In my mind, everything was perfect. As most grand plans often seem to be.
I was going to graduate high school at 17, and college at 20. I was going to get a degree like everyone expected me to. But my real plan was to spend as much time and effort as it took to make my biggest dream of all come true: I was going to publish a novel by the time I turned 22.
I won’t get into the specific reason for that five-year deadline. Just know that at the time it seemed like the perfect span of time. Just enough to do what I knew many would consider impossible.
My plans were flawless. Their outcomes were going to give me everything I’d ever wanted — and more.
There’s just one problem with plans.
They almost always look one way in your imagination and something completely different in the real world.
At 17, the possibility of publishing a novel in less than five years wasn’t too outrageous. My plan was to attend my dream university for three years; study English, graduate early, take on minimal commitments outside academics and spend most of my free time working on a book, or two, or three.
When things changed, I started to get nervous that I was going to have to let go of my goal. When I turned 20 and realized I was so overwhelmed with everything outside of writing a novel that doing so might not be possible at all, I pretty much stopped writing completely. At least for a while.
I was so discouraged about something I saw as a “failure” that, at the time, the only reasonable option seemed to be to just walk away and never look back.
My mistake wasn’t getting busy, discovering new dreams, making friends, or letting life take me in different directions so I could discover the many possibilities my future held. My mistake was getting upset when the very specific plans I made didn’t turn out exactly how I imagined they would.
Ideas often sound better in your head than they do when you first write them down. The same applies to life in general. You can make all the plans you want. That doesn’t mean every step you plan is going to mirror every step you end up taking.
Because even if you do all the work, have all the motivation and stamina and drive, there is always going to be something that knocks you off your path. Something you can’t control. Something you can only accept and learn to thrive alongside.
And when that happens, you can’t spend every moment angry that things didn’t go the way you wanted. You can’t change your past. You can only change how you move forward in spite of it.
I will never know what might have happened if I’d stuck to my plans, stayed on that original path, spend all my time writing and not having any of the other experiences new adulthood offered me. But that’s OK. I don’t need to know. Things didn’t happen that way, and it’s possible I’m better of now because of that.
Just because I didn’t have a book published by the time I turned 22 — and still don’t at 27 — doesn’t mean it will never happen. It doesn’t mean I “failed.” Yes, I set a goal I didn’t reach. But I didn’t reach it because I gave up on my dream. Life just took unexpected turns, and I had to adapt.
There is nothing wrong with dreaming big, with setting goals, with making plans, with expecting greatness from yourself.
But when you do, just know that things won’t always go exactly how you originally hope they will.
Chances are, eventually, they’re turn out better than you could have predicted anyway.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.