Thursday, August 6, 2020

My Crystal Ball Is Broken

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Man, I hate that question. Don't get me wrong. I have an intense dislike of ALL the standard job interview questions: "What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses? Tell me about a time you solved a major conflict or problem at work (because I carry those memories around with me??)?" But looking at the future? Where am I going to be in five years?

I don't know why: maybe it's a generational thing, or maybe just the way I grew up, or some combination of history and neuroses... but I've always had a near-pathological mistrust of long-term planning. 

I worked through my Junior and Senior years of High School. In fact, by the time I started college, I'd had at least five different jobs in three different industries. It wasn't flakiness--in two of those cases, I'd worked myself up to new, higher-paying roles from smaller jobs and had stayed on in two of my jobs through the summers and into the school year. During the Summer between my Junior and Senior years, in fact, I was working two part-time jobs. 

By the time I got to college, I had two jobs through the work-study program, and would go on to have an additional three college jobs related to my fields of study. In my Freshman year, I was a business major, minoring in Communication. By my Sophomore year, I dropped the pretense and changed my major to Communication with a Writing minor. By my Junior year, I'd become even more enamored with filmmaking and, along with three other students and two Professors, pioneered what would become the Film Major at my college. 

Then I got married to a wonderful girl who had it a lot more together than I did. She actually was a business major and graduated the year we got married. We went to LA, so I could continue my education in film, then moved to Michigan to start our life together. After a few years in Michigan, we and our two small children moved to New York, and seven years after that, now with FOUR children in tow, to Wisconsin. 

In the interim, we'd lived in seven different homes and I'd had another seven jobs.

Our marriage began in travel, and we stayed somewhat transient for a long period of time since then. Our last home in upstate New York was, up until then, the longest we'd stayed in a single place. We made it six years. I think.

Then, in 2012, I was invited to interview for a Morning Host position at a Christian radio station in NE Wisconsin. It was, to my mind, the job I really wanted. THE Job. Finally, my career position. During the interview, they asked me the fateful question: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Back then, even if they'd said, "Where do you see yourself in 2020," my answer would have been the same: "Right Here."

Eight years ago today, I started my new job. I'd lost some of my mistrust of permanence. I was willing to put my faith in A Plan. To put down roots. To start being an Adult the way I'd always understood the concept: A career at a workplace I thought I'd retire from, a happy family, a house we weren't paying rent on, two cars, cats. I looked at the future and thought I liked what I saw. 

Right up until I was unceremoniously kicked out of my Perfect Job and my Perfect Employers asked me to never return. 

I had put my faith in long-term planning. Had banked on permanence. And before I even knew what happened, Permanence had shown me the door. 

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying it's bad to have a plan. Obviously, it's smart to have a plan. But we're in world in which your contingencies had better have contingencies, which themselves are bolstered by Plans B, C, and D. 

But don't get mad at me if, in the current year, in which everyone is literally nowhere near where they'd imagined they'd be, and plenty of folks are still wondering if they'll even have a job tomorrow, I can't help feeling a little vindicated in my seeing long-term planning as the Daily Life version of the Lottery. Maybe it'll pan out. And maybe you shouldn't drop your life savings on buying tickets. 

So, now I'm freelancing as a voice talent and podcast producer. I'm looking into other new avenues of communication and wealth creation. I'm constantly learning, constantly shifting, constantly looking forward and watching the sky in every direction for oncoming storms. 

So where do I see myself in five years? Still loving my wife and kids. Still moving. Still learning. Still growing. 

Beyond that? 

I guess we'll find out together.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Life as Improv

There are no instructions for life. Not really. 

Now, I'm a Christian, and I happen to believe in the truth of the Bible. And certainly, there is wisdom in there on how to live well. How to serve God and others, how to love dangerously. But just living? Paying the bills, and being an adult and raising headstrong teenagers? Building a business, dealing with people when you don't want to, knowing when to stop going to the laundromat and just buy a new dryer, creating a workable schedule to fit everything you need to do, everything you want to do, and everything you really ought to do into the finite time we actually have?

I'm just making this up as I go along. And the scary thing is, I think we all are. 

There's an element of chaos in this life of ours, a world that doesn't always behave the way we'd like it to, things that happen that destroy our best-laid plans. I heard someone say once that no strategy survives the battlefield. And if we're being honest with ourselves, every single day is a new battle, and every single day we're adapting, reshaping our plans, rerouting. 

I'm trying my best just to be a good husband, good father, live a life of kindness and gratitude, show mercy and charity and humility. And most days, I don't even know how to do that perfectly. 

There was a time I thought I had it figured out. I had a career I loved in an industry I knew I wanted to retire from. My wife had a great job. We had bought a house. We weren't out of the woods financially, but we had a solid plan. We were adulting, and Had It Together. 

And then I lost my job. There I was, doing my part, playing the role... and then someone came in and stepped over my lines with dialogue that just wasn't in the script. And that's when I realized: That's Life. We're all players in this ridiculous improv comedy and the best thing we can do is to look at what's in front of us and say, "yes, and..."

And then Covid came along and changed our economy, our relationships, our travel plans, our daily interactions. Yes. And. 

I'm in my forties and I really have no idea what the hell I'm doing. We're all just riffing here, waiting on the Chaos to say its lines so we can pick up the act from there and decide where to lead the story next. 

If anyone tells you differently, that they have it Figured Out, that they know the secret key to unlock life and live it just exactly how you want it, they are either liars or fools and either way not someone worth listening to. 

The secret is, there is no secret. At best, what we have is acceptance. An understanding that reality doesn't care whether you want to go camping or buy a car or sleep in. Maybe you'll get to do it, and maybe not. But at least, we can understand that truth and learn to live with it as best we can. To take what life gives us and choose not to give up, but to accept what is and determine to make the best of it. To say, "Yes, this is what life is. And this is what I'm going to do about it. "

Shakespeare famously said, "all the world's a stage." He just didn't get around to mentioning that the script is trash before we even read the first line. The world may be a stage, but life isn't a play: it's improv. Performance Art. And no matter in what role you've been cast, you're eventually going to have to dump the script and do your best to build your story up from whatever happens next. Just remember: Yes. And.