Friday, February 10, 2012

Life and other unplanned events

People who know me, know that I am a HUGE fan of planners. Show me a to-do list or a shiny new calendar system, and you've hooked me, cold. But whether you're fourteen or forty, life sometimes doesn't work out the way you expect.

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.


  1. Great post, Jen. I'm so sorry you lost your father, but the fact that you adapted so well speaks volumes about your inner strength. Kudos to you.

    Life has thrown me a sh*t ton of curve balls. I won't go into the nitty-gritty, but I was adopted twice before the age of ten, and as a military brat, I had to learn to adapt, too.

    Then as an adult, the hits kept on coming. My first husband died, my daughter needed two open-heart surgeries, and the road was pretty bumpy until I hit my thirties.

    Now it's all good. (KNOCK ON WOOD!) But like you, I've learned to adapt and survive, so if things get rough again, I'm prepared.

  2. Hahaa! If you could only see my office. . .I have a planner for every part of my life, including my phone! Yes! Life throws so many curve balls and you do have to live.

    I'm am one of the lucky kids who didn't have too many curve balls thrown at me. But as an adult, I'm dodging them left and right. Keeping myself surrounded by positive people in my life has really helped. And lucky to know you!!

  3. I'm lucky if I get a quick list written down of things I would like to get done the next day! You long term planners amaze me!

  4. Melissa, you certainly deserve all the joy you could possibly handle! I'm so glad you'll be joining us at The Lucky 13s! I have a feeling you'll be ready for anything. :) thank you so much for stopping by!

    Tonya, long live the planner! :) I've so enjoyed watching your career take off. Thanks for posting and keep dodging!!

    Michele! You are my hero... Ah to live in the moment more! One day... Thanks for saying hello!

  5. I have to admit, my expectations for life were pretty much like yours - and in my case, nothing earth-shattering happened to change it. I will say that my husband is certainly not what I expected - a nice, nerdy, engineer, graphic designer, or computer guy. Instead I would up with Mr. Goodwrench/former high school football player/bar owner - and wouldn't have it any other way! Thanks for sharing your story - you're an inspiration!

  6. Oh, my teenage plans for my adult life did not remotely manifest in reality. 'Sokay though, I'm having fun winging it.

  7. Jennette, I love the image you create with your husband... A romance hero waiting to happen!

    And Kak, if your life HAD turned out as you'd planned, then we wouldn't be sharing nearly as much hilarity I suspect. And that would be a shame. :)

    Thank you both for commenting!


  8. Jenn - I'm so sorry about your dad. All those life changes must have been terrifying at the time, but it's clear you not only adapted but grew into a strong, successful woman. I'm so excited for you! I hope life as a published author will provide some magic moments to counteract the bumps in the road.

    Melissa - Adopted twice before age 10? ((hugs))

  9. The life I am living today is light years removed from anything I would have imagined. Losing my dad in 2000 certainly had a very deep impact, but really my most significant life-changing moment was when I decided to go to treatment for substance abuse in 2008. Now more than 3 years sober and living in another part of the country, my life is so different that it is almost as if it's somebody else's.

  10. Uh, yep. Adaptability is everything. That, and keep writing if that's your dream.

  11. Becke, thank you! :) And I'm expecting plenty of magic moments... and a few bumps. So it's all good. :)

    Elliot, thank you so much for your comment. Sometimes it's the paths we choose instead of the paths that we're forced upon that have the most to teach us. Congratulations on your life changes and may you find great joy along your path!

    And Libby, hello! It's all about following your dreams, isn't it? :)

  12. Jenn, so very sorry about your dad. But it's so true that life doesn't go according to plan--"Man plans, the Gods laugh," it's said, and boy do they ever have the comedy club going at all times, right?

    I think one of the most valuable lessons we can learn is to recognize when we have too much riding on the outcome. It's the journey where the heavy lifting gets done, and it's the journey that gives us our lessons and messages.