This is what happened when I finally let go of my "five-year plan"
As an overly ambitious Type A perfectionist, I’ve been making five-, 10- and even 15-year plans for as long as I can remember. But now, at the ripe age of 29, I’m finally learning to roll with the punches and embrace life as it comes.
If you’d told me five years ago that I would be living in Chicago and working for a nonprofit, I would have laughed in your face. The Windy City was never a part of my post-collegiate plans. As an aspiring magazine editor and native East Coaster, it was NYC or bust.
Shortly after graduation, I began working as a reporter at my hometown newspaper and, a couple of years later, I’d landed a role as the assistant editor for a regional home and garden magazine. Was it my dream job? Hardly, but it provided an opportunity for me to work on glossies and attend luxurious photo shoots, so I made due with plans to climb the masthead and eventually become a high-profile editor.
But then I met a boy.
And not just any boy — the boy. The one with whom I’d eventually spend the rest of my life. There was just one teeny, tiny problem — I was working in Baltimore, Maryland at the time, and he was in the process of moving from Columbus, Ohio to Chicago, Illinois.
After roughly a year and a half of long-distance dating and many sleepless, tear-filled nights, we made the decision that I’d move to Chicago, and we’d eventually move to New York City together. Deal.
I left my family and friends in Maryland and embarked on a new journey, a new life, and a new career in Chicago as the digital content editor for an iconic Black magazine.
A few years there, and I’d be Editor-in-Chief of a teen magazine in no time, or so I thought.
But about a year or so into my “dream job,” it turned out not to be so dreamy and I had a change of heart. I was burnt out by the breaking news, long hours, and nonstop social media postings. I needed a break and I wanted out, so I thought about why I wanted to become a journalist in the first place (to empower young women through writing), and I began brainstorming nonprofits that benefit girls.
Well, about a year or so after that initial a-ha moment (and a brief stint as a communications strategist for the local school system), I began yet another new career. This time, as the media relations manager for the local Girl Scout council. It was everything I thought it would be: Warm and fuzzy feelings from helping girls, awesomesauce co-workers, and (finally) work-life balance. What’s not to love?
I immediately began developing another five-year plan, as I’m wont to do. A year or so as a media relations manager before I get promoted to director, and after a few years, I’ll become VP, and then and then and then.. until I eventually become CEO.
Because what’s the point of starting something if you’re not aiming for the top? Or, at least that was my thinking until I started second-guessing myself and panicking that I’d left journalism too soon. FOMO is the devil, y’all.
What if I’d sucked it up and stayed the course? I could be EIC of Teen Vogue right now (I mean, Elaine Welteroth and I worked for the same magazine, albeit at different times). I’d have thousands of Instagram followers and people would follow my every move on Snapchat…but would I be happy? Or would I keep chasing after this elusive dream job that may or may not actually exist?
Because let’s be real, no job — no matter how great — is 100-percent perfect. And it was this idea of perfection and planning that I needed to let go of for my own good, according to my mentor/former boss/surrogate big sister.
Instead, I needed to learn to not only enjoy the process — but trust it as well, and welcome opportunities as they arise instead of always hunting them down.
By being so gung-ho about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to accomplish, I was potentially blocking my own blessings. I was so caught up in checking off the to-do list on my five year plan that I was missing the bigger picture and not making the most of the ride.
Because here’s the funny thing about life: It hardly ever goes according to plan. When my husband and I got married two years ago, we decided we’d start trying for Baby Payton when I turned 30. And earlier this year, when I realized that 30 was only a year away, I had second thoughts. I wasn’t ready.
I wasn’t anywhere near ready.
There were so many things I wanted to do and see before we had kids and, as it turns out, you simply can’t plan for everything. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, life happens. And sometimes you’ve just go to roll with the punches.
Patience is not my strongest virtue when it comes to my career goals and my life in general. But I’m learning to wait. For there are lessons to be learned in waiting.
Five years ago, I was living in a small town in Maryland with my parents, and I had dreams of running New York City as a magazine editor. Today, I’m living in Chicago and making the world a better place…one girl at a time.
I may not be where I thought I’d be, but there’s one thing I know for sure — I’m exactly where I need to be.