Expect the Unexpected by
(354 Stories)

Prompted By Graduation Advice

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I recently witnessed a highly successful businessman query a 20-something about her background, her upbringing and her 5-year plan. I remember a mentor telling me to make a 5-year plan. I can assure you, things never worked out as I anticipated.

I always loved the arts, my degree is in Theatre Arts and I have a teaching certificate that says I could teach High School English and Speech, but I got married right out of college without a job and teaching positions were hard to come by. I needed to work, so at a party in August, 1974, I begged for a job at the computer company which employed my husband, soon going off to grad school. I knew nothing about computers. I cut off my long nails and set to work doing data entry, singing Gilbert & Sullivan at the top of my lungs out of sheer boredom. But I am smart and curious, open to learning new things. I was soon managing a small data center and other people. But I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I am a people person. I talked my way into a sales job, moving to Chicago to attain it.

This was 1978 and women on the road were a novelty. I had to work extra-hard, be twice as good and be very careful. I learned quickly, knew when to ask for help, how to close a deal.

Never be afraid to ask questions. It may sound trite, but no question is stupid, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Growth follows. You can’t plan for that. Be a good listener. Be organized. Take notes, stay focused. Show empathy. That may all seem self-evident, but it is harder than it looks. I used to say that you could tell the state of my mind by the clutter on my desk.

Take time to take care of yourself. Exercise and eat well. Developing good habits from the start will keep you in good health for the long haul. Don’t be afraid to indulge occasionally. When I was first on my own and making very little money, I put away a few dollars each week for “pissing” money…I could piss it away on anything I wanted. It wasn’t much, but I could take myself to lunch and a movie and that felt great. Have a few good friends and stay in touch. Don’t ever lose them. They are as important, perhaps more so, than family. They are your sounding board and will stick with you, even when the going gets tough.

Delight in the unexpected. Don’t be thrown by it. Your path will not be straight; it is the twists and turns that make life interesting. Embrace them, grow with them. Do not let them defeat you. Whatever you choose to do, do it to the best of your ability. Take pride in what you do, but do not be boastful. Let others see that you are happy in your life and your good work and contentment will follow.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: No 5-year plan, twists and turns of life, listen and grow, ask questions
Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Your advice resonates with me, especially your insight that the twists and turns are what makes life interesting. I’ve seen this in many of your stories on Retrospect. Graduates, take note!

  2. Well, Wise One, that thoughtful, good-natured, and deep-seated advice rolled trippingly off the tongue! I particularly like the way you alternate pragmatic suggestions with twists that contradict the Wise One’s basic stance, pissing away a few bucks or recognizing that the best-made, five-year plans can, and will, go into the dumper. And have a few good friends.

  3. Suzy says:

    Great advice Betsy! Can’t say that I ever had a 5-year plan, but I’m sure if I had, it wouldn’t have looked anything like how my life turned out.

  4. smithlouise says:

    Oh yes! That five-year plan needs to be written down in pencil.
    Beautiful piece, a clear voice of experience.

  5. Good advice at any time, thanx Betsy!

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