Backup Plans & Paths Less Taken

Many, if not most, people I meet aren’t on Plan A. I include myself in this, I’m probably on Plan D, depending on how you count it, and if it doesn’t work out, I move back to Plan B, which was always Plan A according to a third-grade version of myself. The purpose of this thread is just to ask people what they’re doing now, what they never got around to, and how things seem to have ended up. And after you’ve taken stock, tell us where things are going.

This isn’t about regret. I think that once we’ve read a few of each other’s stories, I think it will become apparent that the theme isn’t failure. I think it will be more about growth, serendipity, hardship, and complexity.


It really depends on where you start counting.

Plan A was to be a firefighter. I grew out of that shortly after kindergarten.

Plan B was “airline pilot.” I went to Air Cadets as a teen, until I figured out that I couldn’t handle military discipline (plus, I got airsick, but my motion sickness has abated a bit since then).

Plan C was “computer programmer.” I had it really easy in high school, as I loaded on a lot of math courses, and I found math really easy. I went to university, but, without parental encouragement, I couldn’t be bothered to go to class, do homework, or study, and I had never really learned how to do so myself, so I crashed and burned (plus, university math is hard, and Java and C++ both seem to really hate me, so that was working against me, too).

Plan D was “IT support.” I figured hey, I can’t program very well, but I can fix computers like it’s nobody’s business. So, I went to a smaller college to learn how to do that (and picked up another programming language (VB)). And then I went out looking for a job in that — hopefully one where I’d be hands-on with computers or working in network administration.

After I left college (although I really didn’t then, because I was still working for the same college), I started my two years of underemployment. And, while it wasn’t a nice thing for my finances, I started taking up my old hobbies: skiing, and reading, and planning stories, and musical theatre, and I started realizing that it was what I was doing away from work that was making me happy or sad, more than the actual work I was doing.

So, I got a full-time job at a helpdesk, kept that job for a few years, and then got a transfer to another city, taking me back to Plan C (programming). I’m still running into some weird shit when programming that doesn’t make any sense, but I’m learning to deal with it.

But it’s the other stuff: the Scouting, the Ski Patrol, learning guitar, spending more time singing, and writing… that’s the stuff that’s actually making me happy. And, if I haven’t found someone to share that life with… well, there’s still plenty of time ahead, and I’m starting to believe that I can be happy alone.

Where are things going? Hopefully, more of the same. I’ve stopped coming up with unrealistic versions of my future self that I’ll feel bad about never becoming (except for my stories), and I now have a picture of a future self who’s me, but more skilled in the things that I enjoy spending my time doing (and maybe in a little better shape, and a little better dressed, and with my house having a bit of maintenance done, etc.). You know, someone that I have a hope in hell of becoming. And fingers crossed that I find someone who likes that guy, and who wants to share that future with me.


Plan A - Get a PhD and become an academic. I never questioned this, until my senior year of college when I gradually became aware I didn’t really love the idea.
Plan B - Become an Artist(e)!!!
Plan C - grappling with the reality of a career as a programmer Software Engineer* and raising a family.

* sounds soooooo much more sophisticated!

Plan C.1 - still do artsy things.



“In preparing for battle, I’ve always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”

—Dwight D. Eisenhower


My plan A was to be dead before I was 30. After all, from the time I was old enough to understand, the best information I had access to indicated the Reds were going to trigger an extinction event before then. I mean, people built fallout shelters in their yards when I was growing up, and the schools did nuke drills. So I gave up my fear of death and lived a life of mild abandon, which was mostly fun.

At some point in my mid-thirties this started to seem like really bad preparation for the current moment.

Now y’all know why my mix of skills and (lack of) information is nearly completely random. Basically I never saved anything for the swim back.

Right now plan B is about a year from completion. I’ll think about what comes after, after.


Hmmm… I think I’m about on my Plan Q or maybe R by now. Life has a way of fucking up plans. I’m looking forward to starting my sixth different career soon.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” - John Lennon


Still on Plan A, but mine looks like something the Underpants Gnomes made.

1 - Make it through until tomorrow.
2 - I dunno, worry about that tomorrow.
3 - ???
4 - Profit. Or Health, happiness, that sort of bullshit.


that’s not from this is it?

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No. I’m convinced ‘inspirebot’ is trying to get our species to kill itself off.


I like this notion the best. My former plans were based on romanticized views of what my life could be, and I’ve become much more comfortable with the reality. Plus, I’m outlining a romance novel, and while I may never finish it, I’ve had more fun than I’ve had in years researching and reading what’s currently popular and successful. (As an unexpected side effect, I did ask Mr. Jilly to start wearing a kilt. He said no, but I’ve not given up.)


A kilt? He’s gotten off lightly. My girlfriend wants to dress me in a Byronesque cheesecloth blouse. Not. Happening.


Plan AA, (not Plan A, but the Plan A before I even knew what Plan A was) was to become a writer. I realized that writing those things I loved to read was an actual job held by actual people, and I wanted to do that. Since the second grade, Plan AA has been at the back of my mind somewhere, occasionally looking up from it’s bookish corner and wailing, “What about me?”

Plan A out of high school was to become a doctor. Why a doctor? I liked the sciences and wanted to pick something people wouldn’t argue with as a career choice. By then I was desperate to get out of the house and selecting a course of action that would basically require that I study in a different country than the one I was living in was of paramount importance to me. Plan AA looked up briefly and with an eyebrow cocked, told me that I could just move out and write, or neglect my senior year studies and work on a novel. I ignored him. He sighed and pointedly started reading The Brothers Karamazov. I thought that was pretty pretentious, as I still haven’t read that.

I went to college, realized that “doctor” was a placeholder, and I picked “chemist” practically out of a hat. This was Plan B. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any special love for chemistry, and time would bear out that I really did love the subject. Instead it was that I loved so much about science in general that I found it hard to pick something. Chemistry is called the central science because it is the meaty grey glop of stuff that holds together biology, physics, geology, and climate science. I can see the chemistry in everything, and I really wanted to pursue a career where my job was to use my knowledge of chemistry to discover new things.

Plan C came along when I flunked out of school. I didn’t even get to the weed-out courses. Instead, what happened was I would get grades like A, F, A, F, F. I was struggling with mental illness and was not going to classes, not taking the exams, and not dropping classes. I found high school easy and it turned me into a terrible student, but even this was not insurmountable. In retrospect, what I see now very clearly and it’s surprising to me that it wasn’t obvious at the time is: I was not well. So I packed up a lot of my things, gave the rest away or sold it, and moved across the country to live with a friend. Plan AA wanted to say something when I started to pack up my journals and half-finished stories, and rough drafts, but then I threatened to burn everything, so he shut up and went back to his corner.

Plan C was to work as hard as I could at the crappy jobs available to people without well-defined skills while I learned how to program computers. I started with web design and learned a fair bit of PHP, MySQL, etc. and even made up some websites for non-profits I could slap into my portfolio. In the meantime, though, I was miserable. It got really bad, and at the behest of my friend, I got help. The mental illness that had dogged me during college had only gotten worse. I ended up making a lot of progress in therapy. I realized that not only could I continue working to become a chemist, I really wanted to do it. Most of all, at the time, I really wanted to get a degree that would get me a job that could pay me real money. Something started getting hot and angry in the corner of my mind, but I was feeling optimistic.

Cut back to Plan B, and here I am, achingly close to finishing my bachelor’s, trying to hustle my way through the necessary experience to get into grad school. Plan AA has simmered down a great deal, as I have made a pact with him that he will be Plan D. He’s relying on my track record with plans so far. I can’t blame him for thinking this way, but the unfortunate fact is that I’m doing pretty good at this Plan C thing so far. Grad school is what’s next. Another five years of study followed either by a post-doc, or a very long, very profane, “Wow, fuck all of this noise. I seriously have to consider a second post-doc?”


You are one of the very few commenters who can post something this long and yet I still feel compelled to read all of it the moment I see it.


You know, I hear this so much that I really wonder why we aren’t talking about it more. Even university professors talk about students coming in at different levels of preparation, and complain of having to deal with unprepared students. It would be something if students knew better coming in and chose not to prepare better, but more often than not, they really have no clue and no one warns them. I’m not averse to a certain level of social Darwinism in universities, but this isn’t remotely fair to a lot of students who might do better if they knew better.

This was the big thing that really spurred me on to go back to school. What I did most in my spare time was study.


I chose my college major during orientation because it sounded interesting. 25 years later and it’s still interesting. Lucky me!

As for other plans, nope, they pretty much all end in entropy. Eventually.


Plan A was the 27 Club. Rich and famous at 19, dead at 27.

Plan B was the Air Force and NASA. Failed the medical.

Plan C was to get married, have kids. That didn’t work out so well.

Plan D is basically art and hedonism.


I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like Plan D.

To add to both yours and @AcerPlatanoides’s point: I didn’t choose my university major. Psilocybin did.


Well, it’s hard not to like hedonism.

Definitively, one could argue.


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