Every time I go to Costco, I pass the end table where the books are and I look and I say to my kids, “Someday, my books will be there.”
In my mind, success looks like stacks and stacks of books at a wholesale store. If I come to that point in my career, then I have a tangible reminder of the success I’ve accomplished. And I want this to be the right kind of book — a novel — not a “I lived through a disaster and now I’m going to tell you my story” kind of book.
The authors who have books at Costco are household names. That’s why they’re there. So when ordinary moms like me are out buying cereal and fruit and twenty pounds of chicken thighs, they can look and say “THAT BOOK!” or “THAT AUTHOR!” if you get your books at Costco, you’ve already paid a LOT of dues. You’ve put in your time and worked hard. Those books at Costco sell themselves.
If Costco is my measure of success, it has to come after a million more tiny successes preceding it.
I will have to be successful in building a platform and attracting the type of publisher who usually deals with Costco. I’ll have to write not just THE book but book after book after book to get me to the place where THE BOOK is more attainable.
My definition of success is not a one time deal after all. It’s a journey.
But if I am so bold as to have such a finite measure, then there are some questions I need to ask myself.
If this is my definition of success then what will happen after I achieve it? What then?
If this is my definition of success then what will that make me if I don’t achieve it?
What if I do all the work, write all the words, put out all the books, develop the platform and never make that goal of having books at Costco?
Or what if this? What if you get to the goal and you find out that it is not satisfying? What if that goal isn’t enough?
I believe a healthy definition of success is one that doesn’t tie our identities to it.
The goal of having books sold at Costco is kind of arbitrary, really. Perhaps there are other measures that are just as satisfying, just as attainable and just as worthy of a celebration. Maybe my definition of success should include other things too, like selling thousands instead of hundreds, getting on a best-seller list, or earning enough that I could support my family.
I also believe that healthy definition of success should be based on what I can do today.
Did I write 1000 words? Did I read great books? Have I tackled my to-do list? Have I practiced the discipline that being a writer requires? If I focus on these day to day goals my big Costco goal become less intimidating. It also becomes less important. I should be proud of what I do on a daily basis so that if my “success” never comes, I can look back and say, “I did my very best.”
I’d like to suggest that we balance our to-do list and daily word counts with a mindfulness of contentment. Today is a success if we give all we’ve got.
We are successful if we:
Choose to work with hope.
Tick things off the to-do list with joy.
Don’t beat ourselves up if we fail.
Put relationships first.
Never compare what we do to what others do.
Stretch ourselves, grow as artists.
Never give up.
Enjoy the journey.
Conversely, we are failures if we:
Comparing ourselves to others.
Trying to please everyone.
Disrespecting the rules of excellence.
Disrespecting our readers with shoddy work.
Feeling sorry for ourselves when we don’t succeed on the first try.
Obsessing about numbers, like sales or followers or rankings.
A lack of discipline.
An expectation of instant success.
Isolating ourselves from other writers.
When we get to the end of our writing careers, we need to be proud of what we’ve done, who we’ve touched, and how we grew into something bigger.
Perhaps it will translate into sales somehow or a bestselling list or a table at Costco. You never know.
Success should not just be what happens to us that day. Success comes every day that we make good decisions about how we spend our time, what attitudes we embrace, in whom we’ve encouraged.
Ted Talks have an amazing collection of videos about this concept of success and how it shapes us. I highly recommend them. If that doesn’t inspire you, check out this article on how famous people define success. Note how few of the definitions are as absolute as my Costco one. Then, Harvard Business Review asks the same question I ask, “What Does Success Mean To You?” Perhaps by seeing what the experts say, you can clearly define what success means to you and be inspired to be excellent every day.