My Best Mistake Was Ditching My 5-Year Plan
Career Fit

My Best Mistake Was Ditching My 5-Year Plan

by Megan Denneny
January 18, 2016


I still remember the warmth of blood rushing to my face the moment I realized that my boss was calling me out for a typo in my latest piece. I became dizzy with embarrassment, mad at myself for being so careless. As minuscule as a typo may sound, I’d worked hard on that article, scanning for any blemish. But there it was staring me in the face, mocking me.

Since then, I have tried my very best to catch my typos to avoid that pang of guilt when my next article gets published. But every now and again, it happens. I find comfort in the fact that it’s normal, encourages me to be a better editor, and is proof positive that we aren’t immune to imperfection.

We all make mistakes. It’s human nature. If we all had lives that ran smoothly 24/7, we'd be pretty bored, right?

The word mistake is commonly associated with bad memories and hard lines. Webster defines "mistake" as a synonym to “error”, “fault,” and “inaccuracy.” Each of these words has a negative connotation, but what dictionaries don't acknowledge is that they’re all transitory—errors, faults can be reframed simply by thinking in other terms with words like “overcome,” “learned,” and “fixed."  

Mistakes create moments we can learn from. I know you probably just rolled your eyes, but hear me out: the best mistake I ever made was ditching my 5-year plan. In fact, the best thing I’ve done for myself and my career was realizing it wasn’t a mistake at all.

There are no universal missteps, though we’re made to believe there are. If your parents, coaches, teachers, and peers are anything like mine, then they probably insist that blindly trekking through life is a terrible option. Not outlining your future? A disaster.

When I was 16, I made a document that mapped out all my wishes and dreams. It was a detailed story of what I wanted my life to be, and it was exactly how others felt I should organize my future.

But before I knew it, I found myself depressed. My life, somehow, wasn’t going as planned. I didn’t go to my first-choice college, I changed my major, I didn’t land in my dream city after graduation, I ended my long-term relationship, and I took a position at a company I never thought would interest me. In effect, I bailed on all my carefully-laid plans.

Many people saw discarding my plan as a mistake. They gave me the common pep talk, telling me that I should follow my dreams and never give up. The thing is, I wasn’t giving up. I was evolving.

I shifted my viewpoint because I saw my life heading in an alternative direction. Life will consistently throw us curve balls, and the best thing we can do is create new goals that propel us forward without locking us in. {Click to Tweet}

If I’d stuck to my original plan, I’d be in my hometown in my first-choice job—and deeply unhappy. Instead, I chose to move to a strange city for a job that wasn’t my "ideal." At the time, I was less than thrilled. I spent a few sleepless nights worrying I’d made a huge mistake. But here I am telling you that it turned into the best decision of my life.

When we aim for perfection, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Maybe my decision to abandon my plan seems like a mistake to someone else, but it has helped me grow into the person I always wanted to be.

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Do you have a life-plan you've abandoned? What were the results? Tell us below.