I used to say that I was so jealous of people who had a goal for their life. The ones who knew that they wanted to be a doctor or a teacher or whatever. Me? I would shake my 20-something head and say with a laugh that I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But that isn’t the truth, is it? Because I’ve always known. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be an author. Alongside fleeting notions of being a ballerina or, at one point, my life’s ambition to be a lifeguard, it was constant. I would draw pictures of the books I would write someday. I came up with lists of titles and wrote fake obituaries about myself and my body of work (okay, to be slightly less morbid, that was a class assignment in middle school!). I daydreamed of pen names and genres.
Which is to say, I have always known exactly what I wanted to be when I grow up. But it isn’t a “real” dream, it isn’t a practical one like being a doctor or a teacher. It’s more like wanting to become a movie star. Honey, it probably ain’t gonna happen, and you better get real good at waiting tables in the mean time.
I suppose in one way I am lucky that it is the writing bug that bit me. Writing is probably one of the artistic pursuits that is most amenable to having a day job. I don’t have to be flexible to attend auditions on short notice. I don’t need to time the light just right or try to get all the paint out from underneath my fingernails. I don’t need to spend a lot of money on fancy gadgets. I just have to write. And so I can pretend to be a good, honest, upstanding citizen from 9 to 5 while I spin tales of folly and fantasy on nights, weekends, and lunch breaks. I don’t even have to live in poverty!
But it still takes its toll. I try to set goals for myself that are within my own control. Write X amount of hours or words. Read this book or try this writing exercise. Send X number of queries. Let the externalities come when (and if) they will. But there is no denying that my real goal–the deep, burning hope for my life–is to be a full-time, published author. It is for people to read my books far and wide. It gives me motivation and fire, it forces me to be better, to strive, but it also sets me up for endless disappointment. I can’t just go to medical school and come out the other end with my certificate. There is so much luck and timing and talent and skill that all have to come together. Some of it is in my control, some of it is not. I may never achieve my life’s goal. I might die a disappointment to myself.
I guess that is the risk of having a life goal!