Sometimes, it's the good surprises that throw you for a loop and send your life careening out of control. And sometimes, the surprises aren't so good.
When I was a teenager, I was living life pretty much according to plan. I was a straight A student, and was popular "enough" and athletic "enough" for our small school. I figured I'd finish out high school, go to college, get a great job, get married, have kids, etc. (I didn't say this was a great plan, but it's sort of what I figured would happen).
Then, one sunny day in September of my sophomore year, my highly active, successful and joyfully self-employed father unexpectedly passed away. I won't go into the details, but something in his body just gave out, and that was it. To say my life changed dramatically after that day was, of course, an understatement. Setting aside the whole emotional hit for myself and my family, I moved to a much smaller house, enrolled in a much larger public high school, learned new skills, found new friends, adapted.
And it's probably the "adapting" part that mattered the most. I had to take ownership of my life and live a new reality. And yes, over time, I realized that this new reality could have a great deal of joy in it… and I certainly appreciated that joy more, after what I'd been through.
I'm happy to say that most of the other surprises in my life have been pretty amazing. My career path has taken me all the way up the corporate ladder--until that ladder fell over and I became a freelance writer. Along the way, I fell in love, won a few writing awards, and, just last year, achieved my decade-long dream of selling my first novel. (woot!)
I had all sorts of ideas about what my life would be like, post sale… but um, yeah--just like my "plans" as a teenager, I'm finding that the reality is much more complex than anticipated. I think I secretly expected a game show host moment where I'd be given my new life on a shiny platter and I'd know EXACTLY how to live it. But once again, I'm finding it's much more about adapting and taking ownership of my new reality (or, some days, surreality) to actually live this life of my dreams.
Bottom line, for each of us, life can change in a heartbeat, and all the planning you do in the world might not matter once you're actually in a moment of dramatic (and hopefully positive) transformation: once you get INTO your perfect college or LAND the job of your dreams or, in my case most recently, BECOME a full-time fiction writer. Because life isn't about planning… it's about living.
Though I'm still not giving up my planner.
What about you? Has your life path ever taken an unexpected detour? Are you living the life you planned?
Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.
Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in Spring, 2013. You can find Jenn online and on twitter.