The other day, I was at a friend’s house, and he asked me if being able to quit my day job was my endgame for writing. I answered in the affirmative; my sort of basic goal is indeed to be able to write for a living.
I also wrote recently about how sometimes for dreams to come true, we need to funnel them into the concrete solidity of goals, break them down into their composite parts, and learn how to build them into the success we want.
But when my friend Matt asked me that question, I realized that there’s a whole other question buried into it. What does success look like? How do we know we’ve achieved it? Will we know? What comes next?
I was listening in passing to one of the Nerdist podcasts (I’m not even sure which one), but I remember Chris Hardwick saying something to that effect. Goals are great, but they are also an odd moment in time when you achieve them. “There, that happened. Now what?” was the gist of what he was saying. So it got me thinking.
Sometimes our goals are so lofty that they take years or decades to reach, if we get there. Reaching them is at once a tremendous boost and a teetering precipice of “what next?”
You can’t define success as a moment in time.
That said, you can pinpoint a moment as when you first felt successful, but if nothing builds upon it, that same success you strove for can become stagnation and dissatisfaction.
Way back in the 90s, there was this early social website called Bolt. (Anybody?) On the personality section of the profile, there was this list of questions, one of which was, “What do you most want to have ten years from now?” It was followed by a dropdown list of answers. One of those was “a passport full of stamps,” and that’s the one I chose. Ten years later, I did indeed have that. I had that moment of success when I realized I had almost no room left in my passport, and it was followed by me asking myself what my next passport will look like. It’s up for renewal this year.
Sometimes when you accomplish a goal, like I did with this passport, the next goal can be much the same. More. For me, that’s it. I haven’t seen all of this world yet, and there are still countless places I want to visit and learn from.
It’s much the same with publishing. Getting published this year, getting that first book deal, all the firsts that come with it — those things are a big accomplishment for me. But they’re not the end of the road. I’ve had a couple people legitimately ask me if I plan to write more books after this one gets published. If getting published were something that was the end all for my writing goals, perhaps I wouldn’t. But because writing is part of my identity and what I plan to try and make into a long career, my road doesn’t stop there, and I’m not about to kick off my boots and salute the past.
So what will signify success to me?
I’m not someone who craves diamond sunbursts or marble halls. Much like Anne Shirley, I want to have a life that reflects who I am. I want to travel, even if it means living modestly when I am in this country. Someday I want to see my books on the NYT/USA Today bestseller lists. I’d like to earn enough from my writing to write full time. I want to pursue acting as a hobby or more. I want to go to conventions and create some fun costumes. If five years from now those things are happening, I’ll feel successful.
What will denote success in your life? How will you know you’ve gotten there? What have you achieved so far?