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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Owning Your Success

It occurred to me recently that I've had the same basic conversation a number of times over the last few months. Maybe even years. It goes something like this:
Other person -- "I'm impressed by how well your books are doing. Congratulations, you're a success!"
Me -- "Uh, no, not really. I mean, I'm doing okay, but I wouldn't call myself a success."
When I had this conversation with my mother recently, she scolded me. "Of course you are," she said. And you know what, she was right. (Duh, she's my mother. Of course she was.)

After all, I've published nine books with Llewellyn and I'm working on a great tarot project with them that will be out next year. (If you're thinking you missed a Llewellyn book, #9 is the Midsummer book in the Sabbats series, and it will be out soon.) My Baba Yaga series with Berkley seems to be doing well. I just found out that I've earned through the advance for the first book (which is a good sign) and both the novels seem to be doing reasonably well as far as I can tell. The most obvious sign of success is probably the new book deal with Berkley for three more books and a novella in the series, as well as an eBook version of the first book in a new series. But I was also on the front cover of Witches & Pagans Magazine recently, which was pretty damned cool.

So that brings us to the question of why it is so hard for me to own my success. I know it isn't just me, either, which is why I'm bothering to talk about it here. Many of the writers I know are quick to downplay their success, no matter where they fall on the spectrum of number of books published or awards won. But this issue isn't limited to authors. How many of us have a hard time accepting a compliment or admitting to success in one form or another? Quite a few, I suspect. Maybe almost all of us.

There are probably a number of reasons for this and they are likely to vary from person to person and situation to situation. Culturally, we are taught that bragging is bad. Saying, "Yes, I'm successful," can feel a little bit like bragging. Maybe we're afraid to jinx things. If we admit to success, the universe might punish us by coming to take it away again.

For those of us who had critical parents or partners who put us down for year after year, it can be hard to see ourselves as successes no matter how well we are doing. It just doesn't feel like it could be true, no matter how much evidence there may be to prove it. After all, if you know you are just not good enough, how can what you do--whatever it is--be successful?

Then there is "imposter syndrome." This one is so common among authors, you'd be amazed to find out who suffers from it. Imposter syndrome is that horrible suspicion in the back of your mind that no matter how successful you are, any minute now people will figure out that you are an imposter (you can't write, your art is actually dreck, your achievements at work were all flukes) and they will make you leave the room with your tail dragging as they all laugh and point. If you say you are a success, then later when everyone figures out you actually suck, it will feel all that much worse.

And of course, success is a moving target. What seemed like success at one point (getting an agent, selling that first book, getting one positive review, earning a certain amount of money, getting a raise or a new position at work, achieving a goal) doesn't seem all that impressive once you've done it. Most of us keep adding new goals--and that's a good thing, since positive forward movement is part of what helps us to grow as human beings. But if we are too focused on the next achievement, moving the bar always higher, the things we've already achieved may no longer seem like success, just the steps on the way to the next goal.

I think all of these things are part of why it was so hard for me to say, "Why thank you, yes I am a success." I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, and frankly, it all seems kind of impossible, like maybe it is happening to someone else and any second now it will all be snatched away again and someone will say "Whoops, just kidding!".

And, of course, if you are a success, then there is the expectation that you will continue to succeed, always doing as well if not better at your chosen path than you have done already. No pressure, right? Yikes! This is especially true for authors, who are expected to make each book better than the one before. Oy. Who the heck can live up to that?

But here's the other side of the coin. I worked REALLY hard to get to this place. Wrote all the books, including a number that never saw the light of day (and yet still took months to write). Pursued agents until I finally got one. Honed my craft with practice, practice, practice. Learned to roll with the blows from repeated rejections, bad reviews, and years of waiting for someone to say yes instead of no. Spent virtually all my free time for the last nine years working towards this point in my life.

So what does it mean if I finally achieve at least some measure of success and then deny it? Doesn't that belittle all that hard work? At what point is it okay to finally say, "I am good at what I do. There is a lot for me to be proud of"?

I'm calling that point today. And not just for me. Do you do something well? Are you good at your job, a hobby or craft, caring for your family, surviving in the face of life's difficulties? If so, you're a success. You may or may not have money or fame, but success means a lot of different things to all of us. I'm willing to bet that you're a success at something...probably a bunch of things. We can probably all come up with a long list of the things we're not good at or haven't achieved, but just for today, let's own our success.

I will if you will.

So, I am a success at writing. I am good at my job running The Artisans' Guild. I take good care of my cats. I keep my house from falling down around my ears, despite its best efforts. (Snort.) And the bad review of Wickedly Dangerous I read earlier today hardly made me twitch at all.

What are you a success at? Come on, tell me. I want to know. Own your success--you earned it!


  1. There are times that I look at my life and think that Im not a success at all. I don't have a college degree or a career. What I do have is a husband I've managed to hang on to for 26 years. I have 5 children. Three of those children are adults. They have children, lives and jobs of their own. They are productive members of society so I must have been a success at raising them. I have two school age children left at home. I homeschool my 7 year old son and my 15 year old autistic daughter. They are both smart, loving children. My success isn't known far and wide. Chances are, nobody knows it outside of our four walls. That's OK. At least I know it. :)

  2. This is really hard for me, too. I also write (and edit!) books, and I always feel as though I'm on the cusp of being found out as an imposter. For creative professions, it's not as though you can pass a test that proves you're a "real" artist, so I think we're always looking for that validation.

    1. I agree, Erin. I know a lot of authors, and I think almost all of them feel this way!

  3. My first "actually getting a check for it" publication went up yesterday on Daily Science Fiction! It's a flash piece, so super short, but I'm thrilled.

  4. I'm a bit late to the party, but I'd like to say - what a great piece. You've nailed it for so many of us as well as yourself - good on you!
    I live with 'imposter syndrome' much of the time. My day job is training dressage horses, and within that field, I have reached the top echelon as a judge, represented my country in International competition, trained and ridden my own horses to Grand Prix level, and written books on the subject. So why do I still feel like I'm a fraud, at times?
    We are such strange creatures, aren't we?
    My first equestrian book has now earned out, and I got my very first royalty cheque last week, so I'm starting to feel like perhaps I have the right to count myself an 'expert' in the field. Also a strange measure of that, considering I've been paid for features in national magazines that bill me as the 'expert', for more than 10 years now!
    I won't even start on how I feel about my fiction...

    1. Congrats on your first royalty check! How fabulous!

  5. Hi Deb,

    Well my writing is going no where right now. Just really stressed about stuff but I do volunteer for our Rutherford County Humane Society and I am a failed foster mom with three new cats and a dog.
    My Scully of 18 years old was put to sleep on 2/24. this broke our hearts. My husband brought home these two kittens 18 years ago and we called them Mulder and Scully. Brother and sister. I didn't know they could, you know at 5-6 months. On Dec. 15, Scully delivered a litter of 6 kittens. Mulder was already fixed at that time and as soon as the Vet said I could fix Scully I did. The babies all found homes which made me happy.
    When we moved to NC five years ago all 4 of my cats came with us. This included Samantha and Meowie, who was a Hemingway cat. I've lost three of them now and my heart breaks when I think of them. Samantha, at 15 lb. is the last of the NY cats.
    I now have Chloe and Zoe who I was fostering until I named them and then said they are ours now. I actually picked them up from a lady who didn't want them climbing on her curtains. I didn't care and they climbed all over my office. My foster dogs were another story. Frannie tried to bite Chloe's head off. So until they were about 6 months they stayed in the office with me. I did take them out everyday so the dogs could get used to them and that worked.
    The day after Scully died one of the women from Humane called me and said "So sorry about Scully, can you take Fuzzy pants?" A 12 yr.old who needed dental work and her family said they couldn't afford it and besides they had a new kitten. Nice, huh. Well I of course said yes and said could I wait a few days and mourn?
    I picked up Fuzzy and she is a beautiful tortie I don't know what else she is but it looks like she has a mane and a very fuzzy tail. That's why the name. My other 2 torties are pretty and short haired. My husband adores them. Samantha is a black and white big cat, she is 13 yrs. old.
    So that's a lot of history but I am proud that the dogs I have fostered found great homes and I get pictures and that makes me so happy. I cry each time one finds their forever home. Here is NC we have a big problem with feral cats and dogs. We have a kill shelter and boy do they kill. I belong to a group who is fighting that.
    So while my writing has hit a stand still right now I am doing the HS hot line 3 days a week and I can't take anymore dogs because my foster dog, who doesn't like to let me out of her site does not treat any other dog we bring in to nicely. The last dog, Hugo, a shepard mix ended up with a lot of staples from wounds that Frannie gave her. Hugo was the sweetest dog and has found his forever home. As long as I have Frannie I can't take any other dog. I won't take kittens or cats because then they belong to me and I will be the crazy cat lady. LOL
    Sorry its so long but I will count that as my writing for the day. My husband broke a pipe in the bathroom. We are redoing the guest bathroom, sounds cool right, its just the second bathroom. So off to Lowes and me to clean up the mess. Have a great week. keep writing I love it.

  6. Hi. Such a great post! I noticed the same thing in myself recently when someone said to me "I hope you are as proud of yourself as we are". I had to slow down the part of my brain that started listing all the things I hadn't done yet. Then I realized, "no, no I guess I'm not." So definitely trying to own my success a bit more and stop to appreciate the accomplishments. So here goes: I'm a good writer, and my stories make people laugh. I am doing a good job of finding positive moments and funny moments and carrying on in the midst of a very difficult situation. Thanks for this post! It's nice to know other writers feel the same.