One of my favorite TV shows ever was the “A-Team”. The original. Not that ungodly movie remake a few years ago. The ‘real’ A-Team with Mr. T as B.A. Baracus and with George Peppard as “John “Hannibal” Smith”. Nothing against Liam Neeson and his unique set of skills. but Peppard will always remain the one and only Hannibal for me.
Hannibal was the head of the A-Team, the guy who came up with the plans and who was responsible for having his team live up to their potential. His catchphrase, that he usually uttered at the end of each episode when things went the A-Team’s way was: “I love it when a plan comes together”.
Over the past few weeks I talked to lots of young people, mostly students who were coming close to graduation, about how it feels to finally being able to leave University behind. Almost all of them were quite excited and proud to have made it but most of them were also quite anxious about what would lie ahead of them. One common theme of most conversations was “I don’t have a plan yet”. More often than not they then turned to me and asked me for advice and how I ended up planning my life. And that’s now where I have to disappoint Colonel Hannibal Smith.
There’s no one perfect “life plan”.
Obviously I could answer in teacheresque fashion and wind my way out of it by saying very generic things and stating the obvious like “You have to find what you like and what you excel in.” and so on. With parental pressure from home (e.g. “Why don’t you know what you want to do by now? We paid so much for your studies…” or “When I was your age….”) being present and a reason for many students to question themselves the truth however seems way more appropriate. So I tell them. I don’t have THE plan. Never had. Unfortunately probably never will. Plan B and C? Also not available. At least not in a way students (and their parents) expect it.
The expectation is: I study, I graduate, I get a job. I get promoted, and so on. Oh and I’ll be happy. That’s it. And somehow this all has to fall in place and happen right after one chapter in ones life comes to an end. For some reasons many parents seem to foster that idea and I can’t believe that all of them followed such a plan or that all of them simply ignored the troubles they went through. Maybe it’s also a misconception of “Our kids have it easier now, therefore they need to be able to figure out what they want sooner.” combined with “We didn’t have any choices back then!”.
As mentioned above however this one perfect plan almost never works out just like that.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
The above is probably one of the most shared quotes on Tumblr (parents, that’s where lots of your kids share how they really feel). Funny enough it comes from John Lennon who has been an icon when my (!) parents where young. I usually don’t suggest living in the emo world of tumblr and emotional quotes but this quote is not wrong, you do have to come up with more than one plan in your life. And you will always have to adjust those plans. Often on the fly. Why? Because life happens.
What exactly happens that makes it so difficult to have this one awesome plan? A lot. Obviously. Your interests change for example. I attended High-School back home and nobody in my family ever went to University before. So everybody thought that the best plan is you go to high-school, graduate and find a job. That’s what I did. At first. My family kind of led me into the economic branch of studies and so I graduate from an economics program at High-School, added two years of college (because I felt like I want to know more before leaving school for good) and then started a Bank Traineeship in order to become a Bank clerk. Was banking something I was totally in to? Not really but it fit the plan. Once I realized that working in a Bank wouldn’t be for me (which was pretty fast) I finished the traineeship as expected but didn’t pursue a full-time job in banking afterwards. Instead I decided to sell my car and enroll at University. Economics would have made sense but I decided to go with something that sounds a bit more interesting. Business Information Systems it was. I then graduated in E-Commerce from the faculty of Business Information Systems and started to work in a few Online Marketing agencies. Until I realized that this also isn’t necessarily the life I want to be living. So I changed again. I moved to Thailand. First as a volunteer teacher and once I realized that education is what I really love I decided to stay here and continue to work in this field. Now I work as a Uni lecturer. Is this a straight forward plan? Certainly not. Is there planing involved? Definitely.
It’s not about making one big plan and following it through until the very end, it’s about adjusting and adapting to changes, making decisions and owning up to them.
And this is where it usually gets complicated. When I tell my students that I don’t have and never had this one plan they say ‘cool, yolo!’. But that’s just part of the answer. What’s important is not that you just do whatever you want, but that you do what you consider the best and then owning this decision. You can’t just run around, do whatever you want without any progress and then blaming it on ‘yolo’ or whatever comes to mind. You don’t need to have that one big plan but you do need to make grown-up decisions, you need to understand that only real decisions move you forward in life and that, once you made them, you have to own them.
I once got offered a corporate job which would have paid twice what I earn now. I turned it down because I felt like I need to stay in education since I felt like there was more for me to be done. Do I sometimes regret that move? No! Make a decision, own it, go ahead with it. Make the best of it. Do I sometimes miss home? Sure. Do I regret being in Thailand? No way. I’m here. Decision made. Now I have to make it awesome. It’s tough decisions that make us grow as a person. How we adapt to decisions and changing situations tells a lot about our character and about how we live our lives.
I don’t want to dive too much into the motivational TED speaker pattern so I’ll keep it short and simple at the end. Do you need a plan for all of your life once you graduate? No. Do you need to make some plans? Yes. Do you need to adjust those plans? All the freaking time. Oh and while you are adjusting those plans, don’t forget to live. #Yolo
I love it when an adjusted plan doesn’t blow up in my face and leads me to a new step in my life. — Not as catchy, but way more accurate.