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When Plan A Becomes Plan B

Ohhhhh Plan A… why didn’t you work out? Ever feel this way? My Plan A began formulating in the late 80s as I fell in love with musicals, movies, and theatre. Watching the movie “Big Business” where Bette Midler portrayed a NYC savvy businesswoman, was my inspiration to move to the city and make it big. Not the businesswoman part (unless it was a role for me to play) but living savvy in NYC was my everything.

After high school, I really wasn’t sure what my next step would be. On a dare, I sent in an application for a performing arts school in NYC and when it came time to audition, a trusted friend went with me and I rehearsed my monologue on the drive from Dorchester to Toronto. I remember thinking there was no way in hell I would get it. I did my monologue, performed my song, one of my favourites: Billie Holiday’s version of “Someone to Watch Over Me”, and then sat through the school’s reps talking about the reality of living in New York City. It’s nothing like what you see on Friends, they cautioned. I didn’t really digest much of what they were saying. It was all a blur, and I truly didn’t believe that I had what it took to get into the school.  

I left Toronto and let go of any expectation about it. I went back to WalMart, where I had been working part-time since I was 16, and continued doing my thing. When the letter came in the mail, I knew I didn’t get in… until I opened it, and saw that I was accepted to the Musical Theatre Program there. I remember calling my mom at work and telling her about it. She told me we would figure out a way for me to make it happen financially. And so began the journey toward my short-lived experience of Plan A. 

We went to visit campus prior to my start in October and everything was exciting and amazing. Despite the residences being blended in with lower income seniors and others struggling with addiction and prostitution, as well as fitting my entire life into a small room where I could literally stretch my arms wide and touch both walls, I was in love with what was happening in my life. When it came time to move in fully, and be left on my own in the city, I was elated.  

Over the course of the following two months, I learned a few really important things: people who go to theatre school are really serious about being in theatre school. Who knew!? Despite the camaraderie with my peers and having fun, I soon began to see that for many, this wasn’t about having fun. This was about performing being in their blood and that acting/singing/dancing WAS their way of life. It’s what most of the people around me knew they wanted to do with their lives. I also met one of my bff’s; we shared a bathroom which he often locked me out of (totally by accident). We began the foundation of a lifelong friendship, often dining on Kraft Dinner and Red Rose tea, in our shoebox room.

While people were busy practicing and living all things theatre, I was exploring Harlem, blending in with the business of the city! Being taken out to fancy restaurants by fancy friends, seeing Charlie’s Angels in the theatre (in the same company as one of the originals, Cheryl Ladd, as she and her friends came to watch it together). Ever seen a movie in New York City? If not, I HIGHLY recommend it. An amazing and interactive experience where people unabashedly express themselves in unison.  

I also learned that if you can make it in NYC, you really truly can make it anywhere. This isn’t because I “made it” in NYC, but because to live in such a metropolis where you don’t just survive, but thrive, means you understand how to work your ass off, get all of your bills paid AND manage a social life. If you can master life in NYC, there is not a place on earth you couldn’t figure out how to make it work. I had $25 and two grape juice boxes, and although I was loving my evolution in the city and had some amazing friends (three that I am still in contact with today, and one of them is my bff) I knew that life in the theatre was not really for me. I mean maybe a production here or there, but full on making a living from it? No. That was the most important thing I learned about myself.   

Cut to breaking the news to my parents, who had me call my therapist to make sure it’s what I really wanted (that’s a whooooooole other story), and needing to prove myself to them (which again, is a whooooooole other story), I knew in my bones it was the truth. I remember during orientation a second year student was touring us through the residence and showing us the laundry room. We were all asking about how many students end up leaving and she said, “We never really know how many will withdraw each term… You just never know who’s gonna go. It could be you” and on cue, we made eye contact. I believe it was the universe giving me a spiritual heads up, which I have also learned happens more than most of us are willing to be open to.  

Despite me knowing it was not for me, at that time, and in that way, coming home and “facing” everyone was devastating. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “I thought you were going to New York City,” I could have gone back to New York City and have more than two grape juice boxes in my fridge. And here was the real kicker: I knew it wasn’t for me. But after YEARS of talking about going and being on Broadway as what I was going to do with my life, I felt like all of my credibility was gone. I could feel pity and embarrassment on my behalf from others. God, I hated it. I felt the energy of failure all around me, except that I didn’t feel like I failed.  

My parents basically told me to move on and do something else with my life. So, I enrolled in three Child and Youth Worker programs: Fanshawe College, George Brown College, and Confederation College. I seriously had no clue what the CYW program was even about but did know I had to do something, and I always liked helping kids. Upon applying, I was parked on waiting lists for admission. I was super depressed and didn’t really care either way. A week before the September term started, Confederation College called and stated I was next on the waiting list and asked if I want to go. Honestly, with nothing else happening for me, I said “Why not?”

My bff had stayed a year in the acting program and had returned home. When I knew I got it, I sent him an email saying I was coming to T-Bay for school.  It made the transition a bit easier and he came to town to drive to Thunder Bay with me… definitely a turning point in our friendship and it solidified us as kindred spirits and soul siblings.

The entire process of accepting that Plan A did NOT turn out as originally planned and being open to re-evaluating the possibility of a Plan B took many, many years (despite “moving on”).  The three years I spent at Confederation College in the Child and Youth Worker Program was fundamentally life-changing. It was so therapeutic and healing, and I needed to be away from my family and the aftermath of the bust that was NYC. I also spent the next 16 years in a diverse and thriving career where I used my skills from theatre constantly.

Sometimes Plan A does not work out; in fact it can go haywire and leave you back where you started, re-evaluating your life's purpose. Almost 20 years later, I can honestly say I didn’t give it my all and was definitely intimidated by all the talent around me. I didn’t believe in myself. I mean, I thought they gave me a sympathy acceptance. So even if that had been my path, I would not have been ready for it. That is life. That is part of growing up and figuring things out.  It’s what can lead us to the path we need to take to evolve, grow, and find our own way. It helps build resilience and grace, humour and kindness. Plan A’s gone wrong can lead us to stretch our minds and hearts, and get us back in touch with ourselves. If you find yourself experiencing a Plan A gone wrong, give yourself a bit of a break from the judgement and shame that follows this crash. Trust that Plan A needed to happen in your life but wasn’t meant to be the only plan. And then be open to next steps. Plan B is around the corner waiting to change your life in all the right ways!