Raising the Bar While Giving Thanks

UChicago_pole_vaultHello real-life Hermione Granger. Not only do Emma Watson and I look eerily alike (when I have my natural hair color, that is), but I fully admit to being a perfectionist. I always have been. But I’ve noticed lately that it’s causing me to not realize how much I have accomplished. Why? Because I’m constantly setting the bar higher and higher for myself. For example, these are my (much simplified) goals to date:

  1. Write a book
  2. Get an agent
  3. Get a publisher
  4. Write more books.

The who/when of getting a publisher is totally out of my hands, so I have to do the best I can to be patient and just let it be (yeah, um, the reality is I worry myself silly). In the meantime, I’m writing more books because what if the first one doesn’t sell? It happens more often than you would think. So I write more. And because I want so badly to launch my career, I’m pushing myself to write faster and faster, all the while dealing with a full-time job and taking on more reviewing and other responsibilities to try to get exposure.

While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (we have to have goals, right?), it got me wondering if anything will ever be good enough. Add to that a conversation I had with a Twitter friend about expectations in publishing, and I really wonder where/if it ever ends. She was telling me that once you get published, you’re handed a whole new set of goals:

  1. Sell a certain number of copies (as determined by your publisher)
  2. Make the New York Times and/or USA Today best-seller lists.
  3. Maintain/surpass previous sales.
  4. Hit #1 on the best-seller list.
  5. Maintain/surpass previous sales.
  6. Debut at #1 on the best-seller list.
  7. Etc., etc.

From a business perspective, this totally makes sense. More sales = more money. It makes sense from a career trajectory standpoint, too. Obviously, you want to keep doing better and better, gaining more fans and being able to negotiate better contract terms, not to mention movie deals and foreign rights, plus the personal satisfaction.

But what does it do from a personal perspective? Whether you’re just starting out and striving to get an agent or publisher or trying to climb the ranks on a best-seller list, does constantly focusing on that next milestone make us numb to the good fortune we have right now, in this moment?

I can only speak for myself, but I’m starting to think the answer is yes. (I’m using the book world as my example here, but please keep in mind I’ve been this way since birth. I was the kid that if I got an A, I wanted an A+.) When I was at a Hedgebrook Master Class, one of my fellow writers said something about being in awe of all I’ve accomplished at my age. I have a full-time job, but yet, I’ve written four books and am on the cusp of publication, plus I do all kinds of things in the writing community. Not to mention that I was one of six writers chosen for the that retreat. I’m fortunate to have traveled the world and consulted with experts in my research. To her, this was amazing. To me, it’s just – normal.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or stuck up or whatever, but to me those things are just life. They are the natural progression of things. And they aren’t good enough. Why? I’m not published yet, I’m not a known name, etc. Like I said, I’m always pushing myself to be more and do more. But in the process, I think I’m missing the bigger picture and the blessings that have come my way. Am I grateful for all of these things? Hell yes! But can I see them for the accomplishments that they are? No, I don’t think I can – at least not fully.

Maybe it’s just a defect in my personality. Or maybe it’s a symptom of society. I don’t know. But I know it’s something I want to change. I’ll always be reaching for the stars, but I want to learn to recognize all things – big and small – that get me to each of my goals. I’m not quite sure how to so that, but I’m going to try.

Have you ever been in a similar situation or is it just me? Do you have any suggestions for how to be grateful for what you have, while still aiming for more? Please let me know your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “Raising the Bar While Giving Thanks

  1. Shauna Granger says:

    It is definitely not just you. As a self-published writer I am hyper aware of my sales and I really get hung up on the slow periods, beating myself, panicking to write more, faster. But recently, I sat down with my accountant to do my taxes and when I added up my royalties across all channels, I was really struck by what I’d accomplished. I’ve done way better than the statistics say most self-pubs will. But because, like you, I focus on the day-to-day goals and things that have to be taken care of, and see all the stories of over-night successes, I get down on myself for not doing better. We’re our own worst critics. It’s difficult to see the successes if we focus too much on not doing better.

    1. Happy to hear things are going well for you, Shauna! I hadn’t even factored sales numbers into the equation. That’ll be another thing to obsess over someday (hopefully soon). Let’s hope we both learn to appreciate what we have.

  2. Hoo doggies, yes. This is the writer’s life, I think. Great post; I think all of us sometimes need to be called to account for our blessings and achievements rather than chasing the next bend in the road.

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