After experiencing the relief, anxiety and outright terror of releasing my first book, I had to take a breath and rein in my emotions. What brought about my relief? What was I afraid of? Where did my anxiety come from? All of those questions seemed to have one common theme, success. My fear was that I would not succeed, and in a strange twist, that I would. I was relieved to finish a project that took much longer than I had anticipated, one form of success, but that relief didn’t last long. Even if this book did well, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy being a one hit wonder. I had to start the next project almost immediately. Most of the anxiety flowed from there. If my first book were a failure would anyone even look at my next; if it were a success, would I be able to follow it with another. There I was, barely finished my memoir, having sold not one copy and worrying about how successful the follow-up would be.
It became apparent that if I were to maintain my sanity, as tenuous as it already was, I needed to figure out what success means to me. I decided to look it up. The definition according to Merriam-Webster—Success: 1. favorable or desired outcome, 2. the gaining of wealth and fame, 3. one who succeeds. That gave me a place to start if only for the process of elimination.
Well, the book is out for a whole week, and I’m not rich and famous yet, so number two is off the table, at least for now. I did not expect or particularly want fame, although fortune would be nice. One that succeeds seems vague to me, so let’s take that off the table to simplify things for now. Which leaves us with favorable or desired outcome, but what exactly does that mean?
When I began this new enterprise, I had no idea of what might happen. I suppose that my original idea of success was to finish a book, good or bad. There was no way to judge the quality of the product until done, so there was no way to formulate what a favorable outcome might be, maybe just avoiding humiliation. Now that it is finished, as flawed as it may be, new fantasies of the outcome I desired sprouted in my mind like dandelions in a garden. Those flowers of fancy bloomed rapidly in the nutrient rich soil of my imagination. Massive sales and bestseller listings blossomed on one stalk, glowing reviews on another, but the more I thought about it, the less sweet those smelled. I’ll refrain from allergy analogies.
Eventually, I realized that success is a state of mind. In a sense, if you think you are, then you are. Doing the best job I can, and then accepting the result is the only way to succeed authentically. Anything else puts you at the mercy of other people—readers, agents, critics—and that strikes me as the best way to guarantee failure. Eventually, I returned to my original if somewhat obscure, version of success; simply, get the job done. If I stick to that view, I will fulfill definition number three, one who succeeds.