Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Contemplating Success

Defining "success" is not as simple as looking it up in the dictionary.  My dictionary (so hefty it has its own stand) says this:

succeed: to prosper
successful: turning out to be as was hoped for
success: a favorable or satisfactory outcome or result

You see, it's all relative: prosperity, hope, favor, satisfaction.  These are all things that are individually interpreted and personally defined.

I've thought about success before--quite often, actually--but the kicker is that even your own personal definition is likely to be different depending on the context.

As a mother, I base my success on whether I have loved and nurtured to the best of my capability.  As a wife, I feel successful if my husband feels appreciated and valued.  In finances, I think success relates to what you do with what you've been given (not just monetary stewardship, but also time, education, and talent.)

For me, success is intertwined with continued growth and effort.  It is less about the goal than it is about the journey.  Of course, the little bonuses are always nice: a car or house, a happy family, etc. and I'm not discounting those, but there needs to be a can't base everything on tangible rewards.

One area in which I haven't solidified my opinion of success is in regards to writing.  I love to write--to create in general--but I'm constantly torn between wanting to create for the artistic experience alone, and striving for outside validation.

Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet WithinI was flipping through Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within today and ran across this question:
What is your definition of success as a writer?

I had to stop and think about it.  As a writer?  Well, I'd love to be published.  Of course I would.  But that is only one measure of success.  We all know that there is amazing work that remains unpublished, just as well as we know that there is published work that is undeserving.

And there is part of me that feels like I don't want anything less than my best published...and since I'm still growing, still learning, still experimenting with my preferred medium, I may never reach my best.  I waffle...thinking about that goal makes it harder for me to enjoy the journey, makes it easier for that doubt to creep in (the last line from the movie Doubt has been surging through my head lately: Meryl Streep cries, "I have doubts. I have such doubts.")  At which point I force myself to look back and remind myself that it is less about the goal than it is about the journey.

My definition of success as a writer, or as a reader, must be the same as anything else I devote time to: continued growth and joy in the journey.  Perhaps, at some point, the validation and other little bonuses are part of that process...perhaps at some point I am happy enough with my work to seek publication...perhaps at some point I get published.  But perhaps I don't.  And perhaps it is okay to feel successful either way.  

How do you define success in your reading or writing?  Do you work more on tangible goals than I do?  I'd love to hear another perspective--what works for you?
The guide words in my dictionary explain everything:
"succeed" is on the same page as "suck" ...which is why
it is so easy to waffle between the two!


  1. I don't think being published is the end all for me although I move in that direction as I prepare to enter my master's program for creative writing. For me it's more about releasing what's in my mind onto paper in a way that is pleasing, enjoyable or challenging to anyone that might read it. Yes, success for me is definitely in the release.

    Reading success for me is knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I understand exactly the message the author is conveying. Maybe like the bond I feel when I meet a new friend that I make an instant and deep connection with.

    These are my rough ideas anyway. I'm sure the writing could used a little work ;-)

  2. Love the guide words!!! And I also love your dictionary stand. I need to get one of those.

    I'm a terrible writer. So, I don't have any aspirations of being published. But, in reading, how do I define success? Hmm.. I never thought of it that way. I define success if I'm enjoying myself and/or becoming more educated. Sometimes it's one or the other. Other times it's both.

    So I'm assuming you really liked ordinary genius? I love to read poetry--but not write it.

  3. Thanks for joining me in my ponderings! I really enjoy hearing how things work for other people.

    I like what you said, Belle, comparing the message of a book with the connection with a new friend. I don't think I've thought of it quite in the way that you said. Also, the creative writing class I took was my favorite--I'd love to go back to school at some point to do more of that! It might even be worth all the other classes I'd have to take. :)

    Aren't those guide words great, Heidi? I get such a kick out of words. The dictionary stand we got from my husband's great grandmother, it makes looking up words much more fun. :) I think that I judge success in reading similar to you: I want to enjoy myself, and I want to be challenged to grow/think in some way.

    Ordinary Genius has been good--much more poetry instruction than a book to read straight through, so I'm taking my time. I seem to like writing poetry more than reading it...which has felt backwards or hypocritical at times...but I've come to find that the things I create (whether with words or fabric, paper, etc) are typically very different from the things that inspired me. I'm still searching for poets I connect with, though. Do you have any favorites?

  4. It just thrilled me to see your dictionary on its stand. A real, live dictionary, wow! I'd love one of those. (Like when my son was in Kindergarten and he said, "Mrs. Cousins has the coolest thing. She has a world that spins!" So of course I had to buy him a globe.) Anyway, I also love your 'definition' of success, that it's the journey interspersed with growth and joy. Those two qualities can not be ignored, and I see that from my point of view as not only a reader, but a wife, mother and teacher.

  5. Isn't that dictionary great? My kids don't even mind looking up words...even do it for fun sometimes. :)


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