Preparing for Success

This is the blog post I was thinking of writing when the fires got intense here in Tasmania and I chose to write about that instead. I’m glad I’m finally getting it out now. It’s a bit late because I completely exhausted myself on the weekend helping to cut down the trees that were overhanging our house and I took a day to recover. I’m all recovered now, so here it is!

A couple of weeks ago I was the guest on a podcast. It’s a writing podcast called The Prolific Writer and I was interviewed about my writing life, my methods, my influences and so on. You can hear it here if you’re interested.

The host, Ryan J Pelton, lives in the centre of the USA and it was fun to line up times and dates and find something that suited both of us. I got up a bit early; he was interviewing me from mid-afternoon the day before.

I listen to Ryan’s podcast all the time. It’s one of the podcasts on my list for inspiration and advice for my writing life. I was incredibly excited, as you can imagine, to be a part of it. And I was a bit hopeful that I would find a new audience for my writing as well. An audience in the USA. I was hopeful that maybe I’d make some sales through it. That maybe I’d become ‘successful’.

Now, this brings up a whole swag of ideas. What is success? What does that word mean? What does it mean to me? What does it mean in different circumstances?

In one way I am already successful. I’ve written and published two novels and a self-help/memoir, and I have another three books on the way. If finishing a book equals success (and in my mind it does) then I’m successful. I have also successfully published a blog for four years and I have successfully produced a podcast. This counts. It really does.

But I’m afraid I want more than that. I actually want a large audience. I want to make a living from my writing. That has been my goal since 2010 and it is still my overarching goal. And I am not near that yet, folks. Not nearly there.

So I went on the podcast with Ryan, I answered his questions (some I answered well, some poorly) and at the end he told me that the interview would be live on the Saturday and I suddenly got butterflies in my stomach.

I suddenly realised what my idea of ‘success’ would mean in my life.

When we look at successful people, whether they be authors, sportspeople, movie stars, politicians, or celebrities of any kind, I think that most of us feel we have the right to judge them. We have the right to criticise their words, their clothing choices, their mistakes from 30 years ago, their life choices now.

I realised that if I get the viral audience that I think I want, it will give people the right to discuss (with me or with each other) what I should have said, what I should have written, what I should have done. People will feel a certain ownership of me and will see my flaws so clearly and wonder why I am not dealing with them myself when they are so obvious.

Now people will hopefully see good things as well, and be blessed and uplifted by my words. But I know that I can easily find myself being more critical of famous people than I am of ‘normal’ people and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that to happen to me.

Because I am still me. And no matter how many people follow my blog, and how many buy my books, I will still be me. Still stuck in the fog of figuring out who I am. Still unable to clearly see my own path. Still unable to see the splinter for the plank, the wood for the trees. Sure, I have some bright rays of insight, but each day I just go through the day like any other person, and selling more books or having more followers will not make my life any easier to live.

I thought through this for a while, then I had a chat with Moz and things became a bit clearer for me. Firstly, I realised that in a way I am already there. I already live parts of my life in public on Facebook, Twitter, and on this blog. I like to do that. I like interacting by text. I like writing deeply about my life here, and in my books. People read my work and feel like they know me. And to an extent they really do. And so far, people have been very kind.

So in one way I can’t ask, ‘Do I want to live in public?’ because I already live in public. I’m already there.

Secondly, the people who read my books now are mostly people who live near me. My friends and family and church family are reading my stuff and talking with me about it. If they feel like they know me better, then that’s good. If someone over in the USA feels like they know me better, it’s not going to lead to more awkward conversations in the supermarket. I already have those 🙂 I don’t think it’s going to get worse with a larger audience.

And finally, I can choose to inflate or to mitigate the problem. I can choose to write something controversial that will attract a viral audience, but will also attract strong criticism, and attract the trolls. Or I can choose to quietly write whatever small wisdom has been given me, and slowly grow an audience that is kind and gentle, my tribe. And that is the path I choose. I want to be friendly, comforting, a big sister to talk with. I don’t need success at the cost of losing what I believe in.

It’s two weeks now since the podcast interview went up, and unfortunately massive success has not yet come my way. So all these thoughts, in one way, look a bit foolish now. But I keep hearing from my mentors that being prepared for success is just as important as being prepared for failure, and I’m glad I went through the thought exercise.

We’ll see what comes my way in the future.

If you’re undertaking a project, or starting a business, or even just in your life, have you thought about what success is? Have you defined what it is that will make you feel successful? Have you prepared yourself for what you’d do if that actually happened? I’d love to hear about it.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

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What makes you a Success?

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I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but didn’t put it up because it’s January and EVERYONE is writing about goals and resolutions and so on right now. But I’m going to post it anyway, because it’s what I’m thinking about as I start this year. My birthday is in January, so as well as the big New Years Day thing, I also have the next year of my life to think about. January for me is all about goals, dreams, plans for the year ahead.

And what it means to have those plans succeed.

Success. What does it mean? More importantly, what does it mean to you?

How would you define a successful year? What makes you successful in your career? What does success mean in your family?

I’m a bit of a list addict. When the weekend comes I like to write a list of everything I want to accomplish in the two days. My list will have bigger tasks like ‘change the bed linen’ and smaller tasks like ‘clean up the kitchen’ (alright that can also be a big task – it depends on the day), and even hobby tasks like ‘read book’ or ‘bake cookies’.

If I cross all the tasks off the list by the end of the weekend I judge it to be a wildly successful weekend. But what if I don’t manage to get to all the tasks? Is the weekend a failure? Am I a failure?

I listened to a podcast interview by Steve Laube a literary agent, about success. He was talking about how writers define success and how it can be a dangerous thing. He said that some define success by sales numbers, ‘I’ll be successful once I sell 50,000 books,’ or by income, ‘I’ll be successful when I make $100,000.’ But, he says, what if you only sell 45,000 books? What if you only make $98,000? Are you a failure? If you haven’t ticked over that success milestone does that mean you have failed?

His point was that it is better to define success as the impact that you have on people – that even if you impact one person’s life for the better by your writing, you have therefore been a success.

We can apply that to our general lives too. We might never be millionaires, we might not ever be able to be Prime Minister, or a movie star, or the CEO of our corporation, or any of these high-impact people, but if we can impact the lives around us in a positive way on a day to day basis then we can also say that we are successful.

I agree. Money or fame or power are not good measures of success. They are more like gaping bottomless pits that suck you in and suck those around you into the abyss as well. At least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. I’ve never really been close enough to find out.

So yes, doing good to others, spreading the light however we can, reaching out and making anyone’s life better, that is a good measure of success but there’s a risk with this kind of thinking.

The risk is that we stop trying. We can be tempted to not push ourselves, not try hard, not grow, because all we’re doing is just trying to help the people around us, trying to shed light, and isn’t that enough? Just being a nice person? If that’s the definition of success then why bother training? Why bother learning? Why bother developing our artistic skills? Why bother with academic excellence?

But I believe excellence is something worth reaching for. Learning and growing and improving is a life-long journey and if we stop doing any of that then we stop living. Or at least we stop living a life filled with any richness.

My dream for my writing career is that I can make a living by what I write. That is what I think would constitute a wildly successful writing career. It is what I’m aiming for. My big shining city on a hill that I’m toiling towards. This is not something that I expect to tick off my list any time soon, but it’s the thing that will keep me striving for excellence, will keep me training and working.

And failure in my writing career is defined solely by this:

  • I fail if I stop writing.

So in between the failure and the big shining city there is a wide plain of moderate success:

  • I am successful if I put aside the time to write.
  • I am successful if I hone my skills, train in character development or descriptive writing.
  • I am successful if I bring a book to publication.
  • I am not a failure unless I fail to do that which I am called to do.

I think you can see from this list though that the goals that are on the success pathway are goals that are within my control. Goals that depend on me, not on external forces. Goals like exercising every day, rather than a goal of losing 10 kg which has a lot of factors you may not be able to control. Goals like mastering that piano piece or practicing five hours a week, not goals like winning Australian Idol. It is easy to fail if your definition of success depends on something that you cannot have a hope of controlling. Some people call these systems, not goals. I’ll probably write another post on this in the future because I think it needs some unpacking but just bear it in mind right now. When I talk about never failing, I’m talking about reaching for goals that depend on your own input, not externally defined goals.

Success and failure are not binary concepts. Success is not an on-off switch.

Rather there is a continuum from failure (which I think is only final once you’re dead) to wild and absolute success. And every step you take towards your shining city is a successful step. Every setback is just that, a setback. If you pick up and keep going, you have not failed.

 

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. What do you see as success? What do you think about goals? What are your goals for the new year?

Quitting

Today I quit one of my jobs. It’s been a long process – the process of quitting this job has lasted over a year.

The job involved working after-hours as a tutor in a small business that tutors primary and high school students in literacy and maths. It’s an excellent business, the tutors do excellent work, and it’s something I totally, whole-heartedly believe in. There is also a huge need for tutors – there is always a waiting list for the business. And tutoring is something I can do. I know enough maths and science to tutor people through high school and beyond, and I could probably do english at a pinch.

All of the above is what made quitting this job so very hard to do. But I’m pretty sure that quitting this job was right.

And before you ask, it’s not about the money.

It’s about the tired.

You read a lot on the internet about how being busy is a sickness of our age. How when you ask people how they are, they answer, “busy” and they wear it as a badge of pride.

I am done with being busy. I don’t want to spend my days stressed because I can’t fit everything in. Or at least, I want to be busy with things I love, rather than things I ‘should do’ or ‘would be good at’ or things that are an answer to a great need but not a good fit for me.

I want to be free enough to be there for people when they need me. I want to have enough energy to give to my children when they need to talk, and to have that important coffee with a friend, or a new friend that I’ve just met, and to hear their problems and to help out.

I also want time to read, to think, to write, to follow my dreams.

I am a writer, I want to be an author. In my head that means publishing books, yes books plural, though I’ll use the term author after one book is published, don’t worry. I am finding that the writing process is hard work. It requires a functioning brain. It requires energy. It is not something I can squeeze in to my life in the free evenings, or for half an hour on the weekends.

For me, writing a novel requires (at the very least) working a little on it every day in the morning, and then giving it more time over the weekends. It also requires me to make sure I am healthy, that I eat well, sleep well, and exercise, so that I don’t wake up feeling foggy and unable to think. And that requires me to evaluate every single activity I undertake because I can’t do all the worthy things that come my way and still write a book.

And, you know, that’s hard. Because right now, I have no evidence beyond this blog that writing is something I can do. I am investing hours, days, in something that may not pay off. I am also spending time learning the business of writing, and it is common knowledge that the vast majority of writers in Australia earn about $10,000 from their writing each year so I may never make a living from my dream. I am very unlikely to make big dollars.

The process of investing in my writing is making me re-think all my ideas about success. I have never been one to judge success by the size of someone’s income, but I have definitely judged success by the number of people reached and helped. If you use that analysis to weigh up my writing against the tutoring job I just quit then I am moving in the wrong direction.

Or I am taking a huge leap of faith.

I also feel incredibly selfish. If someone suggested that they would pay me to sit in my little den and write all day, every day, I would jump at the chance. Writing is my happy place. It’s what I love to do. So turning down a worthy job like tutoring, stopping helping children so that I can sit in my happy place more, that’s selfish, isn’t it?

But maybe it isn’t. Maybe God made me with this inclination to shut the world out and think deeply and write about my thoughts. Maybe sitting alone in my lounge room and tapping on a keyboard is how he wants me to spend my time. Maybe it’s not my job to solve everyone’s problems but just to do the best job I can at what I love.

Or maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Only God knows what will come of my writing. At the moment I’m going to keep going and trust him with the outcome. And keep working my other day job.

If anyone wants to pay me to write though – you know where to contact me!

If you enjoyed this post and would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. I’ll still be writing posts on this blog but the newsletters will be more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.