September 17, 2009

Having a plan (or no plan)

Usually I post what's been happening on this page, but today I wanted to post an email I sent to a friend, Monica who writes a great blog called Buddhist in Nebraska. It was too long to post on her comments section, but thought here was okay. I hope she doesn't mind.
Hola Monica,

A plan is good. But plans change. That's life. If you make the plan too rigid, you won't see other opportunities when they come up.

Everyone told me in high school, 'Engineering' is right for you! So, that's what I signed up for at university. But in my last year Engineering design class I finally figured out that the goal in 'real world' engineering wasn't to have the best design, it was to design what the client wanted (which isn't always the best choice - they're human after all and have their own hangups). That was really discouraging for me.

I graduated, re-hired with a firm I worked at during college. But my bubble had burst and it all looked like every other engineer had just sold out. I hated it in the office. I did work a year in the field and loved that, but it was pretty lonely for a single guy, out in the boonies working on a huge construction project (power plant). I wish I had tried other firms, but I didn't.

I went back to school to become a secondary school teacher until I tutored some high school kids. I knew right then I didn't have the patience to handle a room full of the monsters called teenagers (although I loved tutoring one-on-one). So, ended up in limbo for over eight years, working a part time job at the university library which landed me a job in a private library at a research facility.

The funny thing is that nothing 'intentionally' helped me on that next part of the plan, or path. I researched every job, did all the personality tests, just about everything they said would help me find my next career. None of it worked. Really a waste of time, listening to other people who don't have any more clue about the future than I do.

But I gave massages at the library. Not really my job, but I liked doing it. It made people happy, especially my boss (who always got hers first). In the early 90s, massage therapy wasn't a possibility (we still had massage parlors in KC then). But I found out Physical Therapists did massage. Unfortunately, PT schools were supper competitive. I mean super-super competitive (at KU, only 28 were accepted out of 400 applicants). I didn't get in, not in the 10 schools I applied. I did find a PT Assistant program at the community college, and did that.

I worked in a hospital for 13 years. I loved working with my patients (but not healthcare system as you can imagine). Who would have ever figured I'd go from Engineering to Medicine. But it's a young persons profession (my coworkers were all in their 20s) and very physical. I'm lucky I didn't get any back injuries in those 13 years. And guess what, the hospital where I worked, closed. Yup, I finally find a nitch where I'm needed and useful and they close the doors. I was devastated.

Really crashed that time. But that was the life changing event that got me into a Buddhist temple, to finally put into practice something that I'd been reading about for years. I took refuge vows a few months after the hospital closed.

Got a new job working at a nursing home but hated it. Not the patients, I loved them. But it was the degrading conditions we put people in and and still make oodles of money (not me, some corporation). Made huge huge plans to get out and travel through Europe.

But one month into my travels, I chucked everything I'd spent a year planning to do. My heart just wasn't in it. It was just another way to run away from problems (or perceptions) that I couldn't run away from because they were inside me. After a chance meeting, I ended up volunteering for two weeks at a Buddhist monastery in France. But I stayed for three months, and it was great. When I left, I didn't know what I was going to do, but that was okay. I was more open to see what would unfold. And unfold it did.

The director at the monastery contacted me later, once I was back in the US, to tell me that there was a Buddhist center in Mongolia that needed native-speakers to teach English. And a year later, I ended up in Mongolia. Now, I've finished my year-long commitment but have decided to stay. At this point I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen in the future. Even without a penny to my name, this prospect doesn't scare me (like it probably should).

Life will happen, just as its supposed to, all I have to do is keep my eyes open and live the moment. I know it all sounds like new-age mumbo-jumbo but for me, that's really the only words I can come up with.

I mean, look at the beginning. Who would have ever thought I'd end up in Mongolia. [laugh] I'm glad I didn't get stuck in any one track, especially the one society says I should strive for (career track, house, wife, two kids, dog, etc). I could have had a thousand different lives, making any number of infinite choices along the way, but I'm here now, and that's perfect, because all those paths are the same - just the details are different.

So, my sage advice is, to relax. Enjoy school, enjoy your studies, even the boring ones, and don't worry so much about the future. Take a step in one direction but realize that that next year, or maybe next week, or the next minute, something might, just might make you take a step in a totally different direction. Or not, but it doesn't matter.

You are just where you're supposed to be, right now. And it's perfect.

Jim in Mongolia