When you read an exciting, well-crafted novel, do you tend to identify with the main character?
"Gone with the Wind," for example. Rhett Butler was a strong, decisive, brave sex symbol. What man wouldn't want to be like him?
How about his wife, Scarlett O'Hara? She inspired hundreds of women with her method of handling worries. "I'll think about that tomorrow."
In the 1950s, Holden Caulfield from "Catcher in the Rye" captured the feelings of many young men wandering through the complexities of life.
Or Melville's "Moby Dick." After plowing through that story, I wanted to be a white whale, minus the harpoons.
The fictional character I most identify with was Wilkins Micawber, the fumbling, addlebrained character in Dickens' "David Copperfield."
Micawber lurched cheerfully through life, following a potentially disastrous philosophy symbolized by the idea "Something is bound to turn up." Micawber was on the opposite end of the spectrum from the driven, dynamic types who strive to be masters of their fate.
Such men (and women) worship careful planning. Among other things, they shrewdly choose the colleges they apply to, the friendships they form, the stocks they buy and the careers they select. All of this is aimed at achieving great success and significant wealth.
But it often fails to turn out that way. As I examine the personal histories of the people around me, I tend to see many more Micawbers than I do Napoleons. For every cerebral, hard-nosed, objective plotter, there are dozens of Mr. Micawbers.
These are the men and women, with all backgrounds and abilities, whose game plan consists of little more that "something is bound to turn up."
And, of course, it often does. Although it may be an iceberg that sinks your schooner. Or a deputy sheriff holding a warrant with your name on it. Plot twists and sudden surprises (good and bad) happen to the planners just as often as to the Micawbers.
Am I saying we should all be Micawbers, and drift aimlessly through life, giving no thought for the morrow? Of course not. Everyone should have a plan, even if it's just a shopping list for groceries.
Still, it's rare that carefully spelling out our desired lifetime scenarios will be enough to make them unfold as we wish. Life doesn't pay attention to the scripts we write for ourselves. One of my favorite axioms is "Life is what happens to us while we're plotting our next move."
But for every dream denied, we should also recall the potential disasters that fate removed from our planned paths. Such as sweethearts that would have turned marriage into hell, or contemplated careers that would have led us swiftly to the edge of a cliff.
Maybe Micawber knew all of this. And that's why he didn't worry much about what's down the road.
In "David Copperfield," Mr. Micawber finally becomes a much-admired magistrate in far-off Australia. Not a bad ending, for a good-natured fumbler.