I received my first publishing contract when I was 17. The offer to publish my debut novel at an age when I still couldn’t buy a lottery ticket seemed like the pinnacle of success. When I had decided on being a writer two years earlier, my goal had been singular. Now that this was achieved, I thought that “success” was mine.
As it turns out, it was my greatest professional failure — and my greatest personal success.
Yes, hundreds of man-hours, several drafts, and hundreds-of-thousands of words had culminated in the sweetest fruit of a hardcover with my name on it. Sure, it created a local buzz with parties and celebrations to boot. I was on air and couldn’t be happier.
A year-and-a-half later, my definition of success couldn’t be more different than it was back then.
After my novel, Kingsfire was published, it got some press and showed decent release sales. Then, the ticker on the sales portal froze. It began to dip. Soon, it flatlined. My latest royalty check was for $1.38 dollars.
Talk about humbling.
I started looking for some part-time work to help keep my head above water. I did job interviews, met producers for coffee, networked online like crazy—and, after my longtime relationship deteriorated with a whimper, I realized the ultimate point: I still hadn’t earned success.
While I had conquered an ever-elusive peak only a few months out of high school, that didn’t mean jack. I was standoffish to my family; I was destructive with my friendships; I didn’t care about anything but writing my way to an apartment in Manhattan.
After my dream had been granted, it was swatted down over time — which hurts more than a dramatic explosion.
So, I started doing work I’d never have done before. I killed projects, retreated, and regrouped. I made new professional friendships. I got closer to my family, and I started really appreciating them — not the shallow version of appreciation I had before. I started dating new people and passionately fostering new friendships.
Throughout it, I forgot about my writing, and I started fighting to survive, and success started coming to me — but not the kind I had previously defined.
My version of success became simpler and less tangible: if I could do what I loved, make some money along the way, and foster relationships along the way—then, that’s success (not topping bestselling charts). I learned that I needed others to make it in this world.
Now, I take pride in slowly earning professional success. I’m not worried about the next book. My success is making new friends, seeing where my writing takes me and being conscious about how the experiences — not the trophies — are the greatest treasures life can offer. It took my greatest professional failure to figure that out.
The novel is still a nice bookend, though.
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