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Life As It Is

I didn’t imagine anything for my grown-up life until I was already a grown-up. Partly this was because I grew up gay in the 1950s and 60s, when I couldn’t see anyone in the adult world who looked or seemed like me. But I was also a pretty scared person, unable to imagine myself “pushing any limits” or “dreaming big”—phrases kids today are inundated with early on. I did eventually create some futuristic scenes for myself, but they were based mostly on romanticized versions of the world I’d read about or seen on television.

Plan B is that lovely thing we created while we were living our real lives.

Fast forwarding 50 years, I find myself face to face with the truth about what we plan or dream of in our lives vs. what actually happens. And it’s certainly not the first time I’ve had to confront this reality. Whether it’s something I imagined I’d be doing at a certain age, or a Bucket List item that never lost its allure, when you’re my age, you start wondering if that thing is actually going to occur or not. I was thinking of this on my morning run today, and I had one of those aha moments. For many years, one of my dreams has been to write a book. I haven't really done the consistent work to write a book yet, but I continue to fantasize about it. That actually doesn't make it happen. It was like a light came on—even in the very early dawn darkness on my running trail. If I want to write a book that gets published, it has to be my primary goal, in a way that I haven't yet let it be.

Although I know intellectually that there is so much more to the process than just sitting down and writing, it has to be the thing I focus on more than anything else. In other words, I wouldn’t have "running a marathon" be my goal if all I did was 3-mile runs. But more important than that, I realize that I always kind of halfway think of myself as a failure at writing because I haven’t published a book. That’s the problem with those fantasy plans—they don’t exactly let you have a Plan B. And it turns out that most of life is really Plan B—because what we fantasize about is nothing compared to the things we actually do. And one is not less than the other. That’s the message I need to remember.

While we dream of the lives we might one day live, most of us are living pretty great lives every day. And, because those real lives might not look like the one our parents lived or wanted us to live, or they don’t resemble the big fantasy we have for ourselves, we might discount what we do. I think we see Plan B as "less than" because it isn’t our Plan A when, in reality, Plan A was nothing more than an idea we dreamed up. Plan B is what happened when we trekked along in our life and did our work and stayed on our track. It’s just as good—and often many times better—than some fantasy we cooked up and hoped would just appear out of nowhere.

The truth is, most of us don’t actually know what’s going to happen or which path our lives will follow. We have a certain amount of control, but mostly our job is to stay in ourselves and be good, decent people no matter what occurs. If we have dreams, we have to do the work to make them come true—and that often creates its own road that leads us to something we didn’t even know existed. Plan A might be the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning, but Plan B is that lovely thing we created while we were living our real lives.

Nothing about this means that we can’t have the lives we fantasize about, but it’s the work that drives the fantasy toward reality. The important point is to enjoy every step on every path and to acknowledge every day that this is our life—and that it is lovely exactly as it is at this moment.

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