Let's speak candidly: How long do you stick to a life plan? The answer is not the seemingly obvious "for a lifetime."
When you were a child (before exposure to school), you may have wanted to be an astronaut or a veterinarian. After you started to learn your strengths and weaknesses in school (confession: I am horrible at math), you may have tinkered with that plan a little; Elementary-school version of you may have wanted to be a teacher or a designer or a chemist.
As you progress through stages of education and life while experiences are shaping you, you start to create new plans: a doctor, a musician, a gardener, a lawyer, a painter.
Parents capture these shifts of life agendas proudly in photographs where their child holds a chalkboard boldly displaying their height, weight, favorite foods and new life agenda.
But that begins to stop around age 18. It feels we're expected to stop shifting those life plans so boldly. Suddenly, a shift in a life plan is expensive. Want to change your major in college? Sure. Thousands of dollars will allow you to shift that. Want to change your field? Sure. Go ahead, but good luck.
It's as if the support system, the celebration of curiosity, discovery and exploring is pulled out from under you and now all you have is a peanut gallery watching your every daring move to see if you fall.
I don't know the answers to this conundrum, I just have questions but I have experienced a few changes to my life plans and I can other gather together the notes I've made, and then open up the conversation for discussion. First, my questions. Then, my story.
Here are my questions:
1. Why do we so easily give up that endorsement and celebration of curiosity, discovery and exploring in adults that we encourage in children?
2. Why do we expect adults to have it all figured out and to stick with that?
3. Why do we expect their interests, curiosities, skills and talents to never change?
4. What needs to systemically change in order to help support people better?
5. How can we change our attitudes on work expectations and life expectations?
Here is my story:
After college (fortunately for me, I made it through college without any drastic, overly-priced changes of life plans), I accepted a job as an assistant at a law firm. It was 2008, and back then your parents' health insurance required you OFF of their insurance when you graduated college (today, most health insurance plans allow children to stay on until the age of 26).
But I needed a J-O-B and health insurance, so I accepted the job and stayed there for four years. I studied law, I worked side-by-side with some of the fastest-thinking, smoothest-talking attorneys.
Then, one day, I just couldn't anymore. I wasn't feeling fulfilled the way I wanted to. I didn't feel as though I was spending my effort, energy and skills in the right field.
So, I jumped fields. I left law, and dove head first into the arts education and administration field.
I understanding that saying now: "diving head first." When you decide to change careers or fields, you are extremely vulnerable financially, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Financially, your salary stops, but your bills do not stop.
Mentally, you start to doubt your decision. You start to listen to the doubters: did I make a mistake? Is this really going to work? What if it doesn't?
Emotionally, your support system is lessened. When I announced I was making "the jump," it was as if I felt the entire world gasp, cross their arms and sit back. It was as if they were waiting to see what was going to happen. It felt like they knew I was about to swim into shark-infested waters, and they were going to see what happened next: either I was going to swim right past the sharks or I was going to be eaten alive in a bloody, dramatic mess.
Physically, your health insurance stops. This leaves you open to huge medical bills (potential bankruptcy) should an accident or unexpected illness occur.
When I made the jump, I tried to do so in the most well-planned manner as I could.
- I saved $10,000 (to help lessen the financial blow).
- I went back to graduate school (which cost me $24,000, but provided me with the degree I'd need in this new field).
- I moved into an apartment with multiple roommates so that my monthly expenses were extremely low.
- I secured a part-time job to pay those monthly expenses so that I wouldn't have to borrow more money to live on.
- I communicated often with my family who served as my support system when I started to doubt myself.
While my jump was successful, it was still very stressful. But it was worth every minute of jumping through the difficult hoops. I've had people write me and say, "We watched as you made that jump and waited to see if it worked out. It did! We're impressed!"
But I often wonder how we could make the world more friendly to our innately human tendency to change our minds. Imagine a world set up like an elementary school gym class. In gym class, every few minutes, we would rotate to a different station which provided us with a new challenge. Could we not have a world where every few years, we rotate to a new field to provide us with a new challenge?
I don't know the answers. But I imagine it would be quite lovely to have a world that understands human tendencies and uplifts us.