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!"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.)
Me -- "Uh, no, not really. I mean, I'm doing okay, but I wouldn't call myself a success."
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!