A lovely, clever teenage girl I know well told me recently that she wants to meet her "husband" at 23 and have her first child at 25. She knew the type of job she wanted to do, but also the type of job she wanted him to do. She had an exact idea of the flat she wanted to live in, and where they would be located because it was commutable to her husband's office. Okay. Wait, what?
Now there's nothing wrong at all with knowing that you want kids one day, hoping that you meet someone you love enough to make a lifelong commitment. That's pretty hardwired in a lot of us and, frankly, it's no-one else's damn business what we desire. But the deadlines? The deadlines make me sad.
Firstly, there's no guarantee you'll meet the right person by 53 let alone 23. What you will do is meet a person and if we all settled with whoever we are with at the "right" age, rather than waiting for the right person, ugh. Shudder. I don't even know where to begin with that.
Secondly, I had my first child at 21. If I could redo things while somehow still ending up with the same kids who I love madly - caveat, caveat - I would have waited many more years than that. My kids are awesome and we've had a lot of fun but to an extent I grew up with them, and that has distinct disadvantages for everyone.
And thirdly, what do you miss when you have tunnel vision? You miss a buttload either side of your eyes.
If you spend your life focussing on an end goal or set of end goals, with tight timescales, you're setting yourself up to either fail (because who on earth can hope to hit every goal) or miss out on an awful lot by racing to the finish.
Those Facebook memories are a killer reminder. Just today, a picture popped up from my Facebook account three years ago. It was a picture of a peahen and two guinea pigs in my garden in Kent. Three years ago, that was my life. We had a peahen that came to visit (including breaking into the kitchen to crap all over it), numerous pets and we lived in the country. The peahen that burst through the window and crapped everywhere, that was the highlight of my life.
My main ambition was to buy a house. When I say ambition, I mean OBSESSION.
I mean, sure, I really wanted to have my book published (but that's like being an astronaut or premiership footballer, so obviously I put that to the 'if only' part of my head), I was sad that I'd never travelled (but, y'know, kids at 21) and I wished that I could have been at home more, not had to use a hodge podge of nurseries, after school clubs and favours (but that's life).
I wrote endless lists with timelines and deadlines. If we have our last baby by [this date] then routine will be [mad, unrealistic routine]. If I save [mad, unrealistic amount] every month then [unrealistic house buying plans].
I made financial flowcharts (If get a loan for X then pay off Y, if get a loan for A then buy B).
And pie in the sky ideas. Get a book deal. Travel. Ha, I laughed at myself, what an idiotic boob. That'll never happen. No, focus on the mad, punishing deadlines instead.
I wasted hours planning out my life in Notes. Woke up in the middle of the night and checked them manically. Wrote new Notes at nuts o'clock in the morning. All those goddamn hours wasted.
You know what happened in the last three years? It wasn't the pedestrian stuff. We didn't buy a house in Kent. I didn't pay off X by Y. I mean I did, but I used W.
I got book deals. We travelled.
Something happened, something personal and sad, that stopped me writing lists and panic planning. Instead, I sat in a heap after the sad thing and thought about what I really wanted. I took risks. And I sent one of those risks to a literary agent.
Rather than panic-buying a new build in Kent, commuting hours each day into London, we jumped when my husband's job gave us the chance to move abroad. If we'd bought a house when my pushiness tried to make us, we'd have been stuck and it would have been a lot harder to "go with the flow".
It took 30-something years to stop wasting time with plans and deadlines. And don't get me wrong, I still write shopping lists. I still want to buy a house at some point. But who knows where.
The stuff that I dream about, the ambitions I have, they're written through me like seaside rock. I don't need to write them down and I don't need to give them a deadline. But to stand a chance of achieving them, I'm giving up on panic-planning permanently. And I highly recommend it.