Defining Success

One day a writer asked me, “What does it feel like to be a successful author?”

I answered, “I’ll let you know when I’m a success.”

The writer quirked an eyebrow. “Um, you’re kidding right?”

I said, “No. I’m not kidding. I’m a small blip on a big radar. I have lots to accomplish.” I shrugged.

With a bit of impatience, the writer said, “Well, from where I’m sitting you’re a success. I mean, I’m still looking for a home for my manuscript. I don’t have a book on my shelf with my name on it, much less two, and much less another on the way. How can you sit there and be so jaded already? Don’t you remember how you felt when your first book was about to be published? Heck, don’t you remember how you felt before you found a home for your book?”

I blinked. Oh dear. Had I become jaded already? I went home and thought about it. I thought about what the writer said: “Don’t you remember how you felt when/before your first book was published?”

I do remember. I remember how I felt before my first essay, poem, short story was published, and then how I (briefly) felt when one was. I remember when I asked myself, “When can I call myself a writer?” and all the angst and conditions I put on myself then. I’m still placing conditions on myself. “When this happens, I’ll be . . .” For as soon as the first poem/essay/short story/book was published, I thought, “But I now need to . . .”

In the publishing business, like some other businesses, there is always the Next Thing. There is always the looking forward; the What Comes Next. And when do we enjoy what we’ve accomplished? Do we? Are we? Shouldn’t we? Can’t we at some point celebrate and feel good about ourselves and give ourselves a little pat on the back before we move on?

I was speaking to a writer’s group a few days ago. A woman said she’d just had some poetry published and we all clapped and congratulated her. I said, “Isn’t this exciting?” She nodded, but there was that look. I knew that look. A bit later I said, “I remember when my first story was published. I was so happy, for about five minutes, then it was . . . Yes, but now I must . . .” and the woman, and several other writers laughed, all nodding their heads . . . “Yes, but now I must . . .”

How does one define success? By whose standards? Their own? Or some outside source?

Does pride and happiness in your accomplishments make one a success? Do one’s family and friends’ pride and happiness make it? Does seeing the fruits of one’s labor, one’s discipline, one’s hard tenacious work make one a success? Or does one wait for outside acclaim to define their level of success, and doesn’t that set up slippery slopes and traps and endless endless endless endlessness?

I just turned my head to my bookshelf. The place where about two years ago GMR and I had placed a fake book with a fake title with my name on it—reserving the space for my first novel. I stared at that fake book many a day, wondering, wishing, and most of all, working my arse off to see it come true. And now, there are two books there with titles and my name on them—real published books. And I don’t feel as if I’m a success? My family and friends are happy for me; proud of me. And I don’t feel as if I’m a success? From where I was sitting the days of staring at that fake book, imaging where I am now would have felt like success. I am not suggesting we all can do the clichéd “rest on our laurels” thing; however, there is something to be said about taking a moment to stop and recognize the fruition of a job well done. There is something to be said about being happy with what you have right at this very moment, right now, right here, right in front of you.

How do you define another’s success? How do you define or measure your own? Do you think striving for bigger and better and larger and more motivates us, or creates an atmosphere of “nothing is ever enough; there is always someone who is richer, thinner, prettier, handsomer, successfuller, publisheder, prizeder, honoreder, revereder . . .so how can I get an ER

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