The best laid plans
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
~ Robert Burns
A few years ago, I heard a speaker during one of those leadership conferences talking about their Plan A and Plan B. It was basically describing their practical job (Plan B) and their “dream career” (Plan A). They mentioned that they were constantly working towards their Plan A. It made me think. I didn’t have a Plan A or a Plan B, I actually had Plans A, B, and C! Plan C is my “survival” career.
Spoiler alert: I’m still in my Plan C. But let me explain.
When I was a hopeful, yet cynical 18-year-old, there weren’t any chances for planning my future. I was a child on the cusp of adulthood, having just moved out of my parents’ house. Learning how to survive with all the bravado and naivete only stubborn girls could have. Clueless, I closed my eyes. There wasn’t time to grasp for air while trying to sink or swim. I went for the easiest option. Easiest being the one which would allow me to earn as soon as possible, so that I could live. This helped my immigrant parents to focus their hard earned money on my other three siblings. Even though I wasn’t living with them, they shaped my choices through good old-fashioned “child obligation guilt”. So, Computing Science was the plan chosen for me. Because “IT will earn you money right away.” I was obviously studying my undergraduate degree during the Dot Com Boom and programming meant fast money. Little did we know.
I was a passable computing student. After graduating I was one of those who over-used my certificate to gain employment. To be honest, my Computing Science degree was an extension of my high school years in that I was studying subjects to work towards being an employee. I had classmates who thoroughly enjoyed deconstructing 486’s and putting them together like Legos. They cheered in computer labs when their code compiled and walked with pride as they printed their outputs, anticipating more hours in front of their monitors playing WarCraft or Quake. I wasn’t that kind of IT Dot Com Boom worker. I was using programming as a means to an end. What end? I hadn’t a clue.
Besides my Plan C, I didn’t have any career goals or dreams. Well, I burrowed my Plan B deep into the impractical treasure chest of my heart. But at some point, during my twenties, when I’d paid off my student loan, I feebly announced that I was only going to be working in IT for another five years, save up, then sink my head into my Plan B. I was going to study Psychology.
Yes, during high school I had delusions of being a doctor. I wanted to heal and help others. I was also very good at researching and understanding Science. Science and I were friends, like some of my Comp Sci classmates were friends with machine languages. I also enjoyed using English to communicate what I’ve learnt. I was a sure candidate for being a psychologist. But my Plan B was too expensive and risky for survival. My parents were worried that I wasn’t good enough at Science and it would take longer for me to earn.
What about Plan A, you ask? Well, secretly, since I was younger than ten, I wanted to become a writer. Imagine if I told my parents that I wanted to study a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. They would have laughed at me. Then showed me the door. Even though I was able to push my Plan B to the side, I could never forget about my Plan A. It was there constantly following me, through midnight short stories or poems written on restaurant serviettes. My writing kept reminding me about this word, passion.
It’s now been twenty-three years since I started with my Plan C. The idea of my Plan B has sailed by. Also, hindsight has taught me that emotional labour caring for others constantly is a very real thing. And I only really could take care of humans who came from my womb. Amazing how motherhood and hardships can make us realise some dreams are better off staying as dreams.
I’ve also learnt to love and be proud of my achievements in my Plan C career. I even took up a Master’s degree to enhance my skills and improve myself as a leader in the IT industry. I revelled in the knowledge I have about software, applications and managing the people who design, create and build them. I feel privileged to take part in some projects that changed lives and made a positive impact. For the first time in a long time, I no longer think of my ‘work’ as a means of survival, but as part of my way of life. I am enjoying what I am doing for most of my day.
Going back to the speaker at that conference with their Plan A and Plan B, I’ve realised that their view of career plans differs completely from mine. My sense of work and self has made me shape my career based on the resources and choices I had at the time. I’ve now let go of any notions of Plan A, B or C. I was privileged to even have the choice to study something. It felt like a constant uphill battle, but I got through it and found a niche for myself, to satisfy my need to add value. I took opportunities to grow and shape my future as I went. I shaped my Plan C into my Plan A, until all plans were blurred, and I could say that I was simply adapting and embracing life as it’s presented to me.
At some point, working to survive turned into flourishing and enjoying life. And raising strong women has now been added to my passion bucket. I’ve learnt that when I started taking the lead in my career choices, using my strengths and values to complement what I’m learning while navigating my workscape, helped me grow and find new enjoyment in life.
Currently, I’m working for a company that is completely aligned with my values and passions. I am happy to be a part of a team of tech wizards, the most intelligent people I’ve worked with in the industry. I’m also allowed to be the leader that I always wanted to be. All while being supported and encouraged to write my first ever speculative fiction/fantasy book.
Yes, my parents said I better get published.
Elisa Dominique Rivera is a long-time IT professional focused on delivering software that has a positive impact. Her favourite part of her workscape is building teams who work well together, and love learning from each other. When she’s not thinking about gender equality and equity in the STEM industries, she writes poems and fiction. Her dream is to some day publish a book that her daughters would love to read over and over again. Her poems have been published in the FromOneLine Anthology and her speculative fiction, Free Range, won a prize from the Writers Playground Short Story Challenge.