Lay Your Bets on the Table

A few months ago I was talking to a friend over breakfast and they asked me a question. “What’s your plan for the next five years?” The stammered non-answer I gave stuck with me. I didn’t have a plan. I hadn’t even acknowledged, until it was asked, that I didn’t. How did I not know that had slipped away from me? How badly was I in denial for that to be the case?

The last few years have been a subtle, slow acquiescence to the inevitability of failure and disappointment. I didn’t know I was doing it, I didn’t know why, and I was blind to the hole it was eating in my sense of self. I didn’t lack a plan because I was lazy or stupid. I’d just given up, in tiny increments, on the belief that having one would matter. I gave myself over to inertia, sending out requests for rejection because it was what I was supposed to do. Not because I believed it woud make a difference. I’d send out a letter, or two, or ten and wait silently for them to come back with the only answer they could: No.

I’ve been slamming myself against that non-answer ever since, hoping that in understanding how I’d gotten to this point I could bring myself to answer the question for myself. What the bloody hell is my plan? I’ve been talking with The Therapist about it, too – what with my tattered self-worth and fatalistic lack of optimism being at the core of what drove me there. Last week, something came out of my mouth that I’d never said as plainly until that moment.

When it comes to my writing career, I run from risk like it’s a giant spider with a taste for man-flesh. Not in my writing, mind you. It’s the part where I try to get paid for it that had me hiding. Risking something was the first thing I gave up without a fight, years ago, and in doing so planted the seed that I was so unlikely to succeed that I’d better get used to playing it as safe as possible. The house was going to win. Keep the bets safe and denominated in worthless Monopoly money.

It’s not even that I haven’t taken a risk. It’s possible the right risk never presented itself. The problem is that I’ve been avoiding them. Afraid of them. I banked on low stakes bets and hedged investments and told myself in the doing that boldness was simply a faster way to fail. The killer, of course, is pride. I let those side eye glances, the doubts and worries and fears of others become my worries. My fears. I didn’t want to have to answer to them, to their fears or mine, when a risk didn’t pay off. In safety I could fail quietly.

Failing quietly is killing me.

If you asked me right now if I had a plan, my answer would be the same as it was when this started. I really don’t know. I have a novel in progress. A web series I’m co-writing and producing. Those are things in front of me. On the table. Those are the start of an answer. Only a start.

This isn’t about selling my car and my house to live in an East Village flat and write between meals of peanut butter and ramen. When I say I need to be willing to take a risk i don’t mean I’m about to take a big one right this second. What I’m saying is there can never be an answer to that question, there can never be a plan, if I’m not ready to fail noisily. If there isn’t a crash and burn possibility (or a handful of them) in the plan, there is no plan. If there is no plan, ten years from now I’m still keeping servers running in the middle of a ticket on-sale. That is not happening.

Maybe I’ll be able to answer that question soon. Maybe the next time I get asked I won’t stammer my way through saying, “I don’t know.” Maybe, when the time comes to chance a real failure, I’ll be ready to honestly decide if it’s the right risk instead of looking away in fear.

That’s the plan, anyway.

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5 Responses to Lay Your Bets on the Table

  1. Great stuff. Best of luck.

    I’ve been helped by the realization that I can fail cheaply. I can write a short story and toss it on the web. I can go to half a dozen critique groups, one time each, until I find one I love. I can outline for a week until my story’s solidified, or until it collapses and I try something different.

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  3. Brian says:

    The Director where I work has a sign on her wall, “Leap and the net will appear.” As someone who has a large stake in whether the net materializes, this frightened me a little at first. I came to understand that it doesn’t mean that you should act recklessly, but that you should be aware of the risks but you’ll never get where you need to be if you don’t take the leap.

    Sometimes the leap is just putting your self out there. Other times it’s clearing the brush for something new and possibly unexpected. For you, it’s making a plan. Our goals are never more clear than when we see a path to them. The leap can be taking the next big step. Rock the plan, Eric!

  4. Carissa says:

    I’ve never had a 5 year plan in my life. Thus being my age and being -AHA – no where. It’s something I only realized about 5 years ago. Hmmmm. Maybe my five year plan was to talk about realizing I had no five year plan five years hence.

    Why did I use the correct five and the incorrect 5 in this comment? Apparently I’ve learned nothing in any of the years.

    That said, I’m definitely at a turning point. With only a job from which I get no satisfaction I need to decide – get off my ass and take the leap or continue to berate and disappoint myself. I bet you make it before I do.

    You, my friend, are no failure. If you are, you’re one of the hardest working failures I know. Love you kiddo.

  5. Mere says:

    ::swelling with pride:: Or possibly botulism.

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