I struggled with writing this post, because I struggle with this issue: Am I a success?
Am I a success if
• I’ve written books that have gone out of print within two years of publication?
• I’ve been laid off?
• I can’t have children?
• I have over 60 rejections under my belt (and 60 is a conservative estimate)?
• Much of what I’ve written has been at a work-for-hire basis or under someone else’s name (nonroyalty or ghostwriting)?
For me, this isn’t a choice of A, B, C, D, or E—some of the above. All are a part of the landscape of my life. Some of the items might seem odd, because you might think they have no relation to writing. But I came up with this list, because maybe they’re the yardstick by which you too measure success in life.
Several years ago, I visited a few classrooms in a school on the south side of Chicago. I’d been invited for Career Day. In a previous post I mentioned a question I was asked by several eighth graders: “Do you make as much money as J. K. Rowling?” J. K. of course was the measure of what they deemed success. (The answer to their question was no, by the way.)
We live in a society that often quantifies success by the ever shifting characteristics of the American dream or by how quickly someone gains fame, riches, and other perks: i.e., that first week at the box office; that first print run catapulting you to The New York Times bestseller list; that video of you picking your nose which goes viral and makes you famous overnight; that green jacket you don at the end of the Masters tournament.
As I thought about this post, a marathon came to mind. My younger brother ran the Chicago marathon last summer. He didn’t come close to that special group which finished the marathon in a little over two hours. He could barely put one foot in front of the other by the end of the race. But the thing is, he finished the race. And there was not a single person at that finish line who measured his run by those who had finished the race earlier. Instead, everyone lauded him.
A marathon might seem cliché. But it’s apt isn’t it? We struggle in this race called life. But we deal with the good and the bad and keep going.
When my sister-in-law and I asked my brother which mile would be best for us to wait and cheer him on, he mentioned the twentieth mile. Why that mile? Because many runners want to give up at that point, though they’re so close to finishing.
Maybe like me you struggle with a definition of success, one that fits your life. I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel less successful, less apt to keep running, when I measure myself against others. Maybe we can both take the marathon approach, not just as people participating in the marathon, but as the spectators also, cheering each other on, whether we’re at mile 1 or mile 20, whether we finish the race in two hours or six.
Because that’s what success is all about, isn’t it? Finishing the race, whatever finishing might look like; to keep trying, keep putting one foot in front of the other as we do what we love to do.