December 31, 2008. It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m not at a party or having dinner with friends or even at home alone with popcorn, watching Times Square on TV. Instead, I’m on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, millions of psychic miles from my frenzied if fulfilling job at Harvard Law School.
For the past five years, I’ve penned speeches for Dean Elena Kagan, juggling deadlines with cups of coffee at my storied alma mater, but when I get home one week later, everything has changed. During my silent sojourn, my boss was tapped to become Solicitor General, soon to join the fledgling Obama administration in Washington D.C. (As it happens, this will be short stop, en route to the U.S. Supreme Court.)
Four months later, I’m newly unemployed at the peak of the Great Recession. A rueful refrain runs through my mind: But I did everything right! This is not what my life is supposed to look like!
Welcome to Plan B Nation.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, it seemed reasonable to think that with education, hard work, and a modicum of luck we could chart a course in our lives—Plan A—and follow it through to the end.
Today, these assumptions no longer hold. Globalization, layoffs (actual or feared), the foreclosure crisis, the widespread demise of traditional pensions, the roller coaster stock market—these are some of the factors turning once-stable lives upside down.
“Plan B—it’s the new Plan A!” I quipped to a friend who was, like me, facing an unexpected reversal.
“Plan A, that’s so 20th-century,” I said to another.
But if Plan B Nation brings challenges, it also brings new possibilities and options. The trick is to finding new ways to work with things as they are.
As I recently wrote in Salon, thriving in Plan B Nation requires us to exercise many traditional American virtues: Fortitude, faith, patience, courage, and self-control.
To this list, I would also add ingenuity and a flexible, open perspective. In essence, we need to become artists of life. Rather than simply wishing things were different, we need to make creative use of the materials at hand.
Over the next weeks and months, this blog will be exploring just how we go about that. I’ll be sharing personal stories (my own and those of fellow travelers) while also taking a look at books and research helpful in navigating Plan B Nation. Please join the conversation–and if you’re so inclined, help me spread the word.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Are there issues you’d like to see addressed? Do you have suggestions for blog posts or features? Other thoughts or concerns? Please let me know.
Again, Welcome to Plan B Nation.
And now, let’s get started.