamiliar plan B could’ve just been the fuel I needed to jumpstart a likewise unfamiliar but also purposeful and prosperous Plan A. I still may not know all the different avenues to get to a suitable plan A, but it’ll never, ever mean to put it on the backseat while I actively pursue plans B, C, D…Y, and Z.