OUR LIVES

Our lives: Drifting but not lost

March 6, 2011 

On my desk at work (desk! work!) is a mug that says, "Life is all about how you handle Plan B." Normally, I'm not one for cheesy motivational mugs - mainly because I rarely find them motivational. However, this mug is bright and colorful and was a graduation present from my aunt, who managed to find a gift that perfectly expressed the way I was feeling about my life at graduation - and, to a certain extent, today.

2011. At the start of this year, I had a hard time believing it really was 2011. Graduation day - May 9, 2010 - was my Mount Doom; all my thought was consumed by it, but I never stopped to consider what would happen after journey's end. I knew, though, that whatever came next would be easy, because after 2010 everything would just fall into place - career, home, relationships. No planning needed; everything was set. Oh, and I was going to be an immediate, enormous success, too - the grownup version of straight A's.

Career: teacher of the year (every year).

Home: a fabulous apartment, paid for by my (albeit too small) teacher's salary, because I would no longer be dependent on my parents.

Boyfriend: Boyfriend? I'd be on my way to the altar.

It was like the best MASH game ever, my life plan. But when my cousin and I foretold our adulthood in that favorite game, choosing Mansion/Apartment/Shack/House, we never included a Plan B section. Why would we need to? We were master MASHers.

I'm living Plan B and planning it as I go - though, if I were to be technical, I'd have to call it Plan J or K. (Or J.K.) Last March, after 31/2 years of preparing to be a teacher, and several weeks of student teaching, my professor asked me what I would recommend every young adult ask him - or herself: Do you want to be here?

I tried making excuses. I tried telling her how much I loved my students. But her question wasn't why I hadn't turned in my most recent reflection or whether I liked kids. Her question was much more fundamental. Do you want to do what you're doing? And I couldn't truthfully say yes.

I wanted to want to teach. But wanting to want something isn't the same as wanting something, and wanting to want something definitely doesn't mean you should get it.

I was raised not to quit and to always think of other people, not just of myself. But after 20 years of these habits for me, my professor told me - and my parents, moreover, agreed with her - that if I stopped student teaching now, I wouldn't be quitting. In fact (to use another cliché), I'd be staying true to myself. And when I protested that I didn't want to let down my professor, my cooperating teacher, my students, my parents, my grandparents, she told me sternly that the only person who mattered in this instance was me - and, maybe, but only secondarily, my parents.

I decided - with the full support of the education department at Meredith College, my parents and my grandparents (because though I tried not to let them influence my decision, their support was important) - that remaining in the teacher education program would mean being dishonest to myself, and that I should graduate that May with my psychology degree and without a teaching license.

I had moments of panic for months after that. What was my Plan B? Grad school? This career? That career?

But I've realized that my Plan B isn't a specific goal or career. Plan B is the journey, my process of figuring out who I am and what I want. No definite career goal? No apartment? No boyfriend? Not a problem. Plan B isn't any of those MASH categories, but a more strategically planned MASH game in itself - it's my road to filling in those blanks, my understanding that though I wander, I am not lost, and my acceptance that, for now, living with blanks in my scorecard is all I need.

taryn.oesch@gmail.com

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