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IWSG: Defining success

One of my friends married a man whom most people would describe as successful. He makes a lot of money, works in exotic locations, and has incredible perks, which include a company-paid house, vehicle, and driver. On the personal side, he is in good health, takes amazing vacations, and has a strong marriage and two beautiful children.

So I was shocked when my friend said, “You know, he never wanted to a be a (insert name of impressive business-and-science-driven career here). His parents gave him three choices, and that’s the one he picked. He really wanted to be a chef.”

This got me thinking about success. My friend’s husband doesn’t enjoy his work–to him, it is a means to an end and he’s accepted that.

When I still languished in the corporate world, I envied one of my bosses, who was a year younger than me but far more proficient at climbing the ladder. I thought it would be so amazing to be a director and be able to put more of my creative ideas into practice.

But when I finally reached that milestone, I quickly realized it wasn’t for me. Being a director meant working evenings and weekends. Not having much of a life. And even less creative control than I’d had as a middle manager. More meetings, more committees, and endless red tape. I lasted seven months, which was five months longer than I’d wanted to.

When it comes to writing, success for me used to mean reaching Stephen King-level riches, fame, and fandom. It meant huge book deals and Hollywood banging on my door. While that would still be nice (except for the fame part–having readers hang around your house taking photos is just creepy), I’ve learned that success for me means making a living doing what I love. And what I love is telling stories. Interacting with readers. Meeting amazing people, and having a healthy travel fund (which helps a lot with the story telling and amazing-people meeting).

If we’re clear about what we want and what really makes us happy, we’re more likely to achieve it. We’re also less apt to be disappointed when we reach our goals. When we come to the end of our lives, our only regret may be that we didn’t figure this out sooner.

What’s your definition of success? Have you ever achieved something that wasn’t what you expected? How has your idea of success changed or stayed the same over the years?

Monsters in Our Wake by J.H. MoncrieffThink your day job is bad? In Monsters in Our Wake, marine geologist Flora Duchovney takes a position on a drillship in the remote South Pacific in the hopes of improving the life of her young son. Instead, she gets sentient sea creatures who are seriously pissed and a crew who resents her presence. The longer the crew remains in the creatures’ territory, the more confrontations occur. When the death toll rises, Flora realizes the scariest monsters aren’t below the surface. Monsters in Our Wake is available thru Amazon.

The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThose who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

 

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41 Comments

  1. I think your attitude is very mature, practical, and good for your health and happiness. I never thought I’d be a bestselling author or have a lot of fans. At my age I’ve accepted that wishes never come true or if they do, there are many black linings to that silver cloud. I just want to write stories I enjoy. Not too much to ask, is it?

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh no, Lexa! That’s so bleak. And no, it’s too much to ask at all.

      I refuse to believe that wishes don’t come true or that there’s a black lining in every silver cloud. It may set me up for a fall sometimes, but I am forever an optimist.

      *hugs*

      Reply
  2. I know exactly what you mean. I used to think success as a writer meant a six figure deal and a movie deal. While I agree it would still be nice, I also realised that actually, just being able to write for a living instead of doing a job I hate is still being successful
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes it is, Debbie! It is definitely successful, and more authors are managing this all the time. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

      Reply
  3. You are so successful! And, you will be even more successful. Great post. We need to own our lives and do what we love.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Mary! Sadly, so many young people are still pressured into careers by their parents and teachers. I wanted to be a forensic psychologist on the side, but a well-meaning instructor talked me into journalism. I still have “What if?” moments.

      Reply
  4. I love this post! I’m right there with you… I just want to tell great stories. And travel (when I can). 🙂 If I can structure the rest of my life around those two things I will be a very happy lady.

    Reply
    • JH

      Sounds like an amazing life to me, Crystal! It’s within your reach.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  5. All very well said. Lots of us have lofty goals. I tell my son that smaller goals stack up quicker. 🙂
    I would love to make a living with my writing, but I’m not quite there yet. We shall see.

    Reply
    • JH

      True, but I think the big, “starry-eyed” type of goals are important too. What’s that saying? “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

      Reply
  6. Sometimes it looks good on the outside, but it’s doing nothing for the inside.
    I enjoy what I do and being a full time writer would stress me out. That I’ve had success with several books is beyond successful to me.

    Reply
  7. My definition of success has definitely evolved. I’ve changed, the world has changed, publishing has changed. Success looks different to everyone, but I think the feelings it brings to us is similar – peace, contentment, that certainty we are who are and doing what we were meant to do. 🙂

    Reply
  8. I told all three of my sons to make sure they do something that makes them happy. Only one is using his college degree in a profession that matches the degree. I had two completely different careers. I loved both, but left the last one when it was no longer fun.

    Reply
  9. I think a lot of things can be attributed to youth and growth. As we get older, we learn what’s more important to us. I love the sounds of Monsters in Our Wake. It is on my reading list now.
    sherry @ fundinmental

    Reply
  10. I hope your friend’s husband makes time for himself to cook gourmet meals when he can, and maybe invent new recipes. That would be a small way to live his dream.
    I absolutely agree that our ideas of success can change over time. These days, I think success happens when you follow a path that makes you happy – which you clearly are, and I’m so proud of you for that!
    Personally, I love making my family happy, and I love creating music. I totally feel successful whenever I work on music – and when someone/somewhere connects to a song for whatever reason. Such a great feeling. 🙂

    Reply
  11. I have a “corporate” job but it’s just that – a job. It pays my bills, it has a pension and good benefits, so that I can provide for my family and I write when I can. I have no aspirations to write full-time at this point in my life – I don’t think I could handle not having a steady paycheque coming in with vacation and sick time.

    I will continue to write and improve and learn and have fun, and that’s all I want right now.

    IWSG April

    Reply
  12. I hear you. Things always look so peachy from the outside, eh? It’s almost a shame we can see what’s actually going on inside people’s heads. Then again, that could be pretty scary too.

    Reply
  13. I’ve not made a ton of money writing or doing photography but it’s been a lot more fun. I’m great with numbers and would’ve done well as an accountant, but I wouldn’t have been happy.

    Reply
  14. Success does mean different things to different people. I’m realistic and know that I won’t be rich and famous off my books. I’m okay with that. I’m happy being able to produce works that people enjoy. My greatest thrill is when I’ve had readers actually email me to say they enjoyed my book. Reviews are great, don’t get me wrong, but having someone reach out to me personally, well that was the best.

    Reply
  15. For me success means I’m doing what I enjoy. If I get paid for that, then that’s an extra perk. I’ve never been highly motivated by fame OR fortune, but I have been motivated by losing myself to a project in the morning, looking up at the end the day and smiling at what I’ve done.

    Reply
  16. Recently, my wife had an epiphany of sorts. She’s been working in software since graduating from university in 1994. After years of coding, she moved to management, thinking that was a better course of action. And it was. She is really good at it. Still, it isn’t her passion.

    She wanted to quit, move on and do something else (which I would have been okay with), but she realized that this is a means to and end. And this career makes that end (retirement) much closer than any other work she could do. She is delaying her passion, because she doesn’t want her passion to be polluted.

    I find the whole thing interesting.

    Reply
  17. The reason I find my success in the world of writing is because I have the freedom to choose what to write and publish. Happiness is that freedom of choice.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Gail. One of the most miserable moments of my writing career was actually when I had an agent. I ended up rewriting the same book for her for several years, and it was awful–I started to dread writing. Having creative control is so important.

      Reply
  18. Success is all a matter of definition! As a writer, I consider it a successful month if I made enough to pay the water bill. Making a living at it would be super-success 🙂

    And as others have said, the best times are when people tell me they liked my books, or when a kid sees me and gets all excited because I’m the author who came and read to their class.

    Reply
    • JH

      That would be amazing, Rebecca! How wonderful to discover you’ve had that kind of impact. I would consider that to be hugely successful!

      Reply
    • JH

      If my post made you think about some things, Juneta, that’s wonderful! I couldn’t ask for a better compliment.

      Reply
  19. Great post – my husband is a 31 yr veteran of the fire department (firefighter/paramedic/chief) and he said he never worked a day in his life. He loved his job.

    During my almost 30 years in IT, I had the management carrot dangled in front of me and I always grabbed it. Invariably, I’d come to realize I hated it but nevertheless, the challenge always created the inevitable.

    Reply
    • JH

      Loving your job is such a wonderful thing. It’s only the first week of my “new life,” and I won’t say it’s been without challenges, but the people closest to me already say I seem happier.

      I’m always tempted by those challenges too…that’s why I took the director position. In a way I’m grateful it was so awful. That limited the amount of time I wasted going down the wrong path.

      Reply
  20. Great post and congratulations on your new novels!

    My “success” goals involve regularly publishing short stories and building a reader base. I also love building my tribe – especially with other writers. Longer term success includes publishing a novel or six.

    However, I am happy and everything will be the proverbial (and cliched) “icing-on-the-cake”.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, KT. Those sounds like great goals. Definitely worth striving for.

      Reply
  21. It looks like you figured it out at a relatively young age! 🙂 This is a very interesting and inspiring post. I think you described “success” perfectly. It is different for everyone, but I think success must lead to happiness. As for myself, I never think in terms of success, but more in terms of accomplishments. Or is that the same? “Success” seems such an industrious word. We all seem to want big things, but disappointment is often the result. While fame, respect and money sound(ed) good, the older I get, the more I realize that this usually comes at a price – not living life the way you really want. So, here is to success of finding and accomplishing what we most desire… 🙂 For me, this means to die without regrets.

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

    Reply
    • JH

      Beautifully said, Liesbet. And welcome back! I missed you around here.

      Reply
  22. Success has varying degrees depending on people’s definition.

    Reply
    • JH

      True.

      Reply
  23. I think it’s sad when people can’t follow their passions, especially when patents push careers on their children.

    I would love to make a living writing. If I ever do, I would call that success.

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, you’re doing so many things right, Chrys. Don’t give up–I know that goal is within your reach!

      I would love to achieve that pinnacle too. 🙂

      Reply
    • JH

      Or at least content. Sometimes, contentment can be even better.

      Reply
    • JH

      That’s a great goal, Tamara. They say that “all” you need to be successful is 1,000 people who love your work enough to buy everything you write. Now, if you’re like me, 1,000 hardcore fans seems like a pretty big number. But I think you’ll agree it’s much more achievable than Stephen King’s legions.

      Reply

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