Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ten Year Plan

Last spring at work, we had to contemplate a move from one office space to another. We’re a small- as in four employees small- company and all of us have children at home. There were several options, all pretty nice, but we needed to choose which one. I asked, “what do you see the business being in five years, and what do you see your family needing in five years? And in ten?” Of course the business will grow, and employees will be added, but it was the family needs that completely steered our decision.

The ten-year plan, we realized, included our elementary school children in college. Along the line, our babies will become sullen teenagers slipping home to have sex at four o’clock in the afternoon before the parents get back from work. We would need to be vigilant in new ways- not of uncovered electrical sockets, but of uncontrolled hormones. My experience planning as a board member of a foundation using a tool called scenario planning guided my end of the discussion. Take the best of all worlds, take the worst of all worlds, and take what you think is the middle ground. And then, plan accordingly. The extremes are as important as the expected. We all expect certain things to happen in our lives. Kids grow. We age. Jobs come and go. Your family will need to be fed, clothed, housed and educated. We approach these realities daily, think about them in the long term. Plan accordingly.

We rarely plan for the best-case scenarios. And we don’t tend to plan for the worse case, either. In my ten-year plan, I imagine my oldest in college, NOT the college two blocks away, as he threatens as we walk past it to his elementary school every day, but a lovely college where he is immersed in learning, and having fun. My middle son will be almost done with high school, and I see him tall and smiling, with his gorgeous blue eyes, and engaged in many school activities. My youngest will be sixteen, hopefully getting dressed by himself and tying his own shoes- who says expectations for the youngest aren’t as intense as the oldest! I see my wife and I enjoying thoughtful careers along with pursuing our art- my writing, her music. I see little to block us from achieving those things.

And yet, I know things can change in a heartbeat. At the same time last spring, a friend’s wife- only fifty five- was at home, hooked up to morphine, done fighting with chemo, saying good bye to her seventeen year old son, her fifteen year old daughter. She was diagnosed ten years before. It wasn’t in her ten-year plan to die. It wasn’t in her spouse’s plan to be a single parent someday. What I admired the most about them was their willingness to create a new plan with the devastating news. They focused on what was good in their lives. She quit working as an attorney and stayed home with her kids. They bought a farm and horses. He moved his career closer to home, one that cost him professionally but was essential personally. Faced with the worst-case scenario, they changed their ten-year plan on instinct and with a clarity that sometimes only comes from being faced with a limited timeline.

And yet we all have a limited timeline. It is the making of many a midlife crisis. Are we living the way we want? Have we been true to ourselves? What are we settling for on a daily basis that doesn’t feel good but we’ve simply become accustomed to? When the kids were little, I didn’t consider ten-year plans, I considered ten-minute plans. If I had a particularly good nights sleep, I could plan the next day. There was a whirlwind I found myself in with three young children, a chaos I had created, that kept me from asking bigger questions about my life. No one was dying. No one was getting divorced. Nothing unexpected happened.

Now it is my friends who are getting sick. And divorced, usually after many years and children together. I’m faced with people finding closure and new beginnings. Horrific, unexpected worse case scenarios creating the need for new plans. It makes me restless. I need to consider the things I live with on a daily basis that do not feel good and why I continue to have them in my life. I need to hold more deeply the good things, the hope, and all the possibilities. I have such a rich life, with many layers and textures. And as much as I need to hold the good things, I also must face the painful pieces. I have only begun to realize how the chaos I create keeps me from my past, from memories too big, too much to hold, until now.

I need to go back again to the best case and worse case scenarios. I never imagined I would be forty-three years old and only now remembering my past. I also never imagined having two amazing fathers in my kids lives. In the last year, the boundaries of what could be the most horrible has been stretched considerably. It blinds me, at times, making me unable to consider the best case. I am prone to extremes, so it is important I consider the middle, the gray reality that is most likely.

And move forward with the clarity that comes with a limited timeline recognizing my fortune in being able to make a choice to do so.


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