On Making it Up As You Go Along (Or, Why it’s Awesome When Your Best Laid Plans Go Awry)

Guest Post by Dana Sitar

You’re recently graduated, between jobs, or ready to take a major leap, and you’re nagged by that awful feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re reading books and blogs of professionals just months ahead of you, and you can’t believe all they’ve accomplished. If only you had it together like they do.

Here’s the secret:

We’re all making it up as we go along.

I don’t think you hear this often enough: Nobody really knows what they’re going to do next. We’re all always on the edge of the next leap, trying to figure out the ramifications of our next move. The people you envy have just learned to deal with whatever happens, and to embrace the uncertain.

Nothing is as certain as you want it to be.

In a world where new information and networking opportunities are constantly available, you have to be prepared to turn on a dime and follow your dreams. You don’t have to know exactly where you’ll be in five years -- in fact, if you try to stick to a clear path for that long, you just might go crazy as better opportunities pass you by.

What if you go to school for six years, earn your MBA, and land some steady accounting job, then discover an inspiring blog, download their free life-changing manifesto, and realize you want to be a painter? Are you gonna stay an accountant? Ew -- sounds miserable.

I thought I had it figured out . . . several times.

Early on in my journey, my writing career went through a lot of iterations. I tried to be a copywriter, a ghost writer, a journalist, and a freelance blogger -- all sound, money-making career ventures, in the footsteps of professional writers who have gone before me. At each turn I thought I had it “figured out”. “Aha!” I’d say, “This is just what I want to do with my life.”

I thought I was set, chugging along with freelancing and self-publishing. I was “making money writing” -- living the dream, right?

But things change. You learn, grow, gain new skills, meet new people, try new things. As I learn more and suss out my true passion, I’m realizing that freelancing for others is not exactly the right path for me, despite a lot of advice to the contrary. The real reason I want to be a writer is to share my work and the passion for writing with others, and “making money writing” has nothing to do with that.

As I write this, I’m facing yet another crossroads. I’ve recently put in my notice with a core client; I’m traveling until mid-June, and I don’t know what my life will look like when I return home to Seattle. I launched my passion project WritersBucketList.com earlier this month, but I haven’t yet sorted out how to replace the money I’m losing by dropping that client. We’ll see what happens! I just know I’m making the right move, because it feels right to focus on my passion.

Not knowing what will happen next can be truly freeing.

I’ve exhausted a lot of paths to find my passion and purpose as a writer. What’s important is that I don’t regret any of the work I’ve done, the experiments, even the failures. If you decide to become a painter, does that mean your six years in college and your years as an accountant are wasted? Of course not! They were all steps on your path; these are the experiences that make you uniquely you.

When you’re not bound by a mirage of success in the years to come, you are free to experiment and change your mind. You can devote yourself fully to something now and move onto something new without regret when the time comes.

Your best laid plans will always go awry.

But that’s not usually bad thing. It’s sometimes the most exciting thing. You can’t possibly know all the awesome opportunities that will find you; you simply have to leave room in your path for them.

Take everything one step at a time. Let yourself build a vision for the future, but understand how it will morph, and know that it’s supposed to happen that way. Stick to following your passion, and you should always be close to the “right” path.

We'd love to hear from you in the comments:  When have your best laid plans veered off course? What new insights or awareness did you discover on the other side?

About the Author

Dana Sitar

Dana Sitar is a freelance blogger, author of A Writer’s Bucket List, and managing editor of WritersBucketList.com, a blog and community dedicated to the pursuit of happiness through writing.

Dana shares resources, tips, and tools for writers in search of a path through DIY Writing. Follow her on Twitter at @danasitar.