“If you do not change your direction,
you may end up where you are heading.”
– Lao Tzu
I doubt Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu had a twenty-something pharmaceutical sales rep in mind when he dispensed this wisdom, but nonetheless, his words changed my life.
For me, writing has been a lifelong calling. I crayoned my first novella, The Boy and Girl Got Married, when I was six years old, and my passion for the craft has grown ever since. My lightning bolt moment followed in fifth grade while reading Judy Blume. I felt so profoundly understood by her words that it dawned on me: this is what I want to do when I grow up!
By the time I encountered Lao Tzu, I was in my early twenties—a freshly minted pharmaceutical sales rep with a business degree, contemplating my company’s generous offer to pay for my MBA, my Judy Blume moment long forgotten. While getting my MBA would’ve undoubtedly help me climb the corporate ladder, Lao Tzu’s words begged me to consider whether the top of that ladder was where I wanted to end up. The answer—though incredibly inconvenient to admit—was no. Though my career may have appeared to be “on track” to the casual observer, I felt a million miles away from where I wanted to be. And I realized that if I didn’t change my direction, I would end up exactly where I was heading.
Where are you heading?
Is that where you want to end up?
I believe these are two of the most important questions we writers can ask ourselves. If you’re happy with the answer, great! Let that affirmation boost your confidence and propel you forward. If not, that’s great too. Now you’re aware of the detour you’ve taken and can change course. While discovering you’ve ended up in the latter category can be disconcerting, there are three simple changes you can make today that will put you back on the path towards your writing dream:
Change #1: Align your actions with your writing dream.
Until my Lao Tzu awakening, I had been living under the assumption that my actions and decisions didn’t really matter. It felt like there would always be later. That somehow things would magically work out. What I began to understand was that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing and expect to end up somewhere different. Getting my MBA would have made me more qualified for a job I didn’t want. Once I realized this, I couldn’t ignore the possibility of what might happen if I devoted that time and energy to a career I did want.
Your direction is determined by the decisions you make and the actions you take every single day. Your choices will either move you closer to your writing dream or farther from it. Once you look at your life through this filter, it’s easy to spot the misalignments. The good news is, being aware of those misalignments is half the battle. And fixing them doesn’t have to be hard. It can be as simple as deciding to stop waiting for someday to write your book, and begin right now. It can be shifting your schedule around to make time to write every day. It can be finding ways to cut costs so you can afford to take a writing class or deciding to stop treating writing like a hobby, and start treating it like a career, giving it the respect and attention it deserves.
Recently, I asked members of the Writer Unboxed Facebook group to tell me about changes they’ve made to align their actions with their writing dreams. Joelle Wilson and Deb Peterson shared that they set their alarm clocks extra early to take advantage of the quiet morning hours before work. Lana Billman transformed her grown child’s room into a dedicated space for writing. Claire Greer got her whole family aligned with her writing goals by creating a schedule that allows her to write every Saturday morning while her husband spends time with their kids. For Stephen Whq, it’s a matter of setting priorities, and writing, along with his family and day job, is at the top of his list.
Identify the misalignments in your own life. What actions and decisions are currently moving you away from your writing dream? Brainstorm ways to change them so they are aligned with your vision. Start implementing those changes right away, and watch how your entire trajectory begins to shift.