As a writer, like most writers, I want success, and I am envious of others who have more of it than I do. I struggle with it, not wanting to be envious, and I’ve been trying to arrive at a new vocabulary for it.
Today I was reading Emily’s blog, and found my comment going on so long I decided to post even though I don’t have answers yet.
Here’s what got me started. Emily wrote:
I work hard, I am a pretty good writer. But I’m not a closer. I can’t close the deal. Never could.
I went on Facebook today and one of the first things I saw was the Facebook group for alums for my college announcing that a woman who graduated in 1999 had just released her third novel.
It doesn’t matter how many novels I’ve published–they aren’t as many written or sold as other people’s. And now I look at the amount of life stretching out before me, I also feel like I can never catch up.
Having said that, I also know that these thoughts are a result of lies about what life is supposed to be. There’s a definition of success that rests on numbers: how much someone has produced, how many people have bought them; I don’t mean the goods but the person whose success is under scrutiny. We are all taught our worth is how much we are sold for–child prostitutes are taught the same. The social lie is just less obvious to most of us, or if obvious, just as seductive as it is to the child who wants only love and appreciation and value, and is taught that’s the way to get it.
If that’s the definition of success, then it’s in direct opposition to love. Love is about appreciation and acceptance. It’s expansive. It includes laughter and pleasure and ease. There is no comparison in love. You don’t love someone because that person is better than someone else, but because you have chosen them and they have chosen you, by chance (children) or deliberation (partner, friends). They are yours and you are theirs. It is not competitive. Success, on the other hand, is all about comparison and competition. Who has published the most? Sold the most? Earned the most? And even if you achieved it yesterday, what about today? It contracts the heart with worry, anxiety, envy; it contracts the world into a smaller and smaller circle of those who have achieved it most and latest.
No, I don’t believe that’s success. It’s what I’ve been taught, and I’m plagued by it, even though I know it’s a lie.
I don’t have the answers yet, the words to describe success. I’ve tried for a few. Excellence is one–and that works well to describe doing my best in my work, writing a particular book over and over until it’s as good as I can make it. But it still has a whiff of comparison. And it doesn’t do at all to describe my efforts, pleasure, and improvement in other areas of life, cooking, swimming, skating, sewing, all of which I’ve been learning as a middle-aged adult. Surely that counts. And what about time with my kids? That’s an ever evolving sport as they mature; it’s challenging, rewarding, and involves as much thought and learning as researching a historical novel.
There has to be another way to think about success, one that spins out of love instead of taking away from it. One that clothes us in something better than the Emperor’s clothes.