Friday, 10 June 2011

What Is Success?

A couple of threads on forums  and a few conversations I’ve had recently, have started me thinking about success. Or rethinking. What is it? 

Shortly after we brought Dynamo home from Korea, we had a couple of experiences that helped me to define success to myself and I’ve been reminded of that in my recent ruminations. Firstly, we were accosted by a salesperson in a shopping centre trying to sell us education insurance for our baby. By putting in so much money per year, we could guarantee that he would have the money he needed to attend university. 

“What if he doesn’t attend university?” I asked.

“But he’ll be able to with this scheme.”

“What if he doesn’t want to?”

“But if you have this insurance, you’ll be able to encourage him in that direction.”

I looked at my son, new to us, with no genetic road map to give us any idea of where he might be headed. “What if he isn’t university material?”

She stared at me, obviously exasperated. “You push him! It’s good to have a university education.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but I’m not going to risk him feeling a failure, just because I’ve invested money in him going to university.”

Then I left, to the sound of her telling me how sorry I’d be in eighteen years.

At around the same time, an internet adoption support group started calling for members to find the names of adoptees who had made a success of their life, so that we could use them as role models for our children. By ‘successful’ they meant those who had become top sportsmen, actors, politicians, writers, singers etc. While I could see what they were trying to do, I wrote back and questioned the idea. What about the man who tends the public gardens every day, then goes home to a happy family home in the evening? Is he not a success? Or the woman who quietly nurses the sick and spends her time off playing tennis with friends? If she is content with her life and enjoys her work, can she not be considered successful? Famous doesn’t equal success. Rich doesn’t equal success.

So where does that leave me in my quest to be a writer? I went to our local arts group the other day, to ask if a flyer about my book could be put in the next newsletter. The man in charge was very enthusiastic, wanting me to do a workshop. When I said that I really didn’t know a lot, that it was just an ebook and not that big a deal (I know, I know, that sort of talk doesn’t help me one iota, but it’s a habit I’m still to break, orally at least), he said something that made me think -  “You’ve written a book. Lots of people want to do that, but not many actually do it.”

That makes me successful, doesn’t it? Thirty years ago, I wanted to be married, with children. Done. Ten years ago, I wanted to write a book. Done, three times over. When I’d finished those books, I wanted them to be read. Now one is being read and if I chose, I could get the others out there, too. Am I a failure because I’m not selling in huge numbers? No, because that’s not the goal I set myself. Little by little I can broaden my goals, but as long as they’re within reason, I will continue to be a success. I was interviewed by the local newspaper this week. That’s never happened before!

My family and friends don’t care if I sell a million copies, they don’t care if I make a million dollars. To them, it’s not going to make a difference to who I am. As long as I’m happy, the wife, mum, friend they know, all the sales in the world won’t make a difference to who I am to them. What better family and friends could one ask for? Success!


Christine Rice said...

Thank you. I have to say I have the same awful habit of shrugging and saying...oh, it's just an eBook I put out myself, it's not a big deal.

Really have to stop that.

Ben White said...

The most successful person I ever met was a gardener in Japan, probably in his late fifties at the time I met him. It was his job to look after a temple's grounds and he took great, great pride in his work--mostly clearing fallen leaves and keeping the grass level. He spent quite a while telling me that it's not as easy as it looks to make all the grass appear neat. "I've almost got it right," he told me. "Maybe this season, maybe next season. Now it's not bad, though."

The man simply radiated happiness, you could feel it coming off him in waves. Every leaf he cleared from the path was an amazing success to him. He didn't want anything except to keep the garden neat and get the length of grass perfect, and he was slowly working towards that, seeing a tiny improvement every day. Later I spotted him again, just after I'd noticed a tiny little statue of a monk hidden in a mossy bank--you know how sometimes people smile with their eyes? He was laughing with his eyes, just overjoyed that I'd noticed this little monk. Total inspiration. Spends his days picking up leaves and getting the grass neat and chatting to temple visitors; happiest guy in the whole darn world. There's no doubt in my mind that he's the most successful person I've ever met.

Shirley said...

Success has meant different things to me over the years. At school I wanted to obtain good exam grades, then I wanted to become a teacher, which I did. After that it was taking my driving test.
Then I had children and wanted to see them succeed in their lives in whatever job they wanted. I didn't care if they wanted to leave school early, just wanted to see them happy.
Now they have left home and have families of their own and I feel they have been successes!
Now I like to see successes in my writing career and have been lucky to win a few writing and poetry competitions. I've also written six children's books and have one called 'Body Trapped' out on Kindle.
I like the Buddhist monk story. That I think, now as I get older, is what success is all about, being happy with yourself and your lot - living for the moment, as life is so precious. And you don't need money for that. said...

This is a wonderful perspective. As a fellow writer, I so needed to read it. Bought your book, too.

Kate said...

Christine - it's hard to stop, isn't it? I'm supposed to be going to a course for work in August that is designed to make me 'sparkle with confidence'. I'll let you know if I get any good tips!

Ben - that's a beautiful and inspiring story! Have you written him into a book yet?

Shirley - You've done really well with your poetry, I know. Definitely a success in that direction and I'm sure your books will follow.

elfspirit - I'm glad I helped and I hope you enjoy the book! Thank you!

R. Doug Wicker said...

I've come to grips with the now established fact that I absolutely suck at market. Great book. Great reviews. Even Publishers Weekly gave it a rave and compared it to Agatha Christie, and yet my sales are still in the basement no matter what I try.

But I'm happy with the product I turned out, and I guess in the end that's all that counts. Oh, that and the fact that my wife of 31+ years loves me. Who can ask for more than that?

So, yes, success is a personal measure. But it would be great to sell a ton of books, now wouldn't it! Anyway, best of luck with Treespeak, Katie. Hope you sell a ton!

Clare said...

Wise words, Katie. Success is not about how others define you but how you feel about yourself and your achievements. Many a "successful" celebrity has an empty inner life.
In my opinion, the most successful people are those, like Ben's gardener, who fulfill their potential and are at one with themselves and their environments. That you are fulfilling your goals, Katie - makes you a success. That you are doing so while being a wife, mother, colleague and friend demonstrates that you are also a successful juggler!
I hope Treespeaker does go on to sell in the numbers it deserves to but the fact that it is proving such a hit with those of us who have read it, shows that it, as well as you, is a success.

Kate said...

Doug - yes, selling a ton of books would be nice, but until then, I'm content! ;)

Clare - I pretty good at having the nicest people as friends, too! :)

Cookie's Mom said...

Very nice, Kate! I question the world's definition of success more so now that I have a child, but it's always been a source of tension for me, pulling me this way and that. My dad was like your internet adoption support group in terms of how he defined success. He only wanted the best for us, so we kids were pushed to become doctors and lawyers and such. To come back from that place and learn who it is I am and what I need to be happy (which, like you, is how I define success these days) is hard work. 'Eldest', 'Dynamo' and 'Sausage' are very fortunate to have you to guide them. You are their greatest role model.