In our busy society I often think that there are some words we take for granted and misinterpret. One of these is most definitely ‘success’. We have a collective definition for success and we like to apply it to other people as an interpretation as to how well they are doing at life. But we forget that not all people want the same things as us, and even if they do, generally speaking they have their own route and motivating factors to get there.
As authors, perhaps the ultimate sign of success is to be on the New York Times Best Seller List. The longer you remain on it, the more successful you are. But, I’ve met scores of writers whose main aim is simply to reach readers, rather than get on the NYTB list. Equally too, there are some who write because they desire fame and fortune, and others still who just want their name to be known around the world. Being on the NYTB list can be a symbol that each of these have been achieved, but for those individuals the driving force behind their success isn’t focused on that list exclusively. The list is simply an outcome, rather than a product of their success. And they may not have been aiming for this at all in the beginning.
What do you want?
The most important thing is that you learn how to define what success means to you. What is it that you really want from life? Do you want to be on the best seller list, or will you be happy having sold a few hundred copies to readers who aren’t your relatives?
Success isn’t a static thing, either. It can change and develop as you do. Once, all I wanted was to be able to write regularly and then, when this happened I set my sights on getting a short story published. Success isn’t just about the end goal, it’s also the smaller achievements on the way that mark out that you are on the path to success.
How will you know when you’ve got it?
One of the biggest challenges we face in this commercial, rat-race of a world is recognising when we are successful. A lot of the time we neglect to see our own success in favour of identifying it in others. We look around at our friends, family, work colleagues and beyond and think that we don’t match up – when, really, they’re all doing the same and believe you are more successful than they are!
Yes, that young, fresh author managed to get her debut novel onto the NYTB list, but she did it by writing about the tragedy that surrounds her life. She wants to share this to ensure other people don’t have to endure what she did; the one thing that we neglect to factor in when we judge how successful she might seem. This is a prime example of why we shouldn’t measure our own success on someone else’s scale. We can always look outside of ourselves and find people who we think are ‘doing better than us’ – but we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, nor do we understand if what these people have is really what they wanted.
Imagine your ideal life – and keep that at the forefront of your terms for success. I picture myself sitting at a writing desk, in my ‘Plotting Shed’ staring out of a window that looks onto a wild garden with trees, beside a bookshelf full of my novels with a dog (or two) at my feet. I’ve had both the dog and a writing desk for some time. More recently I left my job to be a writer and Writing Coach and my Plotting Shed is on its way. While other people might not consider that success on their own scale, for me it’s an important step to the bigger dream.
Does it contribute to a bigger picture?
And that’s what we need to keep focused on. Every one is an individual – we all have our unique dreams and desires and we should be careful lest envy starts to distract us from our own ‘bigger picture’. Yes, the ultimate dream may change – remember, success isn’t a fixed point – but don’t want what someone else has just because they have it. Consider what YOU want. Are you building up to this, or is life taking you in a different direction? Work smart by asking yourself if you really are working toward what it is you say you want.
Unfortunately, as many of us know, being an author isn’t a guaranteed path to riches. So, you can’t necessarily rely on writing exclusively to get there. I worked hard to get my two-up-two-down house on the edge of the Pennines, and for years I built in other opportunities that contributed to success on my own terms. For me, it meant a part-time job and some freelance work along with putting my health first when I had to – things that took me away from writing, but provided me with the financial security and energy I needed in order to get to where I am now.
The importance of everyday success
While doing the washing and cleaning the bathroom don’t factor into my personal ideal of success – I don’t judge my success based on my housekeeping skills (thankfully) – it does need doing. These everyday chores are a small part of my overall success. Remember the last time you went over to a friend’s house for coffee and their living space was immaculately clean, their kids were polite and neatly dressed and they had just added a brand new extension on to their house? What tiny part of you didn’t think ‘I wish I could do this’ and compare your failings as a housekeeper/parent/house owner to theirs? It’s a natural reaction in some ways, but it’s driven by societal views. For your friend, her success that day was dependent on you seeing how tidy her home is, how well behaved her children are and how proud she is of being able to add to her home; even if, ultimately, she judges her own success on how well she is coping at work.
Remember to cut yourself some slack and give yourself credit for all the little things that you do outside of your ultimate ideal of success. Working on a novel, all I really want is for it to be written, but every chapter I complete, every plot point I work out and even every load of washing I get done whilst I’m trying to write that novel – these are all everyday successes that we often forget about. Give yourself permission to see your achievements the way someone else might – and you’ll realise that there are plenty of people examining your life who would conclude that you’re more successful at something than they are.
You never know, you might even discover that you’ve been discounting your own success in favour of chasing someone else’s!
So, what does success mean to you? Let me know in comments, or Tweet Me.
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