What is success? How do you know when you’re successful?
I’m pretty sure that everyone thinks about these questions at some point in their life and wonders if they’re successful. Everyone has a definition of success that they either strive for, reach, or despair that they will never reach. But it’s a far trickier question than it looks like on the surface.
I’m a Writer. I’m a Team Indie Writer. I’ve seen a lot of talk recently about how to succeed as an Indie Author. A lot of blogs and articles and tweets are filled with advice to boost your sales and rocket your books up to the top of everyone’s best-seller list. Going in the other direction, there’s a lot of discussion out there about how to get an agent and be published traditionally. So many people, to my great mystification, seem to be equating numbers/money with success as Writer.
To me success as a Writer has nothing whatsoever to do with sales. Shocked? Baffled? Don’t believe me? Think I’m fooling myself or saying one thing when secretly I mean another? Nope. For me writing is not a numbers game. Writing is Love. My stories are my gifts, a way to share the love inside of me with friends. Indie Publishing for me is a way to share on a grand scale with friends who I’ve never met.
So how do I define whether I’m a successful Writer or not? By sales figures on Amazon.com? No! I haven’t checked my sales numbers in ages. I measure my success as a Writer by the fact that I wrote a book I am proud of, had an editor give it the once-over so I could make it better, had a designer friend make an awesome cover, and put it up for sale. That in and of itself is success. I also consider myself successful as a writer because a couple of people, in person and online, have said they really enjoyed my story. Bliss!
And that’s it. No, seriously. I don’t think that a pile of money or being recognized on the street could make me feel any more successful than I do. I know you don’t believe me, but that’s part of my point: Every individual’s standard and definition of success is different. And it is imperative that we all respect those different goals and not look down on someone because they haven’t achieved our definition of success.
The same is true for work. Please forgive me any of my coworkers who may be reading this, but the other day when you guys were talking about how badly you wanted to be named “director” or “senior coordinator” or “vice president” I was hunkered in my cube giggling. I don’t understand the fascination with titles. I don’t care what you call me as long as I get my work done and as long as my boss notices my efforts and appreciates them. I consider myself successful at my job because I accomplish so much on a daily basis. I feel pride in that accomplishment. I like coming to work and tackling my to-do list because it makes me feel good to know at the end of the day that I have done well. Do I have a title? No. Do I have a fancy corner office? No. Does my boss appreciate my efforts and has she shown this in concrete ways? Yes. I am a success at work.
How about life?
Okay, I was raised in a small, insular society that I like to refer to as Pleasantville. (If you haven’t seen Pleasantville with Toby McGuire and Reese Witherspoon then go out and rent it!) I kid you not, the standard measure of success as a woman in this society is marriage and children. Am I married? No. Do I have children? No. Do I have so much as a romantic blip on my radar? No. (Do I have time for a romantic blip on my radar? Hell no!) So am I a failure at life? NO!
I am successful at life. Why? Because I’m happy. I love my life. I love my job, my Writing, the friends I’ve made online and in the real world. I love writing a blog post every day. Each comment makes me smile. I’m a success at life because I make people smile.
You know what makes me feel like the biggest success the world has ever known? When somebody says the following phrase to me: “I’m so glad you’re here!” Whether it’s uttered when I show up at a cricket match just in time and have a scorebook shoved into my arms as a game is about to start, or whether it’s when I get invited to a special family birthday dinner when I’m not that person’s family, or whether it’s when I start a new job and show that I can do what needs to be done … that’s when I feel like a bucket of WIN.
But you know what was the moment of my life when I felt like the biggest success ever? It was as I stood by the side of my Mom’s grave on a chilly April afternoon as my brothers and uncle lowered her coffin into the ground. In that moment I knew grief so profound, sadness so deep, that nothing would ever be the same. I felt as old as the ground under my feet. I felt time collapse into that moment of transformation. There was no one to catch me if I fell anymore.
And life went on.
I consider myself successful because I have gone through the worst life has to offer … and I’m still happy. I am a success because I strive every day to take the legacy of pain and uncertainty that my Mom left me with and to make something beautiful out of it. If you happen to buy my book I hope you notice the dedication: “For Mom. You always told me to dream my dreams and reach for the stars. I did. I always will.” Right there. That is my manifesto for success. Every last word of it. That is why I succeed.
So think about it. Do you define success by the number of books you’ve sold? By the money your stories make? Is that why you write? Are titles at work and six-figure paychecks synonymous with happiness in your world? Do you judge your own self-importance by the number of Friends you have on Facebook or the number of people who do what you say when you tell them to? Is your ability to carry on in the face of tragedy something you are proud of? When your time is up will you be satisfied if you leave a legacy of wealth and fame to your heirs or if you pack a church at your funeral or if you have one stalwart friend holding your hand as you move on?
There are so many ways to answer that question. Once you’ve answered it for yourself take a deep breath and ask if you are holding others to your standard of success in spite of what they might want. Are you looking down on anyone because they aren’t the person you want them to be? The time has come to get over that way of judging and to help others achieve success on their terms.