As I’ve navigated my way through the earliest stages of adulthood, I’ve been told time and again that juggling responsibilities often requires tossing things aside to make your juggling more sustainable. Surviving in the real world, in other words, means you have to make sacrifices. You have to give up things you enjoy so that you and the people around you can remain happy.
I don’t disagree with this — how could I? I could list off more than a handful of hobbies and interests I would love to invest my time and energy in, knowing there’s no logical way I could pull it off. Time spent pursuing those small sparks of fascination would take time away from things that are presently more important — like writing, for example. The more time I spend off my computer, the less time I spend writing.
What I don’t agree with, however, are the implications that the sacrifices we make as “real adults” have to be permanent. You can’t afford to choose your dream job over one that offers a 401K and health insurance — this is the reality for many people, especially those my age or close to it — so that automatically means your chances of ever landing your dream job are gone forever? Because you are currently writing a book and don’t have extra time to hang out with your friends every Friday night, you will lose those friends and can never hang out with them again even when the book is finished?
Consider the classic misconception that women can’t lead successful careers and also raise families. Many of them realistically have to put their educations or careers on hold because they also want to have kids. I know of plenty of successful women who temporarily said “later” to finishing their degrees or going for their dream jobs because it was the right time to start having kids. But they went back. They did both. “Later” really can mean “later.” It doesn’t have to mean “never.”
Why does it for so many people, though? How does “someday” become fantasy? Why does that dream someone promises themselves they’ll come back to end up fading into the realm of imagination and staying there forever?
This is a blog about being a writer, of course, so I’m mostly referring to those people in your life who keep saying “I want to write a book but …” and that “but” ends up being the thing that keeps them from ever actually doing it. Are these people lazy? Are they just saying they want to write a book because it sounds cool? Probably not. It’s very likely they are capable of writing a book and genuinely want to do it. But other things keep getting in the way. Their excuses cloud their desire and they just stop trying.
Do you have to give up things — e.g., your dream of writing and publishing a book — in order to focus on things that are currently more important? Absolutely. That’s life; there’s really no way around it. But if you don’t want your dreams to die, you have to sit down, grit your teeth, and do a little planning.
Planning?! Yes, I know. Some of you out there are self-proclaimed pantsers in more than the strictly creative areas of your life. You feed off spontaneity. You don’t want to think too far ahead because things always end up changing anyway, so what’s the point?
But if you’re going to step away from your dream, you need some kind of plan to make sure you do eventually come back to it.
It doesn’t have to be complicated — you don’t necessarily need an exact starting deadline, though that might help. It could be after you graduate. After your tiny human is old enough to spend even just a few hours each morning in daycare. After your wedding. As soon as your dog reaches that supposed age when they’re not going to try to tear apart the couch every time you turn around.
These are all “someday” deadlines, and can still be extremely dangerous if you don’t somehow hold yourself to them. It’s probably happened to you: Graduation comes and goes and you continue to put off working on your book. You spend your daycare time running errands instead of writing because it’s the only time of day you can get it done. You want to focus on, you know, your marriage after the wedding. It’s all a lie and your dog will always try to eat the couch unsupervised no matter how old they get (sigh).
I don’t know you or what motivates you to sit down and get things done. I can’t give you personalized advice through a blog post. But what I can tell you is that you have to find something that’s going to at least somewhat guarantee you’re going to come back to something after temporarily setting it aside.
For me, a “bucket list” serves as reliable accountability. I review my list at least every 36 hours most weeks because it reminds me that getting a book published is something I still want to do, even if it isn’t always my priority. It doesn’t let me forget about it. And on the days I’m least motivated to return to a work in progress, I do it anyway because of my list.
So find what works for you. A spreadsheet with dates and ways to track your progress. An accountability buddy who will keep you on track as long as you commit to doing the same for them. There are even apps that “punish” you for not sticking to your commitments by having you add funds to an account and only promising to return them if you follow through or killing off your custom avatar.
Most importantly, though, you have to decide for yourself that giving up forever is not an option. Sticking to it is still essential, but you won’t do it if you’re not committed in your heart to it. If it’s something you truly want to accomplish in your lifetime, find a way. Decide you will make it happen even if it has to wait a few months or a few years. Make a plan. Figure out a way. And then, when you say you’re going to do it, do it.
There’s no avoiding sacrifice. But you CAN avoid faded dreams, if you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make them come true. Eventually.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.