How a (jobless) Harvard Law grad turned opera singer built a new life in Turkey

As I prepared for a trip to Turkey a couple years back, a friend suggested a local contact—an American Harvard Law School grad and former Metropolitan opera singer, who had recently picked up and moved to Antalya. How could I not be intrigued?

While we didn’t manage to meet up during my trip, I began to follow her blog—Talking Turkey—and am delighted that she’s now agreed to kick off this blog’s guest post series spotlighting creative Plan B Nation lives.

By Ellen Rabiner

Why did I come to Turkey? This is the question I’m asked even more often than why I’m not married. I wish I had a good answer (for either question) but the truth is I sort of stumbled upon the idea of moving to Turkey.

The idea of leaving New York started to germinate when I realized I could no longer afford my ridiculously overpriced Upper West Side apartment.  In Amsterdam, on my final singing job in December 2009, I had to face the fact that I had no work coming up. Not a slow year, or a long time between engagements, but absolutely nothing.

Okay, that’s why I have a (Harvard) law degree to fall back on. But as fate would have it, the Great Recession hit just as my singing work was drying up, making it impossible for me to get even a lousy temp job doing document review, the legal equivalent of working on a factory assembly line. With so many laid-off lawyers now forced to take those unappealing jobs, even my illustrious J.D. was not going to make up for the fact that I’d been traipsing around the world singing for the past 20 years. There was simply no way I could compete with vastly more experienced attorneys.

So there I was, of a certain age, unemployed and essentially unemployable. I was living in a tiny apartment from which I could walk to the Met, but since I was no longer singing at the Met this advantage was hardly worth the $2,350 a month I was paying for the privilege.  And if I wasn’t working at the Met—or anyplace else—I couldn’t continue to pay for it much longer.  If I wanted to stay near Manhattan, I’d have to find a place in Queens, Inwood, or New Jersey. Plus, I’d still need a job.

In theory I had the credentials to hang out a shingle as a voice teacher or a lawyer, but in practice I didn’t really feel qualified to do either.  I didn’t want to add to the plethora of singers claiming expertise in vocal pedagogy simply by virtue of having had singing careers.  I knew what a real voice teacher was, and I wasn’t it.  And I didn’t have enough legal experience to open my own law office.

Since it seemed impossible to find a job commensurate with my education and experience, I decided to look at things another way:  To forget what I’d like to do for a living. To ask what I wanted to do with my life—and where I could go to do it.

Once I came at it this way, new answers began to emerge. What did I really want? I wanted to sit in the sun and read novels. And maybe travel to places I hadn’t been and learn a new language.  And have an apartment that rented for less than the price of a small car.

Antalya, Turkey, seemed to fit the bill: Along with being sunny and warm, it offers the opportunity to learn a new language and culture. It’s also a place I can blend in, and it’s a short flight to Western Europe. The cost of living is a fraction of what it is in New York.

While I wasn’t down to my last dollar when I moved, I would have run through my savings long ago if I’d stayed in Manhattan without a well-paying job. It was pretty clear to me that, whether I was teaching English or transitioning into something else, I’d be better off in a $300 apartment than in a $2,300 one. (By the way, if any readers are interested in moving to Turkey, living here legally as an American requires you to have $6,000 in the bank. That’s the minimum they think you need to live here for a year. Incidentally, it was also how much it cost me to live in New York for two months.)

Winters in Antalya can be a bit of a challenge for those of us accustomed to central heating. Of course it’s not as cold outside as it is in New York, but it’s much colder inside. I finally solved the problem of the noisy and inefficient wall unit by buying a portable heating fan to supplement it. I keep it next to me most of the day and move it into the bathroom to defrost the place before I take a shower. I also bought a reasonable facsimile of a down duvet (filled with polyester) that keeps me really warm at night.  A side benefit: I’ve found that spending time on chores like cooking, laundry, and staying warm can be a wonderful thing for an underemployed person, as it cuts into the time one might spend lamenting one’s uselessness.

My original idea for a job was to teach English, and I’m still doing a bit of that, teaching nine-year-old Russian kids once a week. I’ve come to accept, though, that teaching isn’t really my thing. On the other hand, it turns out I really enjoy writing my blog.  (It’s not exactly like the legal writing I used to do, but it’s not as alien to me as trying to corral a bunch of nine-year-olds.)  The logical step from that realization was to branch out into writing elsewhere, so I took an online course in travel writing.

Over the past few months, I’ve been doing my best to break into the travel-writing field.  I’ve had a few low-paying gigs, and I’m a long way from making a career of it. (Luckily, since my apartment costs only about $300 a month I’m not under too much pressure to earn a U.S.-style living wage immediately.)

For now, I continue to work on my writing career. I’m doing my best to take the long view—to recognize that building a whole new life is a marathon not a spring. And of course, I’m still giving myself some time sit in the sun and read novels.

Plan B Nation life hack #1 (a holiday survival tip)

Snowman Bokeh  (Explored) 10,000 visits to this photo. Thank you.

I love the idea of life hacks: practical shortcuts designed to ease lives burdened by overload and over-stimulation.

The life hack concept (like so much else) emerged from a digital subculture looking for ways to deal more efficiently with an incessant barrage of information. The goal: increased productivity and happier, more satisfying lives.

As described by British tech guru Danny O’Brien, who coined the term in 2004, life hacks are all about putting aside a larger problem to focus on a small fix that will get you through the task at hand.

In recent days, I’ve found myself reflecting on how this concept might be extended from the world of email and terabytes to the challenges of daily life.

In life (and especially in Plan B Nation) it’s easy to obsess about big questions with no clear answers. What am I doing with my life? Why do I keep having the same argument with my spouse, my child, my friends, my [fill in the blank]? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with them?

Such questions are likely to be especially freighted during the holidays. Hard as we may try not to, it’s easy to approach the season with out-sized expectations, both of ourselves and others. Moreover, we’re likely to be more exhausted than usual, closer to our snapping point. Those notorious holiday arguments, hurt feelings, and frayed nerves? This is where they come from.

Here’s one life hack that might help.

The larger problem: The holidays create a perfect storm of exaggerated hopes and expectations and (for many of us) depleted emotional reserves. This is particularly true for those of us residing in Plan B Nation, where anxieties about work and money can easily leave us feeling alienated amidst the festivities.

The hack: When you feel an urge to say something sharp or critical, stop and stay silent. Do this three times every day. Make this a practice.

I learned this strategy from a meditation teacher, who said that one of her students credits it for saving her marriage. One thing I love about the approach is its specificity. The practice isn’t to hold back forever and always. You only have to do it three times. That’s it. Then you’re done for the day.

One reason that I think the strategy works so well is that it shifts our focus. Instead of fixating on that infuriating thing someone did or said, we’re focusing on our goal—checking off one of the three things. This feels both empowering and satisfying.  In my experience, it can really help to diffuse a creeping sense of victimhood.

Twelve-steppers often joke that alcoholism is a three-part disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  And the fact is the holidays do carry with them a new set of challenges. At the same time, we’re not powerless. There are resources we can call on. The trick is finding strategies that work for us—and remembering to use them.

If you try out this life hack, I’d love to hear your experience. In the meantime, best wishes to everyone for a healthy and happy season.

When is it time to change course? (HT legal realism)

Kayak sobre las nubes / Sailing in the sky

Whether you’re reading a self-help book, a leadership guide, or any number of blogs, you’re likely to hear a lot about the importance of keeping commitments.

Indeed, the ability to follow through—to exercise self-control—is critical to success and happiness, according to the new book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by research psychologist Roy Baumeister and New York Times writer John Tierney.

As I recently wrote in Huffington Post, there are a number of proven strategies helpful in keeping us on course, including tracking our progress, limiting our priorities, and keeping our bodies fueled with the glucose that facilitates self-control. One of the more innovative (and amusing) solutions is, the brainchild of two Yale professors and one of their students. It works like this: Pick a goal. Report your progress. Fail to do what you promised? You are hit with an automatic penalty, such as making a payment to an “anti-charity”—a group with views you detest.

Such strategies can be especially helpful in Plan B Nation, where continued movement towards important goals can be especially hard to keep up. It’s one thing to finish a project on time when a boss is breathing down your neck. Quite another to plug away day after day alone on a seemingly unending job hunt. Over time, I’ve adopted a number of the strategies the Willpower authors describe—along with some of my own. They’ve helped me to move forward on numerous fronts, including launching this blog.

At the same time, as with pretty much everything, there are limits to willpower. Yes, thriving in Plan B requires a more-than-usual infusion of determination. But it also requires more-than-usual flexibility—a willingness to improvise, to take our opportunities where we find them. If we become too fixated on our goals, we may fail to recognize (and take advantage of) unexpected strokes of luck. Focus is good. Blinders are bad.

These thoughts have been on my mind as I wind up my first seven days of NaPerProMo. This is my personal (and intentionally silly-sounding) answer to National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, wherein more than 200,000 would-be novelists commit to penning 50,000 words in the course of 30 days. Taking this model as a jumping off point, I announced that on December 1, I would embark on NaPerProMo—National Personal Project Month—with the goal of writing a blog post a day.

It sounded like a good idea—indeed, such a good idea that I recently learned that the BlogHer network of women bloggers just concluded NaBloPoMo (National Blog Post Month).  At the same time, as I’ve found in the past week, it isn’t quite feasible, at least not if I want to write the sort of posts that you’ll likely want to read.  In large part this is because I’ve suddenly (and happily) been getting some paying freelance work, and for me, it was a no-brainer that this had to take precedence.

I remember remarkably little of what I learned in law school, but one thing that sticks with me is an arresting list of conflicting “canons of construction”—rules for how we go about figuring out what a law means.  Legal realist Karl Llewellyn famously listed 28 examples of such conflicting rules. (For example, the rule that “A statute cannot go beyond its text” exists alongside “To effect its purpose, a statute may be implemented beyond its text.”)  When judges go about interpreting laws, there are “correct, unchallengeable rules of ‘how to read’ which lead in happily variant directions,” Llewellyn concluded with dry humor in a 1950 law review piece.

Here, it seems to me, that life is very much like law. Stick to your commitments. Be open and flexible. These are both great pieces of advice so far as they go, but at times they will conflict. And at such points we, like Llewellyn’s judge, will have to find our own “right” answer. For me, right now, this means keeping in mind the spirit of my goal (writing more, building community, connecting with My People) but being flexible in how I go about it. And while I may not write a blog post each and every day, I can still keep moving forward.

Searching for meaning in Plan B Nation

Searching the Ox  -  I

Earlier this week, I wrote about how much happier I’ve been since moving back to my beloved Northampton roughly a year ago. While I feared this would be just a temporary boost, I’m pleased to report that it’s proven far more satisfying and delightfully sustaining.

At the same time, the past year has (not surprisingly) brought new challenges. Apartment hunting, negotiating a lease, finding movers, packing—these practical tasks amounted to a full-time job that left me little time for worrying about larger and more amorphous questions such as What am I doing with my life? Once I’d landed on the other side, however, they soon reclaimed center stage.

Regardless of where you go for guidance—psychologists, religious leaders, sociologists, friends—pretty much everyone will tell you that purpose is a key ingredient for a satisfying life.

In his celebrated 1946 Holocaust memoir Man’s Search for Meaning, Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl went so far as to say that this search is our primary motivation in life. But while the principle may be a simple one, putting it into practice can be far more complicated—and in circumstances far less dire than Frankl’s Nazi death camp. Frankl himself recognized this in a preface to the book’s 1984 edition, where he glumly concluded: “I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book so much an achievement and accomplishment on my part as an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.”

If anything our hunger for meaning has only grown more desperate since Frankl penned those words. There may be periods of our lives—sometimes long periods—when we don’t give it much thought. The big questions are (temporarily) settled. The big decisions are made. What remains is execution, the living out of their implications through the days and years.

At other times, however, the big questions are right in our face—and, more and more that’s the case for those of us living in Plan B Nation.  More and more, we’re drop-kicked into unfamiliar situations, left to make major decisions without meaningful guidance.  Our parents’ rules for decision-making no longer seem to apply. Friends give conflicting advice. Depending on our spiritual outlook, we may pray or look inward for guidance, but often we still find ourselves completely at a loss—at a loss and anxious.

Perhaps my favorite description of this muddled state comes from a short story by the peerless Lorrie Moore. Describing a baffled protagonist, she writes, “She hadn’t been given the proper tools to make a real life with, she decided, that was it. She’d been given a can of gravy and a hairbrush and told, ‘There you go.’”

A can of gravy and a hairbrush.

I can so relate.

In the first decade of the new millennium, an evangelical pastor named Rick Warren tapped into this motherlode of anguished confusion with The Purpose Driven Life, now billed as “the bestselling nonfiction hardback book in history.” (The Bible, presumably, is entirely factual so not in the running here.)

While I was raised as a Congregationalist I’ve spent little time in churches in my adulthood—except for a brief foray into Episcopalianism. (“We’re Unitarians who like liturgy,” our priest once said, describing those drawn to this small and decidedly creative church.) Still, I couldn’t help but be curious, so I ordered myself a copy.

The (trademark registered) Purpose Driven Life is described as a “40-day spiritual journey” that “will transform your life.”  Warren urges us to read no more than one of the 40 chapters each day, but I decided that a single afternoon would have to suffice.  After all, I didn’t plan to do the program, I just wanted to get a sense of what it’s about—and indeed, it took just a few chapters to grasp its appeal.

Warren claims The Purpose Driven Life is not a self-help book, but while his understanding of the genre may differ from mine, it strikes me as exactly that. In fairness, I found much with which to agree. In his anti-materialism, his belief in the paramount importance of relationships over things, Warren’s is a counter-cultural voice, exhorting us to care for the planet as well as for each other. To that extent, I’m with him.

This only takes me a short way, though, and I’m soon baffled by Warren’s blithe presumption that all we need to do is listen.

Warren’s God speaks with unmistakable clarity. The problem isn’t that we can’t hear God but that we refuse to obey him.

“If God asked you to build a giant boat, don’t you think you might have a few questions, objections, or reservations?” Warren asks his readers, contrasting our imagined obstinacy with Noah’s eagerness to get right on that ark.

And that’s where he loses me.

Because the thing is, if God were speaking to me—and I knew for sure that this was God—I’m pretty sure I’d be fine with building whatever boat he (or she) wanted. And I’m pretty sure the same would be true for most anyone reading the book. (Or at least almost anyone: My friend Jennifer—a law professor—insists she would indeed take issue with this heavenly directive, explaining she’s not trained in ark-building, though she’d gladly write a paper.)

But this doesn’t seem to be how God usually speaks, even to those of us desperate for guidance.

Not that we don’t wish he did.

I’m reminded of a scene in The Moviegoer, Walker Percy’s National Book Award-winning 1960 novel. “Don’t you see?” the despairing Kate Cutrer asks her cousin Binx. “What I want is to believe in someone completely and then do what he wants me to do. If God were to tell me: Kate, here is what I want you to do; you get off this train right now and go over there to that corner by the Southern Life and Accident Insurance Company and stand there for the rest of your life and speak kindly to people—you think I would not do it? You think I would not be the happiest girl in Jackson, Mississippi? I would.”

For most of us, like Kate, clear direction often proves elusive, however much we long for it. That was certainly the case for renowned writer Dan Wakefield, a novelist, journalist and screenwriter who, after decades of atheism and hard living, rediscovered the religious faith of his youth. Some years later, he reconnected with a childhood friend, a woman from his hometown of Indianapolis (which also happens to be my hometown, but I digress).  After years of tumultuous relationships, Wakefield believed he was finally on the right path, on the road to which God had led him. The couple married.

And then, almost immediately, things fell apart.

In his soul-baring spiritual memoir How Do We Known When It’s God?, Wakefield reflects back on this painful time, writing: “The hubris of imagining we’ve ‘got it together,’ followed by a jolt of reality that plunges us back to earth, is probably one of the most familiar and often-traveled arcs of human experience. And yet we think each time, ‘This is different, this time I’ve really got it right.’”

Wakefield’s experience got me to thinking about how we go about pursuing our goals—how we decide what to do next. It’s all well and good to say, as the evangelical Warren does, that we should just do what God tells us—or some secular equivalent of this—but what does this really mean?  At the most basic, practical level, how do we go about this? And, most immediately, how should I go about it?

The notion that there exists some absolute truth to which we should look for guidance pervades American culture.  For Evangelical Christians like Warren, it’s God. For those of a more ecumenical bent, it may be Your True Self, Your Inner Voice, or some general force for good.

But not everyone buys such theories. Alongside the widespread view that there exists some pre-existing and essential truth is a less well-traveled but parallel track known as constructivism. As constructivists see it, the self is something that we create, not something that we find. Until we’ve constructed our self, there isn’t a self to consult. Until then, to paraphrase Harvard professor Robert Kegan, we’re no more than the collection of beliefs taken on from “important others”—parents, teachers, peers, celebrities, employers, to name just a view. And because these perspectives so often diverge, we often find ourselves in trouble—caught between conflicting demands with no way to choose between them.

Make a lot of money, but don’t overvalue material things.

Put yourself first, but also put your family first.

It’s important to look your best, but don’t think too much about how you look.

Be assertive but modest.

As the old saying goes, you can’t please everyone—and yet, without quite noticing, many of us in Plan B Nation can’t seem to stop ourselves from trying.

But while the constructivists’ theories make a lot of sense to me, they still leave the biggest question unanswered.  If we’re charged with “constructing” our selves, how do we best proceed?

I’ve spent much of the past year thinking—and reading—about this question, and more and more, I’m convinced that life in Plan B Nation isn’t something that can be planned or neatly charted out.

Rather, we need to “live into” our new lives—to discover our purpose through trying things out, regrouping, then trying again. The process isn’t linear. It’s often messy. But it’s also necessary.

And in fact, the process may not be all that different from how we’ve always lived.  After extensive research into successful mid-life career transitions, organizational behavior expert Herminia Ibarra concluded that the traditional “plan and implement” model is at odds with reality. Facing a major crossroads, would-be career changers often spend countless hours and dollars on counseling and batteries of standardized tests, all in the interests of determining what it is they really want.  In other words, first figure out what you want. Then go after it.

This all sounds pretty logical, except that, according to Ibarra, our lives don’t work that way. “We learn who we are—in practice, not in theory—by testing reality, not by looking inside,” she writes in Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.  “We discover the true possibilities by doing—trying out new activities, reaching out to new groups, finding new role models, and reworking our story as we tell it to those around us.”  

Over the past months, I’ve taken this advice to heart (in part because it appeals to me and in part because I don’t really see a whole lot of other options). I still feel pulled in multiple directions—at the time of this writing, I’m taking an introductory social work class, planning to teach a writing workshop, actively seeking full-time and freelance jobs, and contemplating taking the Massachusetts bar exam.  (In the dry words of one friend, “Amy, maybe you should consider monetizing your Harvard Law degree.”)

If this post seems longer than previous offerings, that’s because it is: Much of it was pulled from a book proposal that I may (or may not) be reworking.  As with so many other things: Time. Will. Tell. For now, one of the ways I’m finding meaning is through writing this blog.  And while I can’t say where it’s taking me, I’m sure enjoying the ride.

NaNoWriMo for the rest of us (NaPerProMo, anyone?)

Don´t do a NaNo without them

NaNoWriMo: Assuming you know what it is, you either love it or hate it.

For those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, the annual word fest wherein participants commit to writing 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and November 30. Since its launch in 1999, NaNoWriMo has exploded, going from 21 participants to—get this—250,000.

Now at this particular point in my life, I have close to zero interest in writing a novel (been there, done that). I do, however, have high hopes for this little blog o’ mine.

So here’s what I plan to do: During the month of December, I’m going to commit to drafting a post every day. They won’t appear every day—that would likely drive you nuts—but they’ll be in the pipeline for when the time comes. That’s 31 posts in all, and if I do this—or even come anywhere close—it will mark a quantum leap for this tiny baby blog.

Great, but it’s only November 20. Why am I telling you this?

Here’s a secret: Anything I write between now and December 1 still counts towards my 31 posts. I admit it–I cheat. In fairness, December is a holiday month, so I know there will be some down days. (Also, chances are some of these posts will need some, er, polishing before they’re ready for you.)

I’m a big fan of plans like this. This is how, in another lifetime, I wrote (and published) my two novels. My goal was 500 words a day—about two double-spaced pages. And while I didn’t always meet the goal (in fact, far from it), I did track my progress, and that made all the difference.

The prolific Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, who I recently discovered used a similar strategy, put it this way: “[I]f at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face and demanding of me increased labour, so that the deficiency might be supplied.”

Community support always helps—that’s the purpose of NaNoWriMo—and I’d love it if you would join me. Here’s how it works: Pick a project you want to get done and set a daily doable goal. For example, if you want to clean and de-clutter your house—Now why would I think of that?–you could commit to tossing three items a day. If you want to get in shape, commit to 30 minutes of exercise a day.

Tip: Try to keep your goals reasonable—and if you find you’ve set the bar too high, don’t be afraid to adjust.

If you’re on Twitter you can send your updates to @planbnation with the hashtag  #naperpromo. Or feel free to post your progress on the Plan B Nation Facebook wall or comment on this post. I’ll be doing the same. I hope to see you there!

Note: Anyone who feels like a slacker for opting out of NaNoWriMo this year can take comfort in bestselling writer (and cyber pal) Laura Zigman’s witty take on the project—part of her terrific Annoying Conversations series of Xtranormal movies. (And if you are doing NaNoWriMo, best of luck. I’m quite sure you’ll be an exception.)

Good news? Bad news? Who knows?

Question mark

A few years back, while still working at Harvard Law School, I heard this story:

After weighing her options, a soon-to-graduate student turned down lucrative offers at prestigious law firms to accept a low-paying fellowship with a non-profit organization. This did not sit well with her family, who expected her to “do something” with her Harvard Law School degree.

Flash forward a few months: The Great Recession has hit. Both of her parents have lost their well-paying jobs. Classmates who’d thought their post-graduation lives were set are now seeing their law firm offers postponed or withdrawn. She alone, among her friends and family, is untouched by the crisis.

I’ve thought about this story a lot–and what it says to those of us navigating Plan B Nation. As I see it, the take-away is this: We never really know for sure where our choices will take us. This doesn’t mean that we don’t do our best to plan. It does mean that we are well-advised to keep an open mind about what events “mean.”

The past two years of my own life are a case in point.

After my Harvard Law School job ended in the wake of the Great Recession, I embarked on an exhaustive (and exhausting) search for paying work. At the time of this writing, I’ve long lost count of the dozens (hundreds?) of jobs for which I’ve applied. You see, my resume is impressive, but it’s also quirky. I’ve published suspense novels, written speeches for a Harvard Law School dean (now a U.S Supreme Court Justice), and designed a program to bring public school teachers to rural Mississippi. At the same time, I’m not a whiz with Excel or PowerPoint. Basically, I’m a writer, and as smart and talented as I may be, I don’t easily fit into an identifiable niche.

But here’s the thing. If I’d gotten any of the jobs I’d applied for (and believe me, I did my best) I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog, or the pieces for Huffington Post and Salon that paved the way for it. And these essays that I’m writing now—they feel important. Hard as the road to this point has been (and you’ll be hearing much more about that), right at this moment the life I’m living feels deeply meaningful.

One of my meditation teachers told this classic story:

There once was a poor rice farmer, who had a very small field just large enough to feed his family.

Then one day a herd of wild horses came running through the village. They ran into the farmer’s rice field and got stuck in the mud, and since they couldn’t get away, they were his.

His neighbor came running over and said, “This is good news! Such good fortune! You are rich, this is amazing!” And the rice farmer said, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

A few weeks later the farmer’s 12-year-old son jumped up on one of the wild horses for a ride, only to be thrown off and have his leg broken. The neighbor comes running over and says, “Oh no, this is such bad news!” And the farmer said, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

A week later a Chinese general is marching through the farmer’s village on the way to war. On this march, the army is conscripting every healthy boy over 10 years of age. So they took every boy in the village except the farmer’s son because of his broken leg.

The neighbor comes running over and says, “Yes! This is wonderful news, how lucky are we!” And the father replies, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

And the fact is we never do.

Failing at something you don’t really want—even if you think you do—may be a step on the path to a wonderful life you can’t even imagine today.

Good news, bad news, who knows?

Since we can’t know what the future holds, why not keep an open mind?

Welcome to Plan B Nation

if it makes you fly...

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.