Monday, October 24, 2005

At What Point Success?

I've been thinking about Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, and the way human beings treat success, both their own and the success of others.

Are there criteria? Are those criteria universal?

When does an author become 'successful?'

  • Selling a book?
  • Earning a living?
  • Selling movie rights?
  • Hitting the bestseller list?
  • Having 1000 books in print? 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? 10,000,000?
  • Getting on television?
  • Winning awards?
  • Getting ten emails a week from fans? 100? 1000?
  • Having 100 website hits a day? 100,000?
  • Being ranked in the Top 50 on Amazon?
  • Getting paid for speaking?
  • Receiving fan mail?
  • Being known within your genre?
  • Being known by the general public?
  • Earning out your advance?
  • Getting a six figure deal? A seven figure deal?
  • Having your backlist still in print?
  • Being sold in Walmart?
  • Getting on Oprah?
  • Teaching and helping others?
  • Trying your best?
  • Being happy?

I know bestselling authors and self-published authors and many in between. I know writers with a lot of talent who haven't gotten published, and those who have gotten published without a lot of talent. I know that hard work plays a part, but so does luck, and luck favors the prepared.

But most of all, I know that if I ever want to be successful, my definition of success has to change.

The day I no longer need any kind of validation is the day I'll truly be successful.

Does anyone want to validate me on that?


April Ehardt said...

Amen. And the closer we get to no longer needing validation, the closer we get to Truth and self-realization. Then we can open ourselves to the magic that flows from the universe, through our hearts, to the page.

Of course, a seven-figure deal wouldn't hurt...

Jeff said...

Nice site :)
I don't believe success negates the need for validation, whether in writing or some other type of work. Humans are social animals, and therefore generally always seek the respect, approval, and admiration of others.
I've met a few fairly successful people who claimed they didn't need anyone to validate any part of their life or work. Sadly, they had such inflated ego's they were'nt much fun to be around.
Most people, even those who are confident and self-assured about their work, like at least a pat on the back once and a while. :)

April Ehardt said...

Yes. A pat on the back. Always nice. But it is our selves we have to live with at the end of the day ( I hate cliches, but this one seemed to fit here). A pat on the back is worthless if we don't already feel validated, alone, without it. Einstein probably wasn't much fun to be around. Genius comes with a price tag.

I appreciate accolades as much as the next gal. But, I think, as we strive for self-realization, our validations from peers and society at large become less important. It's not arrogance. It's a closer walk with God.

Anonymous said...

Joe, you're stealing one of my themes here. What is writing success? I remember a TV interview with Elmore Leonard where the interviewer asked him when did he feel successful? Was it his first book? His fifth? His first bestseller? Now, Leonard can be an odd interview subject, but he kind of looked bemused (or annoyed) and said, "I've always been a success."

I think this question of "success" is a particularly big deal for writers because it's such a constantly receding horizon, which might be a definition of hell if there ever is one. Once we get our book (or whatever) published we pat ourselves on the back and say, "Ah ha! I'm published! What a success!) Then we want more money. Or multi-book deals. Or to make a living at it.

First time I got published in a magazine for payment, it took (as usual, there's great truth to "The check's in the mail") a while to get paid for it and a friend of mine said, "It doesn't count if you haven't gotten paid." I snapped at her, "It counted the minute I wrote it."

Here's a saying I have printed out and placed prominently on my wall above my desk.


Mark Terry

Jim Winter said...

You might want to rethink that definition, Joe. I mean the day most people don't need validation anymore is usually the day they die.

Then again, that explains the whole 40-year-old alcoholic stereotype I've somehow managed to avoid.

suzeg said...

I think we have to define our own sucess and validation is a needed part of everyone's life. I am not a writer. I am an administrative assitant at a small private uniersity, but I think everyone needs that pat on the back once in a while to keep working every day. It doesn't matter if your work is having your butt super-glued to a chair writing or recruiting the next batch of graduate students in an MFA program. One needs the best of both worlds...self worth and appreciation from others for that magic to flow.

I like your quote, Mark. Here's mine: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."

April Ehardt said...

Do what you love. Love what you do. That's success. Peripheral validation is a bonus; but, if one is to live life on his or her own terms, not a necessity.

Here's my quote: "I did it my way."

I like the Elvis version best, by the way. Especially the live version where he has to read the lyrics from a sheet of paper because he can't remember the words.

Was Elvis Presley a success? I have to say that, in the end, he was not. He lost his way, despite the accolades from millions of fans. No shortage of back-patting for Elvis. In fact, it might have been all that "validation" that did him in.

Fame we can do without. And what is fame but exponential validation?

Do what you love. Love what you do. Then, even if the validation never comes, you are a success. Elmore Leonard said it most succinctly there in Mark's quote.

Mr. Breese said...

April, I like your style. You have a lot to say -- why not post some more on your own blog? Just a thought.

April Ehardt said...

Thank you Mr. Breese. Nice to get a pat on the back :)

Stacey Cochran said...

I think success is best met when defined by each individual person for him or herself.

Where you get into trouble is when you rely too much on measuring your success relative to others.

If you know you're doing what you're supposed to be doing right this moment, I would call that a success.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

We're writers. We'll ALWAYS need validation.

For that matter, we're HUMANS. We'll always need validation.

Bob Liparulo said...

Hey, Joe: You have a great blog. Interesting stuff.

As far as this topic goes, I agree with Mark, success is a journey. As long as we stay on the path, we're succeeding. Does anyone ever really want to catch the horizon? How boring.

So here's my quote, from Billy Joel: "Don't you know only fools are satisfied?"

Also, success does not necessarily equate to happiness. I know a lot of successful people (even by their own standards) who are unhappy. I've experienced a lot of what some people would call "success" in the last few years, but I don't think I'm any happier than I was before; then again, I've always been pretty happy. A great family and doing what you love go a long way in that department.

April Ehardt said...

mr. breese,

When I publish my first book (not if, but WHEN), I'll start promoting and blogging like crazy. Until then, I'm enjoying bouncing ideas around on other peoples' sites. I do plan on starting some type of journal on my blog, so stay tuned...

Jim said...

If you're a writer, that implies you want to be read. The question is, by whom? by how many? How many readers did Emily Dickinson have in her life time? Very few outside her immediate family. Maybe she had as many as she wanted, maybe not. I think she had as many as she needed. The proof of that is in her ability to go on, to keep producing the work. Was she a success as a person? Was she happy? I don't know enough about her life to judge. But I'm pretty sure she was a success as a poet. I'm pretty sure of that.