Choosing a college major should have been a breeze.
For years, instructors told me I’d make a great writer. When I was 11, my teacher’s response when “writer” appeared in the No. 1 spot on a career aptitude test was, “I can see that.”
I published my first essay when I was 15. Started a blog at 16. Landed a perfect score on the writing portion of my ACT at 17. Not unusual feats by any means — just proof that I didn’t belong in a career that didn’t require my apparent mastery of the written English language.
It should have been obvious. A major in English, a minor in creative writing. Write a novel as my senior capstone project. Get published by 22.
But even after I declared my future degree and moved into my dorm, I began wrestling with an unknown discomfort. I figured it was because my university waved so many extracurricular activities in my face that I couldn’t breathe — or choose even one.
Over 100 clubs and chapter organizations were available to freshmen like me. As I carried my thousand-page literature anthologies across campus, drowning in text and maybe slightly high on highlighter ink, I had to force myself not to pick up every single pamphlet offered to me.
I somehow ended the year having joined only one extracurricular. And I technically got academic credit for it.
That summer, I read over 30 books, wrote another first draft of a book I would never publish, and moved into another dorm three months later feeling like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Since I didn’t feel content as things were, I figured the only way to figure out what I wanted to do was to do … everything.
By my junior year, I was pursuing two majors and three minors. I wrote for the yearbook, the student newspaper, and an online magazine. I took voice lessons, joined the choir, stuffed as many credit hours into each semester as my guidance counselors would allow.
I volunteered. I worked. I dreamed. I planned.
It was, somehow, never enough.
But the more interests and activities I tried to pursue, the less I felt like I was actually accomplishing anything.
I didn’t realize how destructive all that was until it was too late.
My friends stopped inviting me to hang out because I always made plans and canceled them. I failed chemistry. I stopped showing up to rehearsals.
Nothing I did brought me joy. Everything — mentally and physically — hurt.
I tried so hard to overachieve — as if I had superpowers, and could do anything I wanted to — that I one day couldn’t bring myself to do anything.
Trying to do it all almost made me lose it all.
I had some threads left to cling to by the time I secured a diploma. But I’d never get back the friends I’d lost touch with. I’d never earn any recommendations (or respect) from former instructors.
I had far fewer happy memories than the friends I’d kept. It took years to tuck the painful memories away and learn to thrive despite them.
Not that I’m struggle-free. There are some traits you just can’t grow out of.
I don’t know why, years after coming to terms with my lack of superpowers, I still can’t shake the desire to over-enrich my days. I haven’t touched a piano in years. I don’t play with flags anymore. I sing — but only in the shower, sometimes.
I had to trim down my efforts. I had to focus on the most important things in my life — my job as a writer (and related projects), my health, my love of reading and collecting books. And, of course, my puppy!
I still want to publish a book. Learn the violin. Cosplay at conventions. Make videos about health. Reteach myself how to draw.
There’s nothing wrong with me. This is just who I am. How I’m put together.
Maybe some people are just built this way from the beginning. A need to learn, develop, and refine a variety of skills must be part of the code that makes up our DNA.
The problem isn’t that people like me have multiple interests, want to do many things at once, and can’t function without some kind of checklist.
It’s that we don’t know how to handle the urgency that accompanies our multicolored desires.
Some days I look at my goals for the year, fixate on something I haven’t even started yet, and sit back from my computer screen dizzy with anxiety.
As if the world is going to stop spinning if I don’t start working on it right now.
We carry so much fear at the thought of not doing enough that we push ourselves too hard. And the only place that will get you is nowhere.
The only way to combat this anxiety and set the right goals is to accept that there’s no deadline on creativity.
You might have a list of things you want to accomplish in the next year. That doesn’t mean you have to give them all the same level of attention — or any at all — today.
There will never be enough time for everything. Your energy will always run out. Your motivation will always rise and fall. There will always be something more important to focus on in the present.
I’d suggest starting with one thing. Figuring out how to make that thing fit smugly into your life. Wait until it’s something you look forward to doing most days, not something you dread when you wake up every morning.
Maybe then you can choose a second thing. Figure out how it fits into your week. Learn to enjoy it. And then decide if you want to keep doing those two things, stop doing one and replace it with another, or add a third thing — not because you feel like you have to, but because you want to. And can.
Some people aren’t built to follow a single trail. They get distracted, latch onto things that excite them, and wish time-turners were real. They get lost in the woods, chase shiny objects, try to fend off the resulting fatigue.
I don’t think anyone will ever accomplish everything they dream of.
But everyone can fulfill at least one dream. Any hobby you pick up on the side is just something extra.
I’m not a writer because I followed one path until I ended up somewhere worthwhile. I’m a writer because it took years of trying to do everything else for me to realize it’s OK not to try so hard to fill your resume with accomplishments.
In your life, you will likely achieve many things.
Just not all at once. And not without getting lost, falling down, spending all your money on coffee, and realizing how stupid all those things were.
Pick something to do. Something you like. Not the thing that will make you the most money, get you the best job, offer you the most praise. Pursue the goal that means the most to you.
Achievements don’t mean anything if you earned them for the wrong reasons.
Let your greatest accomplishment be not that you did everything, but that you lived happily doing what you truly loved. Even if that meant some of your dreams never ended up coming true.
That doesn’t make you a failure. It only makes you human.