Success means different things to different people. The media often portrays success as a house, a long-term partner, kids and money. Your family probably has their own definition of success, based on both the media’s definition success and their own feelings. Your friends probably each have their own definition of success too. Even the strange old hermit down the street has her own definition of success. Though success is only one word, it has as many definitions as there are people.
What is true for everyone, though, is that you will never be truly happy if you don’t strive to reach your own definition of success. Too many people go chasing after their parents’ ideas of success, and end up with diplomas and careers they care nothing for. They gain all the trappings associated with success–a well-paying job, a house, a family–but remain miserable because this definition of success isn’t what they really want.
As the year comes to a close, I will be figuring out the steps I need to take to get closer to my definition of success in 2013. The changing of the years is always a good time to think about how you’ve lived over the last year and to find ways to improve upon it next year. And so as I struggle to figure out what the most important things I can do to reach my definition of success, I’d like to help you create your own definition of success and a plan for getting there.
At first it might seem simple, but creating your own definition of success can be difficult. It requires total honesty with yourself, and requires you to abandon everything you’ve been taught about what success is. It requires you to look beyond what society expects you to say and figure out what’s really important to you.
Lucky for you, I have an exercise designed to help you do just that.
First, close your eyes and imagine that everything you know now is gone. The cars have all run out of fuel. The internet and most electricity is gone altogether. Governments are falling apart, one by one.
In this time when the luxuries of the modern era are gone, what is still important to you? Write down everything that comes to mind. These are the things that truly matter to you–the things that would still matter to you even if your circumstances were completely changed.
Now ask yourself what your definition of success is. Feel free to make it as long or as short as you want to. Include everything you can think of. You might want to do this as a free write and time yourself to make sure you aren’t thinking too hard about what you put on the paper.
Once you’ve got a definition written down, look at the list you created earlier. How does each item fit into your definition of success?
If any of the items on your list don’t fit into your definition, that means it isn’t really true to who you are. Now is the time to start editing your definition. Don’t stop until it includes all the things on the list of what is most important to you. A definition that’s missing anything you care deeply about won’t actually make you happy, even if you get there.
Once you’ve got your definition of success, please share it in the comments below. In this case, I’m not just asking this because I want to hear from you–I’m asking you to share your definition of success because sharing it will give the words power. Anyone brave enough to share their definition of success will also get the opportunity to work with me in order to refine it and to create a plan to move towards that success in 2013.
So what is your definition of success?
Every year we make a big list. Sometimes we call this list our New Year’s resolutions. Other times we call them goals. It doesn’t matter what we call them, the aim of this list is the same: to set out a path for the next year which will hopefully lead us to a better place in our lives. This list usually includes things like starting a new diet or exercise routine–or both if you’re feeling particularly brave that year–and whatever else we think will make us a better, happier person.
Most of the items on these list are never met. We spend a couple months working on them, sometimes less, and then decide they’re too difficult to accomplish and give up. Many times the problem is with the goals themselves, or our approach to the goals. We pick goals nobody could reasonably be expected to accomplish. We dive right into tasks which could benefit from a slower approach. When we fall short, instead of trying a new approach, we just give up.
Other times life interferes. We get sick. Family emergencies have us traveling across the city–or sometimes out of the city. Friends throw parties distracting us from our work related goals; while they’re at it, they tempt us with the very snacks we’re trying to avoid for our diet plan. On top of all that, we’re overworked and sleep is always in short supply. So we fall behind and eventually give up.
2012 for me has been a year of interruptions. Last semester’s courses involved a much heavier workload than I expected. I managed to keep my writing afloat for most of the year, but my wrist suffered quite a bit. This meant cutting back on writing for a couple weeks at the beginning of the summer.
In spite of my tendonitis and the constant distractions of friends and a romantic relationship, July was a pretty productive month. I blogged regularly, I got halfway through my edit of Moonshadow’s Guardian, and I managed to get a non-fiction article accepted for publication. I sent out my first query to a national magazine. I drafted multiple articles intended for other magazines.
At the beginning of August my computer was hit with a virus and days later I was officially diagnosed with tendonitis and put in a splint. My writing screeched to a halt. It took me an entire week to write a blog post discussing what happened. My editing slowed to a crawl and still isn’t finished. I didn’t start writing or editing any of the short stories I planned to work on. In short, I fell off the bandwagon. My steady plod towards completing my 2012 list of goals became a halfhearted crawl. I avoided work in every imaginable way–which is easy when you have the kind of friends I do.
But did I give up on achieving my goals? No. September rolled around, I stopped wearing the splint during the day and I reassessed my goals. I realized that Moonshadow’s Guardian needed to be my priority above everything else. I calculated how many pages I would have to edit each day to finish this draft and leave some time off before Nanowrimo–and realized it’s not that many. And I got back to work.
I’m doing less than normal, taking more breaks than I’m used to. Not in a bad way though. I’ve always had difficulty remembering that I need regular breaks from my computer, even when I’m on a roll, for my physical health if not my mental health. Now as I’m re-introducing my wrist to writing, I need to be extremely careful so I don’t strain it again. It’s also a good time to teach myself to take the breaks I’ve always needed but forgotten to give myself.
Now then, you ask, what’s the point I’m trying to make? It’s simple: you’ve only really failed when you’ve given up. Slow and steady can win the race. I’m still quite a bit closer to finishing my edits than I was when they put the splint on me, even though in comparison to my usual pace I’ve been crawling. I’ve got a plan for easing back into my regular blogging schedule and a number of non-fiction articles ready to pitch. I’ve even started planning this year’s Nanowrimo novel–and I’m on track to be finished my editing at least a week before November first.
So next time life gets in the way of meeting your goals, or if you’re already behind and about to fold, try reassessing your goals instead. Give yourself more time or make the goal itself smaller. Working slowly towards your goals is better than not working at all. Spend the time you would spend beating yourself up working towards your goals, and you’ll have completed every item on this year’s list before you know it.
Last week I challenged you to work on a longer short story. I’m going to spend 2012 working on writing stories shorter than anything I’ve written before–under 2, 500 words–but there’s a short story that I wrote in the summer which I think will be better if I don’t try to restrict its length. I’m working on a full rewrite of it now and considering extending the plot.
A longer short story in this context is between 10, 000 and 15, 000 words. The word count allows you to cover a bit more ground without going into a complete novel. With the rise of ebooks, works of this length are becoming more and more viable. For me, whose short stories generally cover the span of a few days, aiming for this kind of a word count allows me to write these stories without restricting them.
The story I’m working on right now, Birth of a Vampire, is currently sitting around 3500 words. I’ve got three days and three nights left to get through, and I expect it to be a little bit less than 10, 000. In order to do this story justice, I can’t give myself a strict word limit. Always remember that it’s more important to follow the story to an end you’re satisfied with than to meet a certain word count. If you leave out something vital or you feel like it would be more effective if you made it longer, then do it. Making sure that you feel your story is the best it can be is the only way to make your story resonate with editors.
Originally I intended this to be the first in a series of short stories trailing a couple of characters through Europe over a few hundred years. I’m debating extending the current story to include the two characters escaping to Edinburgh, the capitol of Scotland, but I think I like the story as it is. That’s fine. I don’t have to force it to be longer. There is room for stories of every length, especially in a world where epublishing is on the rise.
This week I plan to follow the story to its current end. It’s very different from what it used to look like, but it follows the same basic storyline. I hope you can finish your longer short story by next week as well, because I’ll be talking about editing it right before I dive into the process of editing novels. This year, it’s all about making my work the best it can be and getting my name out there.
Welcome to 2012 everyone. Let’s use this year to explore new writing territory together.
The future is full of hopes and dreams and fears for all of us. We write and we write, never sure if we will get real recognition for it. We edit and edit and create submission packages. We submit and then we try to live life like it is entirely normal while we wait for a response. We collect rejection letters and all the while we’re working on a new project whose fate is just as undecided as the one we’re sending out.
As a teenager about to reach adulthood there are a thousand other pressures on my mind. It’s a crucial time in my life where I will make my future-by finishing high school, by staying committed to my goals and going to college, by looking for my first real job and new life experiences. Right now I’m not just figuring out my writing career-I’m figuring out the rest of my life, and it’s kind of daunting. One passion threatens to overtake another, and school threatens to overtake them all.
Until now I’ve coasted. I’ve spent a lot of time working on my writing, a lot of time on different stories, many of which have failed. I’ve spent a lot of time blogging. But I haven’t spent a lot of time submitting.
I’ve worked just enough to get by with decent grades at school, but I haven’t really been focused on my school work, and I’ve never really looked for a job.
It’s time to stop coasting in life and to take things seriously. School is almost over and I’m waiting to hear back on a summer job. I’m starting to write essays about issues I care about for competitions. I’m editing new chapters of Moonshadow’s Guardian all the time and I can’t wait to see the finished product, even if I know it won’t really be finished yet. And in a few days, when my final projects and tests are over and done with, I’m going to start writing some short stories I want to have edited by the end of the summer.
I think about the future a lot. Almost every day. But more importantly, I think about how to get there, to the future I want. And I spend my days working towards that future.
What are some things you can do to create the future you want?
Over the last few weeks I’ve talked a lot about creating-and meeting-your writing goals. I’ve made it clear that 2011 is going to be a year of Discipline in my writing. But it’s important to remember that while writing is certainly a part of me and always will be, there are other aspects of life where I need to put in effort and set goals. Taking care of me is the most important factor here, and I must remember that taking care of me doesn’t just mean focusing on my writing.
So what else do I need to focus on to take care of me? Well, it’s a pretty basic list:
This one is the obvious one and, depending on your standpoint, it is the most important thing for me to focus on right now. By focusing on school I don’t mean that I need to pass, because I haven’t been failing. But I do need to make an effort to work harder. I am capable of high marks in most of my classes, but I’ve been doing just enough work to get by, and most of that at the last minute.
My commitment to school is a commitment that I will set aside an hour each week specifically for homework. I don’t get too much homework; most of my work can be done in class fairly quickly. But just because I can do half my class work in the last week doesn’t mean I should. That means most of my semester is easy and there’s one week that really, really sucks. I come out of the end of that week too drained to write. While I do end up having fun with my friends all weekend, I should be able to get at least some writing done every weekend.
As a writer, it’s really, really easy to ignore the rules of good health. It’s not hard at all to forget to leave your house for days on end; it’s even easier to bypass the healthier meal in favour of the faster meal. Apparently less than 20% of Canadian adults get the weekly physical requirement of exercise, which is approximately two hours of moderate exercise a week. Some weeks I know I get a lot more than this-but other weeks I barely make it out my front door. And while I’m confident that I get two hours of exercise most weeks, I also know that I don’t walk in the recommended increments: 30 to 40 minutes five days a week.
Because I can’t cook and I don’t do the grocery shopping around here, I don’t have all that much control over what I eat. But I can make a commitment to walk for 15 minutes every day. It’s not quite what the doctor ordered, but it’s close enough. Besides, that’s about how long it takes to walk to the nearest 24 hour store and back. As part of my effort to quit smoking, this is a non-smoking walk. If I want a smoke, I have to wait until after I’m finished the walk.
As somebody with a lot of friends who make up their own family-in fact, having been adopted into two families of friends-I don’t spend a lot of time with my birth family. I don’t necessarily need to see them all of the time, but it is important to make sure that they know I care, and that it’s a two way street when it comes to communicating with my family.
My commitment to my family is that I will make an effort to maintain regular contact with my close relatives.
Perhaps this last one could be placed under health, but in that section I wanted to focus on the body, and here I focus on the mind. Living a busy life is often stressful. Having a lot of friends is great, but it means you’re three times as likely to get a call from somebody in tears or to have to help somebody deal with a bad situation. There are rewards for helping people, and it’s a good experience. The whole thing feels good all the way around. But it does take its toll on a person, especially a person who is also going to school and trying to write the next great Canadian novel. I need to learn to take more time for myself, and when I do have time to myself, I need to remember to actually renew myself. I can do this by meditating, free writing, connecting with nature, and listening to certain kinds of music, particularly African drums. Dancing around a bonfire is the most renewing thing I’ve ever done, but it’s not something you can just do.
My commitment to renewal is that I will spend ten minutes every day meditating or free writing. This will give me a little bit of extra calm every day, and you never know just how much that ten minutes will change your life. I’m probably going to do it before bed as a way of winding myself down from the day’s events, but lots of people would recommend such a thing in the morning.
Staying Committed to Yourself
Once you’ve made a commitment to yourself to take better care of yourself, you need to make sure that you stick with it. Calling it a commitment rather than a goal is part of that: if it’s a commitment, it’s your responsibility; if it’s a goal, it’s just something you’re trying to do. Write your commitment down and put it somewhere that you’ll see it all the time. Reward yourself when you accomplish something. Since the goal here is to take care of yourself, junk food shouldn’t be your reward; stickers work well for small rewards, and if you manage to keep your commitment for six months, plan on taking yourself out to have some fun.
It’s important to be committed not just to your writing but to yourself as well. You are a writer, but you are not made up entirely of words. You need to take care of yourself and pursue your other interests in order to write the best that you can write, and it all starts with making a commitment to yourself.
When working to achieve your goals, it’s good to remember that how you think about your goals is as important as the goals themselves. I’m not just talking about Breaking Down Big Goals, I’m talking about optimism versus pessimism in a sense. Not optimism towards the world-I still have a very bleak worldview-but optimism towards yourself. I’m talking about focusing on positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement.
Thinking ‘I Can’ and ‘I Will’ instead of ‘I Can’t’ and ‘I won’t’
Everybody’s told you to make sure that your goals are concrete and achievable. What they haven’t told you is how much your thinking can damage your progress.
I’ll use a very personal example. Until recently, I’ve always had relationship problems. I never gave any of my relationships longer than six months life expectancy. I expected that I would be a bad girlfriend; I expected that nobody would be able to deal with me.
At the end of the summer, I had a mental breakdown. I screwed up the best relationship of my life, and it could have been forever. Thankfully it wasn’t. But before I could re-commit to the relationship, I had to change the way I thought. Instead of ‘this isn’t going to work’ I had to think ‘this will work’. I had to think ‘this will last a long time’ instead of ‘this will only last a few months’. I had to think ‘I can be a good girlfriend, I will be a good girlfriend’ instead of ‘I’m a bad girlfriend, I will always be a bad girlfriend’. Most of all I had to learn to think about how I could get through the problems in my mind, the problems in my communication with my boyfriend, rather than thinking they were unbeatable and that they would destroy us. I did make all of these mental changes, and I’m back to that commitment, quite happily still in the best relationship I’ve ever had.
Your writing goals-and your life goals-can be just as easily broken down as your relationships, if not more so. All it takes is thinking ‘I can’t accomplish this’ or ‘life won’t give me the time I need’ or ‘I won’t do this.’ You have to think ‘I can accomplish this’ and ‘I will make time for this’ and ‘I will do this’. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s something you have to do.
When you’re feeling down and life is getting in the way, think about what you have already accomplished. If you managed to do that when letting life push you around, imagine what you can do if you forcibly make time to reach your goals. If you’re feeling down about your writing, then write something anyway, and focus on how good it feels to have written, not how hard it is to write.
Replace every Negative thought with a Positive thought
Every time a nasty thought about yourself and your goals, challenge it with a positive thought. Don’t think that you’re the most amazing person ever instead of the worst person ever; do think that you are a good person rather than a bad person. Every time ‘I can’t do this’ pops into your head, tell yourself ‘yes I can, if I try’. Every time you think ‘I’m too lazy to do this’ or ‘I’m not disciplined enough for this’ tell yourself ‘I can do this’ and ‘I am disciplined enough’. If something is really blocking you from reaching your goals, think about how to get over, around, under, or through that obstacle.
I am devoting myself to a new way of thinking. I will not say that I am lazy or undisciplined. I will say that it is hard for me to keep any strict routine, and I will think of ways to be productive without a strict routine so that I don’t get myself down about not being in routine. I will not say that blogging three times a week is too much work for me. I will say that I can do it, but I need to make the time for blogging. I will not believe that it is too hard to finish rewriting a novella while working on the mythology of another world. I will believe instead that with proper focus and making time I can certainly finish both the mythology and the novella in a couple of months.
Did you complete high school? Odds are, if you managed that-or if you’re still in school and managing to pass-you can do a lot of other great things, too. If you completed high school, you have the discipline to write a book, even if not very quickly. If you completed high school, you can probably blog three times a week; it’s no different from doing three one-page assignments in a week. You might say that they gave you six hours a day to do it in-but if you made time for your homework, you can make time for your passion.
So next time you look at your list of goals and think ‘I’m never going to manage that in a year’, think instead ‘I can do this and probably more this year’. It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. (Except maybe breathing and sleeping… Possibly eating.)
What negative thoughts are holding you back? How will you challenge this?