Definition of Success

One of the defining factors in my ability to get Life In General finished and published was an online course I took during the summer, and I have to credit my friend Deb Smouse with pointing me in the direction of this class. The Conscious Booksmith, created by Christine Mason Miller, was a unique blend of practical exercise and inspiration, a tapestry of videos, worksheets, art projects, and interviews. 

One of the early lessons talked about defining success, and we were encouraged to think about what we would consider success for our particular book project. For some of us that might be a publication deal with a major house, a spot on the best seller list, and a bidding war over movie rights. For others, simply holding a bound copy of their book would be enough.

The takeaway from this lesson was pivotal for me. I fell between these two extremes, knowing from the beginning that I would be self-publishing and having no grandiose expectations for commercial success. I really did just want to hold a bound copy of this book in my hand. But I also wanted to offer it to my friends and family as a gift, a way of saying “Here is something I made, and it carries my heart inside it.”

I watched that lesson video several times, and it felt good to have that part of the equation settled. It seemed to give me the necessary impetus to continue moving forward, now that I had a clear idea what I wanted to gain from the project.

 By my own standards, then, Life In General has been a far bigger “success” than I imagined. Where I had only intended to give away 25 or 30 copies, thinking I might sell a dozen or so more, I have already gifted the books I intended and sold almost 100 copies besides. The books are traveling throughout my neighborhood (a neighbor bought 10 yesterday to give as gifts to other neighbors) and the world (the first copy sold on Amazon was shipped to Australia). 

I realize this is a minuscule achievement in today’s world, where everything seems to be big and loud and in your face. But for me, it feels like the fulfillment of a huge dream.

Defining my own terms for success with this project leads me to believe in the value of a similar exercise for life in general. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t Dream Big - it just means I think you’ll be happier if you Dream Real. We are all destined for greatness, but in varying degrees. Maybe you’ll be the founder of a major philanthropic organization. Maybe you’ll pass out blankets and sandwiches to homeless people in your city. Maybe you’ll discover a cure for cancer. Maybe you’ll take your dog to visit hospice patients. 

All of these are worthy achievements. Depending on the way you define success for yourself, they could each be considered greatness.

We are continually bombarded with the world’s idea of success. From the time we start preschool, our parents and teachers have us on a fast track to college. All through college, we’re urged to narrow our focus, hone in on what type of job we want to have, start networking, researching companies that pay the most, have the best benefits. As we start thinking about a New Year ahead, perhaps we should step back and think about what success would mean to us personally - not what the world thinks it should be, but what deep in our heart of hearts would make us feel as if we’d done what we set out to do in life and in our relationships. The lesson on success in the Conscious Booksmith allowed me to do just that - to realize that my expectations were valid, that even though they weren’t grandiose, they were just fine they way they were. 

If we begin to measure ourselves with our own personal yardsticks, I have a feeling we’re all a lot more successful than we ever imagined.