All the way back in 7th grade I decided what I wanted to do with my life -- I decided that I wanted to be in a rock band for a career. This is one of those career choices that is usually only a phase like when a little kid says he wants to be an astronaut or a peewee football player says he wants to go to the NFL. All the adults around believe that he truly wants that, but are simultaneously confident that he will outgrow the outlandish goal as he matures and realizes how unlikely success in the given field actually is. And usually they are right. Most people with the kind of goals I'm talking about here do decide they would rather do something more feasible like get a business degree, or be an engineer or find a job and a spouse and get started on life. And there is certainly nothing wrong with any of those options if they make a person happy.
But some of the kids who want to be presidents and skydivers and rockstars actually keep their eyes on that goal as they grow older and more mature. This is a great thing because they haven't let the monotony and doubt that is ever-present in the world bring them down. At least not yet. But as one ages and continues to confidently proclaim that he intends to chase his childhood dream, the reactions slowly, but steadily, change from "That's great, being in a band would be lots of fun," to "That would be hard, but maybe if you set your mind to it you'll get lucky," to "That doesn't seem very practical but I guess you could try for a little while," to, "well, I guess if you really want to try it, but what's your backup plan?"
"What is your backup plan?" I can't begin to count how many times I've been asked that. It comes from all sorts of people. From people who see that their life is going nowhere and want the same for me. From people who have decided that ordinary people can't do great things. And worst of all, it comes from family and close friends who are concerned about what I will do if (or more perhaps even when) I fail to reach my aspiration. So they suggest that I create a backup plan. Just something a little safer -- something that I can resort to if my more ambitious goal doesn't end up working out -- something that can be likened to a safety net beneath the high-wire that I hope to walk on.
The question of a backup plan is especially prominent at times when important life choices have to be made. For me that time was my graduation from high school. In the months and weeks leading up to said graduation, many of my friends and acquaintances expected me to finally admit that I was going to give up on the rock band idea and go to college like all the rest of them. But I was determined. I had not been jerking everyone's chains the past several years when I said I wanted to be in a band; I was serious. And graduation was the time to finally do something big about it. But my family and friends we concerned that it might not work out and I would end up homeless and depressed because it never worked out. So they kept asking and encouraging me (out of love no doubt) to come up with a backup plan just in case. And eventually I became pretty scared. I was scared that I would end up living with my parents for a while and burdening them, I was scared that people wouldn't want to hear my music, I was scared that I would miss out on other great experiences, lots of little fears built up in me, and at about the last possible minute, I decided to come up with a backup plan. I decided to go to college.
But backup plans are a funny thing in a lot of ways. They are designed to give you something to fall back on just in case your main plan doesn't work out. But you can't just decide to have one and then get to work on your main plan in the same way that you would have if you hadn't chosen a backup plan. The backup plan takes work too. In my case, mastering the material necessary to attain a physics degree was certainly no trivial matter. It actually takes a lot of work, and many people choose it as their main plan. In fact it takes so much effort that it became difficult to find any energy and time to dedicate to the rock band project which was supposed to be my main plan. My backup plan was taking over. To follow my previous analogy, I spent all my time setting up my safety net and barely ever even got around to actually practicing up on my high wire. In the process of sorting out all of the netting material, I had gotten my arms and legs hopelessly tangled in it and getting the net set up properly became more of a focus than walking above it.
An additional consideration with backup plans is that you are supposed to resort to them as a second choice when your first choice doesn't work out. But it seems to me that there is a very artificial distinction between 'something that hasn't worked out' and 'something that hasn't worked out yet'. And I propose that the only person who can appropriately make that distinction is the person who is actually trying to make the first choice work. Me for myself, you for yourself. Each of us has the ability to decide for ourselves how long we will work toward our dreams. It isn't time to go to the backup plan until the first plan has failed, and that can't happen until the dreamer says goodbye to that 13-year-old who dreamed of being a rockstar.
Flash Forward. Now the time has come once again for me to graduate. This time from College. And just like the last time, it is very scary. There are lots of hard questions to be answered and difficult decisions to be made -- not the least of which is "what am I going to to with the next months and years of my life?" But I am confident that this time I will have the courage to make the hard decisions. I still want to be in a band, and I don't think that any other career would truly make me happy. And while I have no idea what the outcome will be, I'm confident that I would rather find out than take the safe route.
Undoubtedly if I once again start to tell people that I want to make the band work they will once again ask what my backup plan is. But by now I know that there are only two possible answers to that question:
1. I'm putting my dreams on hold indefinitely while I pursue (insert backup plan here).
2. I don't have or need a backup plan because I'm not giving up on my dream.
From this point on I will definitively chose the latter.