I used to spend lots of time in the Careers Library at school reading up on potential career paths - comparing earning potential and the likelihood of international travel, with the time it would take to qualify and the typical day to day tasks. I had high expectations and I couldn't find a solitary job idea that appealed to me.
It carried on throughout my working life - I've never had a job where I felt completely at ease and I addressed that by changing jobs often. I despaired of incompetent bosses, long commutes, and meaningless work. I was always daydreaming of a different way of living and working.
One filled with freedom. Holidays that aren't crammed into 2 weeks a year. Work that challenges my mind - that I can do at any time, from anywhere in the world.
My dream was to be a bestselling novelist.
Who wouldn't want to be? Long luxurious days lounging on the veranda of my wooden beach hut. A cool breeze gently riffling through the pages of my latest manuscript. A cocktail in one hand and a fountain pen in the other as I make notes on character arcs and plot, whilst listening to soft jazz playing from inside.
Mmhmm. Because any novelist will tell you that's exactly how they live. Especially those with children. But realising these were unrealistic expectations of my dream career wasn't even the problem. It's that when I started trying to write a novel I found out something very very important...
...that I don't enjoy writing fiction.
There, I said it. And no amount of cocktail swigging and light wind can persuade me otherwise.
I love writing. I've loved writing all my life. When I was younger I spent hours tapping away on an ancient typewriter that I found in the attic. (I say 'ancient' but it's really only the equivalent of when my own kids found my old Walkman last month.) I made up stories and plays and typed them out diligently - handing them round my brothers and friends to act out. And if I wasn't writing, I was reading. Novels of any genre - anything I could get my hands on.
However, when I first sat down to try and write a novel at the beginning of 2010 (thankfully I'd got hold of a laptop by then) I struggled. Sure, I know that writing fiction is not easy. I know that first drafts are generally rubbish. And I know that a novel length story does not just leap out of your brain and onto the screen.
But it just felt totally wrong. As did the short stories I crafted around the same time (both of which, by the way, were almost word for word autobiographical so it wasn't really fiction anyway).
To be blunt, when I read my own fiction I physically wince with embarrassment. Fiction just ain't me.
In my defence I do have an imagination and I use it frequently. I love daydreaming - as anyone who's ever worked with me or went to school with me will know. In my head all sorts of worlds, relationships, conversations, and events exist, and I love dipping into them for my own entertainment. But when I write them down... Hellooo trashy novel. Seriously, no one would want to read it.
This realisation was pretty devastating. When you've been living your dream in your head for so many years it becomes a part of you.
And not in a good way.
I found that my totally unsuitable and unattainable dream was as restricting to my yearned for freedom as the current job I loathed. Deep down in my subconscious I had known that this dream didn't really suit me. So there was no way I was ever going to allow myself to attain it. And as long as the conscious me was striving towards it, rather than looking for something that suited me better, I would be getting nowhere.
Admitting to myself that being a novelist was not actually something I wanted to do, gave me the space to look at what it was I did want to do. For me it was still about writing, but I needed to tweak my dream a little (OK, a lot - fountain pens and cocktails don't mix with young children).
I compared my fiction writing to how I feel when I write a blog post or when I'm working on my non-fiction book, and I realised I'm in flow straight away (well, after I've procrastinated for a good few hours before getting started). Planning, writing, editing... it doesn't matter what I'm working on, I love every bit of it. Writing about facts and truth and opinions and actual real life stories, rather than having to make stuff up, really sings to me.
And now I weave this love of non-fiction writing into my current work life. I write blog posts, I'm writing a book, I write copy for my website. I've also discovered other things I love doing like podcasting and coaching. You'd never find my 'job' in a Careers Library and that suits me just fine.
But thank god I no longer try to write novels.
Are there any dreams you're carrying with you that you could be letting go of..?
A version of this post first appeared on the Maternity Leavers blog.