Planning is overrated
I got some pretty sobering news from my doctor last week. Keep in mind that in the last 10 years she’s told me that I had a crushed disc in my back, a left bundle branch block (it’s a heart thing) and throat cancer, so I’m accustomed to getting bad news from her…but this time was really disturbing. She read my latest blood work, looked me dead in the eye and told me that I’d better plan an active retirement because I probably have another 25 years to live. Yikes!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a death wish and I’m in no hurry to cash in my chips but the idea that I should have been planning for the future caught me completely off guard. It’s not just that I haven’t planned for retirement … I haven’t planned at all.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve led a great life and things have worked out pretty good for me so far … but that’s exactly what happened, things just sort of worked out. I’d like to be able to claim that I planned a career in the Navy but I didn’t. I fully intended to get out of the Navy after my first enlistment until they dangled a five-digit re-enlistment bonus in front of me.
I was 23 years old and that was more money than I had ever seen so I re-enlisted but I still didn’t plan on staying through retirement, to be perfectly honest I didn’t plan on much of anything beyond cashing that check. Within six months of cashing the check I was divorced and broke again … I didn’t plan that either.
A few years later when that enlistment was about to expire I intended to get out of the Navy and become a full-time surfer and professional student until my GI Bill ran out. I can’t say I had an actual plan to do any of that because I never enrolled in college or signed up for the GI Bill … I got as far as buying a surfboard before I lost interest in planning.
Just before I was forced to make a plan for life after the Navy things sort of worked out again. In what I’m still convinced was an administrative error; my name appeared on a list of sailors to be commissioned as Naval Officers. No OCS, no college, they just pinned gold bars on my collar and told me I was an officer and a gentleman … I had no idea how to be an officer and I sure as hell hadn’t planned becoming a gentleman.
As soon as I got commissioned I planned out my next move and bought a new convertible! I put the top down, threw my surfboard in the back seat and planned on dazzling the Navy and the ladies until I retired as a playboy admiral or died in some top secret mission. Things didn’t work out quite like I planned…but they did work out.
I didn’t plan on becoming a legendary F-14 maintenance officer, being instrumental in pulling off at least a dozen death defying covert special operations, dating Heidi Klum, winning the lottery or the Pulitzer Prize for the witty recounting of my life story. None of those things happened, but for the record, I never planned on it.
I got married, had four perfect kids, retired from the Navy, had seven perfect grandkids and bought a house, a cool truck and a riding lawnmower all without a plan. Stuff happens and I’ve been pretty lucky so far.
You can imagine my concern when the doctor suggested that it was important that I have a plan in place for the next 25 years. Heck, I never planned the last 25 years and, to be honest, I didn’t plan on living quite that long. It’s not that I planned on dying…true to form I just didn’t plan.
On one hand I’m thrilled to have a future to plan for but on the other hand I’ve got no idea how to spend my golden years, but I doubt I’ll other making a plan. I figure that you don’t get to be a successful doctor without making solid plans an seeing the through so I understand why she thinks it’s important.
It turns out that if you’re a globetrotting slacker and a semi-pro humor columnist, planning is overrated. It stands to reason that there’s not much planning required to be a retired slacker so we’ll see what happens … something always does.
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.