Success is Relative (Day #40)

Posted in: Thinking Big, Writing

Success is relative. It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things.” – T.S. Eliot

When I quit my job two years ago to “be a writer” (whatever that meant), I assumed I’d be successful. I didn’t know what success would look like (Would I sell a script? Get a writing job?), but I figured it was right around the corner. Just a matter of time.

And here I am.

Sure, I’ve achieved little tidbits of success, taken several steps forward on this writerly path, but I haven’t achieved Success with a capital S. No one is paying me to write. I haven’t sold anything I’ve written. I haven’t, by any stretch of the imagination, “made it.”

I’m used to making it.

I graduated at the top of my high school class. I won awards. I achieved. I went to an Ivy League school. I excelled. I got good grades and the right internships. I did well on the LSAT. I got into my first choice law school. I had an article published in a law journal. My second year of law school, I got a job as a summer associate at a great law firm. I passed the California bar exam. I worked hard my first year as an attorney and was recognized and commended for it.

It is at this point that I become annoyed with my record of success. Seriously annoyed. Why? Because it’s a straight line. A line with a steep incline, for sure – that’s what achievement is, a progression onwards and upwards – but a line nonetheless. An arrow heading in one direction, to one place, to one definition of Success with a capital S.

When I quit my job, I thought that becoming a successful writer was simply the next dot on my trajectory of achievement. I didn’t assume it’d be automatic – I knew there were a lot of variables, a lot of what ifs – but I believed that my arrow would take me where I wanted to go.

It hasn’t.

Which is why my arrow annoys me. Because what good did it do me? After all that hard work and achievement, here I am, at home in my PJs on a Thursday morning, still trying to “make it” as a writer, wondering why the heck I saddled myself with so much law school debt if I wasn’t absolutely sure I wanted to be a lawyer. Or even moderately sure. Because the truth is, I wasn’t sure at all. I thought that going to law school would help me “break in” to the entertainment industry, not as an attorney but as a writer. Insert laugh track here.

So do I regret the choices I made along the way, the choices that brought me to the moment when I decided to jump off my speeding success train? No. I don’t regret them because if I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be here. Right here. Embracing this detour the best I know how.

Now, if you were to ask me whether I’d trade where I am right now for the writerly success I was so convinced I’d find – whether I’d hit “redo” on the last two years of my life if I knew I’d end up where I thought I was going back then – the answer wouldn’t come as quickly. I’d hesitate, imagining what my life would look like if things had gone as planned, and I’d want to say yes. Yes, please. Give me that.

But as I’ve mentioned before, this journey of mine has been faith-inspired and God-led from the start. Because of that, I have to believe that I am where I am – right here, in my PJs, with a dwindling bank account and a whole lot of guilt about the fact that Husband has an unemployed wife (which is definitely not what he signed up for) – for a reason. I have to believe that this journey has proceeded exactly as it was supposed to. Which means that I am not off track. I am on track. It’s just not the track I envisioned.

Am I thrilled to be here? Not so much. I’m stressed and anxious and, yes, embarrassed. I’ve been doing this writer thing for two years and haven’t sold a single thing. I feel like a loser. And writing those words makes me feel like an even bigger one.

You’ve heard me talk about my fears about motherhood. My fears about my career (or lack thereof) are a whole other ballgame.

A few days ago, my friend Kelli sent me a link to the inaugural post on her new blog “Success is Relative.” (Yes, I stole both the title of this post and the Eliot quote from Kelli. Apparently I am not only a wildly unsuccessful writer, but also an uncreative one.) Kelli describes Success is Relative as “a blog about women and how we define and redefine ourselves. How we find value in who we are and what we do. How we feel and often don’t feel successful.” Those words – and their inherent questions – have stuck with me.

There are moments when I feel successful. But there are entire days when I don’t. I struggle with how to define myself. I want to call myself a writer, but in doing that, I admit my lack of success. Calling myself an attorney is safe. Being an attorney would be even safer.

“Success is relative.” I like that idea. I would like it to inform the way I view and evaluate my life. I would like to enjoy each modicum of success I achieve. A meeting here. Some good feedback there. But I don’t. I brush those achievements off as Not Enough. And consequently, I end up feeling like I am Not Enough.

I have let the fact that I have not achieved success on my terms seep into my self-concept.

This bothers me. I don’t want to live my life fixated on Success with a capital S. That’s not the person I want to be. That’s not the message I want to teach my daughter. Success IS relative. It’s a daily pursuit and a daily reward. I believe that we achieve success when we, even in tiny and seemingly inconsequential ways, live up to our potential. When we, in fits and flashes and fleeting moments, become the person we were created to be.

It’s that easy, huh? 🙂

(Do you believe that success is relative? How do you define Success with a capital S? What has been your most successful moment? When have you felt the least successful? How do you think I’m doing? Am I embracing this detour? Or is this project just my attempt to manage it?)

(Today is Kelli’s fourth day as a blogger. Please go welcome her to the blogosphere! You’ll love her honesty and wit. And her recipes!! You can find her at


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