Friday, November 20, 2009

5 Year Plans and Checkpoints

This is going be a very long dip into self-pity and navel gazing, so you'll probably want to skip it. But I feel the need to share this with somebody, and strangely, it's easier to just throw it out here where the whole world can see it, but pretend that nobody will read it, rather than try to talk about this face-to-face with someone.

Every now and then, I get it in my head to try to do something about my life. And one piece of advice I have run into several times in self-development books is to envision the life you want 5 years hence, write it down and then take the steps necessary to get there.

It never seems to work out that way with me, though. Let's look back at my life in 5 year increments, shall we?

45 years ago I was 2 years old and still living with both parents, barely aware of the world around me.

40 years ago, I was 7, and my parents had divorced. I was in second grade, Mrs. Anderson's class, and shuttling to my dad's house on weekends.

35 years ago, I was 12 years old and attending Gethsemane Lutheran School, a tiny parochial school that had around 100 students in grades K-8. My eighth grade class numbered 10 students.

30 years ago, I was 17 and a senior in high school at Heritage Hall, one of the best private schools in Oklahoma City. I was a National Merit Finalist looking at attending film school at USC (just like George Lucas!), talented and semi-popular and seemed destined for a mighty fine future.

25 years ago, I was 22 and had dropped out of one of the most exclusive programs in one of the best universities in the country. I had just moved back home to Oklahoma after failing to find a decent job in Los Angeles. I was down but not out. I intended to keep working on my screenplays and get into the movie business eventually, and in the meantime, I was thinking about applying for a job at the local newspaper.

20 years ago, I was 27 and waiting tables at Bennigan's after having gotten and lost a sweet job at the paper reviewing movies. I was dating a very special girl long distance and just about to change my life completely a month later by quitting my job, moving to Tulsa and proposing to her.

15 years ago, I was 32, married and serving in Korea as a Korean Linguist/Voice Interceptor. I was cursing the day I was so stupid as to enlist in the Army as a 30-year-old man, but in my two years in the Army, I had gotten into pretty decent physical shape and and was making better money than I had since I'd gotten married. I planned to use my G.I. Bill money to go back to school and finish my degree, finally start the life I'd always wanted. And thanks to Army medical benefits, my wife and I were thinking about starting a family as well.

10 years ago, I was 37 and working at T.V. Guide as a supervisor. I had gone back to school long enough to get an Associate's Degree, but had not been able to find a good Bachelor's program that I a) wanted to study, and b) could take at night while working a full-time job, and c) could afford. Earlier that year, my first daughter had died, and it had affected me deeply. Over the summer, I had made a last half-hearted attempt at breaking into screenwriting, but it went nowhere. I finally had to admit that even if I could beat the very long odds against me becoming a professional screenwriter, I did not want to become the person I would have to be to succeed at it. So I was following a friend's advice and working on a novel, based on my experiences in the Army. I hated my job, my marriage was in trouble, and I was having an affair with a woman I knew on-line. And my wife was pregnant with our second child.

5 years ago, I was 42 and working at Fox 23, where I had started working after leaving TV Guide. I had intended to get my foot in the door by working in Master Control, then move to the production side, but it never happened. My marriage was in the toilet, but I hoped that if I just gave my wife some space, she'd come around. I had published Blue Falcon through iUniverse and was attending a local writers group to see if I could actually finally succeed with the writing thing.

Now I'm 47. I'm still legally married, but I haven't lived with my wife for a year-and-a-half. I'm working part-time as a stocker at Target for minimum wage after being unemployed for months. I'm broke and deeply in debt after making the Biggest Mistake of My Life back in February. My life is in shambles, and my body aches all the time thanks to the kind of work I'm doing. I still have no degree and no good job prospects. I have failed at everything I've ever done. But I have a clever daughter, and I'm in the process of revising a book, probably the best I've written so far.

The thing is, if you had asked me at any one of those 5-year checkpoints what my five-year plan was, what kind of life I envisioned for myself 5 years later, I would have been wrong every single time. And not just wrong, but way wrong. My life has never gone the way I intended or planned (and that's not all bad--there have been some very good times in my life as well--they just came in the between years, is all). And that's mostly my fault. But I can't see how to change that now.

I could sit down today and envision a beautiful life for myself five years hence--reconciled with my wife, successful author, financially comfortable--but I have no idea how to get there. So much of it depends on other people, really. Nor do I apparently have the ability to stick to that type of plan long enough to get results. The only thing I can say for almost sure about my future is that I can't extrapolate it from the way my life is now.

And right now, that's the only thing that keeps me going. Because the life I would extrapolate from my present situation is pretty bleak. So I can only hope that the next checkpoint will be better.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, those plans are crap, made up by privileged white people with trust funds and parents they can hit up for money. The real big things in my life - the good and the bad things - I have not seen coming from more than six months out. I don't know if that makes me feel better or not.

And seriously, you need a better job, and I cannot believe you couldn't find a better one. There are call centers in town that will basically hire anyone, and they pay way better than what you are getting. If you are working a shitty job to punish yourself for screwing up, then I have done that myself, and I get it, but it won't really help.

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

I've been reluctant about the call center suggestion because I have phone issues. I learned how much I hate talking to strangers on the phone when I worked for National Research Group. I may still give it a try, soon, especially if I could work it out so I can do both jobs. It would take up a lot of time, but I really need every penny I can make now to dig out of my hole.