I Don’t Have a Five Year Plan

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I’ve always had a plan. I am a planner. Not to say I’m not up for spontaneity, but you won’t find me waiting for a table on a Saturday night because I’d have a reservation.

I’ve always wanted to be in control of my future. Planning seemed the logical path. However, most of my plans have required revision and rerouting. It’s important to be flexible. Not everything can be planned for in life.

I was an ambitious planner in my teens and 20s. I had a vision. I knew what I wanted. I did everything I could to get there. I had lots I needed to check off my list. My young self never got tired (even migraines rarely slowed me). I was emphatic about what and who I was going to be: happy, successful, something.

I finished my second novel at 25. And was busy planning for more. I was submitting poetry and fiction to journals weekly. I was writing pitch letters to agents, researching everything I needed to do to get noticed and basically doing everything to say I’m a writer!

This was early 2000s. Online journals were fairly new. Pitch letters were mailed. Social media hadn’t really become a thing. Back then self publishing was not what you did as a serious writer. So for years, I was planning and working every day. I stayed convinced I could be something. I paid little attention to my own world; wrapped up instead in the worlds I had created.

Perseverance would get me noticed I thought. But it didn’t. There were small victories: short stories and poems were published. A few agents actually wrote me back. So I kept pushing until I had to walk away. Had to find a new plan and tame that dream.

By this time writing was my job. I realized that in marketing I could get paid for writing; it just wasn’t going to be my story to tell. So I rechanneled my energy. I could be a success in marketing. So I went to grad school. Worked all day and went to class at night. Those were long days, but it kept me busy. I needed to be busy. And needed to believe this plan would work. I would shape brands and make the money I deserved. Ambition suited me well; always has.

After grad school, I got a new job with unlimited possibilities. I threw myself into building this brand and increasing business. Work became all I was. My personal life was in shambles so I needed the diversion. Most weeks I worked 60 hours. There was no boundary between life and work. I answered emails late at night and calls on Saturday mornings. Because in my plan if I just worked harder and longer then I’d get where I needed to go. WRONG.

Life’s not fair. Rewards rarely come for the ones always there doing what they say they’re going to do. People will use you, manipulate you and disappoint you. I was burning out when another offer came my way. This opportunity had more structure and a chance to build a marketing team. It seemed like a win. I still had so much drive; so much I wanted to offer.

I did a lot in my time there. But there were still long hours and lots of miles traveled. What was worse was the wall of frustration. I couldn’t get excited about a project because I knew like the 100 before, it would go nowhere. When you don’t allow people to succeed and shine, you dim their passion. When passion is extinguished there’s no resuscitating it. So I had to go leading me to where I am now.

Which is me not really having a plan. I mean I do have a broad picture in mind. And I still keep lots of running lists of what I need to do to further myself. I’m not always motivated. I’m not always my own cheerleader. I could do more.

My plan looks different now. It’s not about money or status or titles. Success looks a little different now. I want to be excited every day about what I’m doing. It’s about loving writing again and not looking at it as a chore.

What will I do without that five year plan that every guru tells me I need? I’m just going to be a rebel. Look, I had plans. They didn’t work out. I waited patiently for that big break, for someone to tell me I was talented. I’m still waiting. Waiting for that one post to go viral or for one publisher to think I’ve got what it takes.

Yet I still feel like a failure 93% of the time. I still worry every day I haven’t lived up to my potential. I’m still haunted by things I should have done differently. I think these things, but there’s nothing I can do to change the past. Maybe I wasn’t ready for success earlier. Maybe my voice has to get stronger.

So what do I do? Keep writing. Keep posting. Keep believing that if it’s good stuff people will read it. I once heard that dreams can’t become more than that while you’re still sleeping. I’m awake now. Wide awake.

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