Nearly four years ago, I decided to quit my emotionally-draining full-time job teaching high school math and move to Cape Cod to live rent-free in a tiny bedroom with my friend Nikki as her “writer in residence.” My plan was to sponge off Nikki (hey, she offered!) and work on writing for one year. If, at the end of the year, I was finding success with writing, I would continue to pursue it. If things were going nowhere, I would go back to teaching and give up on my dream, at least until retirement.
But that’s not exactly what happened. First of all, I didn’t end up staying on the Cape for very long. Soon after I moved there, I met my future husband, and I ended up making another risky decision: I moved to Seattle with him after we’d been dating for less than eight months.
Second of all, I realized that “success” is hard to define, and that giving up on my dream of being a writer wasn’t such an easy thing to do.
Back then, my idea of success was a book deal. A novel published with a major house and hopefully many more books to come. Making a living writing, being on the best-seller list, having my book made into a movie – these things would be great, too, but to me the measure of success was simple: a published novel. How hard could it be, right?
Really hard, as it turns out.
But is is it the best measure of success? I know of a lot of authors who reach the published novel stage and still feel like they still haven’t “made it.” Now they’re worrying about sales, or writing the next book, or winning awards.
My husband and I are currently reading The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. Chopra says that success “is a journey, not a destination.” He says that success “includes good health, energy and enthusiasm for life, fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, a sense of well-being, and peace of mind.” Nowhere does he mention having a published book. Of course, he is the bestselling author of a bunch of books…
My point is, I’ve been working with a narrow definition of success. After all, in those four years I have had success with my writing. I started making (small amounts of) money by writing, and by doing writing-related jobs. I received a real writer-in-residency position in Mexico last summer. I’ve completed four novels and am working on another. I’ve gotten articles and short stories published online. I’ve made writer friends and learned how to use Twitter. I even had an agent for a while before he quit his agenting job. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’m getting better at writing novels. That’s success, isn’t it? If success is a journey, I’m definitely making my way up the hill.
It’s still hard, though. I’m still looking for a new agent. I’m still wondering if my books are good enough. And it’s often really hard for me to admit to people that I’ve been working at this for four years but I still don’t have a book deal. Sometimes, my ego hurts something terrible.
But then I read this in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success:
“Attention to the ego consumes the greatest amount of energy. When your internal reference point is the ego, when you seek power and control over other people or seek approval from others, you spend energy in a wasteful way. When that energy is freed up, it can be rechanneled and used to create anything you want.”
Anything I want, huh? Like a really awesome novel?
In other words, if I can stop spending my energy worrying about how I don’t have a book deal, maybe I will have the energy and creativity to write something super awesome (that will then get me a book deal).
It’s frustrating, of course: the old stop-trying-so-hard-and-it’ll-happen advice. It’s sort of like when I was a perpetually-single thirty year old and people told me I’d meet someone when I stopped looking. Annoying advice, but in a way that’s what happened. I mean, I was still looking — I was still doing online dating — but when I moved to Cape Cod I dropped my expectations of finding someone during that year. And that’s the very year I found someone.
Chopra would call this “The Law of Least Effort.” He would call it the principle of “do less and accomplish more.” I don’t know if I believe it exactly, but I like the idea of working hard at the things you want, but letting go of preconceived notions and rigid expectations about the outcomes.
I still want a book deal. Let’s be honest. But I should remember that in some ways I already am successful. My days are less stressful and more creative than they used to be. I think I get sick less often — I certainly feel healthier and get more sleep. I have a lot more time to spend doing the things for which I feel enthusiasm and energy, and I usually wake up excited about the day instead of dreading it.
That’s the way Chopra describes success, isn’t it? I’m doing what I love, and all I need to do now is learn how to enjoy it. Learn to give up those greedy ego concerns and find some peace of mind. (As always, easier said than done.)
Chopra says, “when your actions are motivated by love, there is no waste of energy… your energy multiplies and accumulates – and this surplus of energy you gather and enjoy can be channeled to create anything you want.”
Well, I want a book deal. But more than that, I want to spend my life writing. Because I love it. At the end of the day, my actions are motivated more by love than anything else. That’s why I’ve continued to piece together part-time jobs and blush when people ask me if I have a published novel yet. Embarrassing as it is for my ego, I just can’t give up the dream.
So I’ll write because I love it. I’ll embrace the success I’ve already had. And I’ll remember that success is a journey, not a destination.