Of long ago, Ira Glass, host of the public-radio show This American Life, asked a group he was addressing how many of them had given up their initial ambitions in life and had fallen back on what he called "Plan B;' an alternate career or destiny.  There was a lot of laughter. "Plan B?" said several. "I'm on Plan D, E, maybe F."


No doubt about it, Americans are direction changers, self-reinventors, and improvisers, especially when it comes to career and calling. It's part of our heritage-moving to the frontier was Plan B for a lot of folks-and it's also a response to our swiftly changing present. Industries die and are born almost overnight, jobs disappear or change beyond recognition as technology alters, and as we live longer we discover that we can chase a whole new calling (or two or three) after midlife.


Perhaps most significantly of all, we've come to believe that an important part of that principle of the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness, is a quest for meaning in what we do and how we live, So we're prime candidates for what used to be rather boringly called Adult Education-and which has been redubbed Lifelong Learning. There's a bewildering array of schools and companies out there that will teach us old dogs new tricks from the latest computer refinements to English literature to how to become a certified Celebrant (yes, the Celebrant USA Foundation in New Jersey shows aspirants how to design and lead individualized rituals for weddings, wakes, and what have you). Add to this a gazillion book groups, study circles, salons, church study groups, political groups, arts organizations, and community center programs, and there's almost no excuse not to learn something new.

Article printed in Utne Magazine for June 2005