Holly asked this question over a week ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In a more or less even flow of time:
1) Blowing off ROTC fitness requirements.
I was so focused on the end – the law enforcement career in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations – that I just assumed fitting in the means would be easy. Largely because I was a pretty fit kid, biking and swimming, I thought running would come as naturally as the other sports I enjoyed. I didn’t start training until after I was already in ROTC, not before, as many other cadets had done. Reality soon caught up. The more fitness tests I failed, the harder I trained to catch up. The training resulted in shinsplints (and later on, knee problems) that wouldn’t heal, and I was discharged. (At least it was honorable.)
Had things worked out the way I thought they would, or if I’d started earlier, sure I might have that career. And I’d probably be miserable. I wouldn’t have my husband or my son, and I probably wouldn’t be writing. Instead I’d be forced into the Team Player paradigm:
2) Not trying harder to be a Team Player.
I can’t ever think of a time when I made even an adequate Team Player. I couldn’t even get peer pressure right, let alone gym class. By high school, even though I was a Junior ROTC and police cadet, I was still pretty much doing my own thing. I just didn’t realize it until the Darwinian environment of college ROTC showed me just how much of a Not!Team Player I was. Even then, I was convinced it was only the military. I then got a job in computer services. I think I figured that field was sure to be populated with other antisocial geeks like me. I found a few, but they hated office politics as much as I did. It was then that I realized: despite what virtually everyone else had told me over the years, sometimes you just can’t try harder. Sometimes you just are who you are.
That was when I turned to freelancing. Sometimes I catch myself wishing I’d taken creative writing or even journalism courses, but the truth is, you have to be a Team Player to succeed there too.
3) Being stubborn about staying with my ex-boyfriend.
My mother thinks I was rebelling against her. In truth, I just wanted to make something work. I got with my ex just after getting kicked out of ROTC, I had no friends, wasn’t writing, and was desperately lonely. Not only was someone else paying attention to me, but it was a guy. And he was cute! And not married or perverted! Even after his parents, evangelical Christians of the fascist persuasion, sounded the death knell for our relationship, I was determined to make it work. My own parents were in an interfaith marriage; why not me too?
I was so determined to make this happen, so convinced I’d never find anyone else again, that I failed to see what I was becoming until very shortly before we broke up: a bitch, a nag, a control freak. My dark side was in full force. I had just about decided to break up with the guy (because it was all his fault, of course) when he broke up with me. How dare he? I deserved the breakup power! Me! He stole it!
Yeah, if I’d split with him early on, I never would’ve seen what I was capable of. I’m much more even-tempered now. Except when sources don’t want to talk to me.
4) Listening to those who said writing would never work as a career.
If I hadn’t listened, if I’d started submitting novels and short stories at the age of 12, knowing who I was then, I would’ve been crushed by rejection and never written a word again. If I hadn’t listened, I’d have missed out on all the Real World experiences that groomed my ambition to make writing work. Thanks to everyone who said I couldn’t do it. I’ve done it.
5) Cutting back on paid work.
I’m making this mistake right now. What am I thinking? I’d love to finish our basement, have a beautiful yard, actually be able to put something into our retirement accounts and the boy’s college fund.
I’m thinking the paying stuff is burning me out, I’ve been working on this novel for over 10 years, and if I don’t finish it then I’ll never get to my other fiction. I’m thinking much of my energy is being channeled toward other people, and doing this work for myself is the only way I’ll be able to replenish my resources for them. I’m thinking I turned 30 this year and I don’t want to be washed up in 20 years wondering whatever happened to those dreams.
Thanks for the question, Holly!