What counts as success, really? Money? Love? Power?
I have come to think that success comes from living with our fear to do what we feel compelled to do.
I am a writer. It’s not that I’ve sold a lot of books or made a lot of money, because I haven’t. Yet I would say I am writing successfully, because I am writing every day and the words come flowing out on to the page. I’m also being productive. I have just finished my first book and will have it available for sale soon. And yes, I do hope it sells well, and I’m not uncomfortable saying that. Because that will mean the book reaches a lot of people and does what it was written to do – be encouraging and of use to people. It will also give me a livelihood that will enable me to keep writing and continue to let this work out of me. That would add a layer to this version of success I am living. But it’s no longer what I would use to define it.
You see, I returned to writing last year. I had walked away for a long time. Over this past year I’ve had glimpses into why I turned my back on something that was such a part of me. The answer has surprised me.
I thought it was too easy.
Writing came effortlessly to me. It felt like cheating.
Like many other high achievers, I had bought in fully to the notion that in order to be worthwhile, something has to be hard. I chose the hardest path every time. The hardest classes, the longest road. I had no idea at 18, or 19, or 24, that what I was doing revealed so much. That it was masking my deepest fear.
Flash forward to a life that is good, but not fulfilling. Marriage, kids, house. All good, yet something felt missing. I started back to church. I doubled down on yoga. I began meditating on the regular, becoming able to sit in my own silences.
Then I was offered an incredible job opportunity that yanked me out of a job I loved, but wasn’t satisfied by. I grabbed it with both hands and ran.
It didn’t work, as it turns out. For many of the same reasons Arianne addresses in her piece on Redefining Success—because I wasn’t able to do great work in a way that had integrity with my life and health. It wasn’t simply about the long hours or intense pressure. It was about the environment, and the lack of respect, and the inability to do the work I was there to do. The workplace didn’t allow for it, because the head of the organization didn’t value it.
And as with so many women, I was told I wasn’t committed enough, wasn’t capable of doing the tough work, wasn’t a good fit.
My year spent in this ‘dream’ job gave me huge lessons. The biggest of which was this —be fearless.
So I left a job that would easily have killed me (it has aged the Founder 10 years in the last 3). And I suddenly had the urge to write, visualizing three different books of material that I wanted to share.
I did the thing—I took a leap of faith and committed to writing. I settled quickly into a work schedule of writing every morning, and research or meetings in the afternoons. Words practically poured themselves out of me. I worked on all three books until one emerged as the focus. I have been busy, and learning, and productive. And I haven’t felt happier in a very long time.
The anxiety of no income has hovered over me the entire year, as I draw down savings that were there to be relied on. I, like the women in Arianne’s article, have been able to make this choice because I had the financial means to do so. But it has also been very difficult to stay with the uncertainty. I have needed reassurance and support to continue to walk this path. I’ve relied heavily on my network of friends and family to keep going. None of us can make this new definition of success stick entirely on our own.
And so this year—wildly successful in every measure I care to use, bar money—has freed me. It has returned me to myself. It has taught me to trust myself, and to find joy in doing what I feel compelled to do.
This year of writing also has shown me that the path ahead is far from defined.
I will certainly continue to write, but perhaps while also working again. Money has to come from somewhere, after all! I’ve begun looking for work, and am excited by the possibilities that are emerging. I love collaborating and have missed that this year. I love being part of a team that is doing important work.
I don’t know where the next 12 months will find me. Two years ago I could never have predicted my move to the startup. One year ago I certainly never envisioned the move to writing. This next year will no doubt bring new avenues as well. I plan on living that edge of fear and embracing it.
I believe what’s fueling my sense of success is listening to what my heart wants to create in the world, and being bold enough to follow.