I just do stuff and things happen. Is that OK?

I got where I am just fine. I'll get where I'm going just fine. But everybody wants me to have a plan!

Published July 13, 2005 11:36PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I was raised by idealist hippies on a goat farm. When I was school-aged, I would come home directly from school to spend the evening with the family. I never did after-school activities with friends, and I was perfectly content.

By the time I was college-aged, I was interested in music and exhibited a gift for computers. But although I was academically successful, I was a drifter at the university, taking two years of music before realizing I was gay and taking a year of discovery before landing in animation. Finally, after almost six years at school with no degree, I was burnt out, so I took a job that was offered to me in a big city three hours north.

In the city, I found a wonderful boyfriend and we've been together for almost 10 years. He's motivated, a real go-getter, and we make a great team. He's the idea man, and I make sure that the ideas are feasible and well executed. A year ago, we made a daring move to paradise 2,500 miles from home, and it's gone better than I could have imagined.

But at the age of 33, I'd never had to look for work before, and the process was daunting. Every job I had held before had been literally handed to me, but now I had to search. And every guide and every potential employer wanted me to have a plan. Plan? Although I could never say it in an interview, the honest answer was simply, "I don't care."

Even though I did find a great job, I've been nagged by this sense that I am inappropriately unmotivated. My partner jokes with me about being amotivational (I am not a pot smoker), but when I secretly try to think of my goals, I can't think of any of my own. Is it OK to just let come what may? Or do I need to get with the program and start planning?


Dear Adrift,

You have been allowed to drift through life and let things happen, and things have happened just fine. Your question is, Is that OK? I say yes, it's OK. But bear this in mind: You will be questioned often in the future about your lack of plans for the future. So I suggest you plan for that.

If I were in your shoes and wanted to cobble together something that resembled a plan, I would think about it this way: Is there some end result that years of working in your field may reasonably be expected to produce? Say, in the case of a writer, perhaps it would be a book, or in the case of a musician a recorded album. Or, say you were an astronomer. You might say you hope one day to discover a new star. If you were an researcher, you might say you want to cure AIDS, or Alzheimer's. Utterances such as these may help silence those potential employers whose reality constructs are so fragile that they desperately need for everyone to have a plan.

People question us about our plans because they have plans and it never occurs to them that not everybody has plans. They never planned for us.

We didn't plan for them, either. We were just drifting. We figured everybody was drifting. You see the president, you figure, huh, how'd that fella drift in there? Weird. You see a millionaire, or a professor, or a senator, and you figure, huh, how'd he fall into that gig? Weird. If you do have a "plan," it's some weird half-ass plan like: OK, I'll look at a lot of buildings and I'll think really hard about how they're built and ... they'll make me an architect! I'll ... read Jacques Lacan and buy a fainting couch and ... be a Lacanian psychoanalyst!

It might happen. Things might lead to things. You might be in the right place at the right time and say something smart like Chauncey Gardiner or something dumb like Forrest Gump.

But the odds of achieving any particular Hankered-for result by utter random activity are slim. The more unlikely the result, the more you have to plan for it.

Nevertheless, me, I still just fall into stuff. I suffer occasional feverish attacks in which I am beset with notions of what might happen in the future, but they rarely result in anything you could call a plan. They're more like little inner thunderstorms. They leave everything a little greener but essentially unchanged.

I must admit, I instinctively recoil at the notion that life is a struggle toward an end or a goal and that if we simply have a good strategy and execute it properly we can attain our goal and voilà! that's success! I don't go for that. I prefer the open-ended adventure model, in which we are drawn to activities and locales and so we arrange our lives so we can do these activities and be near these locales; but there is no commencement exercise at the conclusion of our curriculum. There is only the contentment of knowing we are in the right place doing what we ought to be doing.

I, like you, am largely planless. I'm process-oriented. (Note to self: Explore link between planlessness and plotlessness -- when you get around to it.) Plans and plots are great for people who are causation oriented and linear. But if you are "strange phenomena happening for no reason" oriented, it's a little tough to line everything up.

But history is written by the winners of grant money. So it helps to be able to plan a little bit, or somebody else will be writing your history.

And I think it was William James who said it's a good idea to do one or two things every day that you don't want to do, so that when you really, really have to do something you don't want to do, you're ready. So if you're utterly planless, make a plan or two every day. Just for the exercise. You never know when you'll need it.

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