Last week I touched on avoiding burnout and how the key to avoiding burnout is the work-life balance. I also touched on the pressure modern society puts on people to “succeed” regardless of their career or vocation.
But what exactly is “success”? How do we quantify it? We certainly don’t hesitate to say when other people are successful (Taylor Swift, Jameela Jamil, Beyonce). But when it comes to ourselves we hold back. Feelings of success are often short lived, or the bench mark moves. So I wonder, how many people that you think are successful, think of themselves as such?
Some profession have clear markers for “success”. Lawyers consider making partner a success. Doctors in a hospital might consider becoming the head of their department “success”. Artistic careers have less obvious markers.
When I was younger I dreamt of the future and wanted to be successful as a writer. I had no idea what that would look like. None of my family are professional writers (though there are a lot of published poets) so I couldn’t look at someone, at their career path, and go “that’s the benchmark for success”, having a best selling book published, or making a million dollars for example.
Having benchmarks is not a bad thing. It gives you something to strive for. It gives you a road map. But sometimes it also blinds us to the “little successes” along the way. As a writer if you wait until you’re a household name to consider yourself “successful” you’ll miss so many celebration worthy successes along the way. Like publishing your first book. Publishing any subsequent book. Signing with an agent or publishing house. Or Indie Publishing your work.
I’ve published six books. Do I consider myself successful?
Yes and no. A book requires a LOT of work. To complete one and publish it is an amazing feat of work. I have done it six times. In that I am successful. Some people like my books. Some don’t. That’s normal. In that I am successful.
But when will I consider myself financially or commercially successful? I will consider myself financially successful when writing is my day job. When I don’t have to work a main job, or worry about money.
I am proud of the things I have acheived. Even if I never become a household name or comfortably make my living based off my art, I will feel that I have been successful on the most important levels. Money is important in our consumerist society but it’s not everything. I wanted to publish my writing and I did. I wanted to learn a second language and I am. I wanted to live in the country and I did. I am a person who succeeds when I put my mind to something.
The point I’m trying to make is success is subjective. Everyone sets their own markers. The important thing is not to be so busy chasing a moving marker that you never enjoy where you are in life, or the things you HAVE achieved. The only person you ultimately have to satisfy is yourself. The only person you have to impress, is yourself.
My other point is that financial success and fame are not the only forms of success, and I daresay not even the most important type of success. Success is achievement. Setting a goal or a task and following it through to completion. That may not be how the financial world views success, but its how I view it.
To be successful you need clear goals and determination. Success, in essense, is immaterial. But you need to be successful at the completion of your goals before you can hope to be successful financially, and still financial success can be hit and miss, driven by multiple factors. The market, the opportunities you come across and the ones you make, education, having financial stability enough to invest in yourself all affect your ability to be financially successful, and unfortunately in many places in the world so do prejudices against race, gender, “class” amd other factors. It would be stupid to think, especially after recent events of 2020, that these things don’t impact your ability to make money or achieve fame.
I’ve seen many people trying to sell road maps to success to Indie Authors. I’ve even tried some of them. Most of them seem to work off the principle that you gotta spend money to make money, or you have to give away fred books to hook a reader in so they will buy your other works. Not everyone has the money to spend thousands of dollars in advertising and marketing. Sometimes giving books away free hurts more than it helps.
In conclusion: there is no one way that “works” when it comes to financial success and what works for others may not work for you. Which is why I emphasise focusing on the non-financial success of writing. If you only focus on fame and fortune that may never come you are likely to become disilluisoned with your writing. I believe that you can overcome just about anything, and maybe that’s naive, or coming from a place of privilege, but one of my goals here on earth is to help empower people. Celebrating the little successes motivates you to strive for the next one. Success brings success.
Small successes make you believe in yourself. Belief in success is the most important thing, because what is going to motivate you to continue if you don’t believe you can achieve your dreams? No one else can make you feel successful. Only you can do that.