Own Your Dreams: A Conversation With My Younger Self

It’s weird to think that I graduated from college seven years ago. In that near decade, I’ve published a bunch of articles and some personal stories, and a piece of my flash fiction was accepted for an upcoming anthology. I earned a master’s degree and worked up from a proofreader to a managing editor. I bought a house, and I’m getting married soon.

But I haven’t published a novel. I don’t have an editor or an agent or even a complete, polished manuscript.

If the younger, pre-graduate version of Jess could talk to me, I don’t think she would. She’d be too disappointed. If she had her way, I’d be living in the Vermont mountains with a couple of horses and endless time to write and revise and query and publish. I most definitely would not be in a city. I would not get up and drive to a job every day.

But I am where I am, doing what I do. So let’s talk about it.

The Myth of the Right Time

Younger Jess was better at owning her passions. The responsibilities of adult life hadn’t come knocking yet, and she spent every spare moment honing her craft. If I could, I’d tell her to keep it up. She shouldn’t have finished a draft and then used her busy schedule as an excuse to let it sit for years. By the time I took another look at that manuscript, it had collected such a thick layer of dust that it couldn’t simply be tidied up — it needed to be scrapped and rewritten.

Immediately after graduation, post-college Jess put her career first, thinking she could focus on her dreams at an undetermined later date. She assumed she was too young, too inexperienced and, in short, not good enough yet. She was suffering from impostor syndrome, which “comes from a natural sense of humility about our work. That’s healthy, but it can easily cross the line into paralyzing fear,” writer Carl Richards explains in The New York Times.

I was thinking about the future, worried that my ambitions might not work out. But these seven years have taught me that it’s the present that matters. All a rejection from a publisher would have meant was that I needed to try again. The right time doesn’t just happen for most people. Instead of waiting around for that moment to strike, you need to devise, create, and implement the ideal environment and conditions to make it happen. Often, that means putting in a lot of work. And let’s face it: A lot of work is a scary thing.

Taking a Rosier View

The good news? Seven years isn’t a very long time. My career as an editor has undoubtedly made me a better writer, and there’s no reason I can’t rewrite my manuscript or use it as the basis for something new and better. Although it’s easy to think of my younger self as a different person who made strange decisions, the truth is that I am her, and I did the best I could.

Ultimately, the last seven years have brought me to a good place — not the ideal place, but a realistic one. And younger Jess, I promise: I can take it from here.

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