Defining Success

Every year at New Year’s I set goals rather than making resolutions. I make sure the goals are concrete and/or quantifiable. That way it’s clear when I have or haven’t met them.

But how to formulate those goals? Any writer or artist must decide for him- or herself what “success” means. It’s a personal thing, which I think we struggle with in a day and age where everything and everyone around us wants to tell us when we’ve succeeded—or failed. (This is the basic theme of my screenplay 20 August, btw.) At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter what others think. It only matters that you’re satisfied with how things turn out.

I try to set reasonable, attainable goals. Things that I can take clear steps toward. And I’m specific. Instead of saying, “write a book,” my goal will be “finish This Particular Book.” Instead of “find an agent” it’s “find an agent for This Particular Book.” Being specific helps keep me focused.

A lot of authors will set a goal like: sell a lot of books. Well, but what is “a lot”? Again, I try to be specific. My goal is to sell an average of two books a day. That feels attainable, and once I’ve hit that mark I can set a new goal to reach. Alternatively, I might set a goal of making a certain amount of money each month or annually.

It circles back to the success question. “What will it take for me to consider myself successful?” I ask myself this often because the answer can change over time. There’s always a new goalpost. And that’s fine, that keeps me going. Selling two books a day will make me feel successful. Being nominated for an award or recognized in some way for my work. Having one of my scripts go into production. I count all these as elements of success.

Perhaps SUCCESS is made up of many little successes. Or it is for me anyway. Success is something that is built, not something that happens. It’s the payoff for hard work.

It’s tough to be patient sometimes while building that success. We want it to happen now and wonder when all our work will finally be enough. From the outside looking in, it can often seem like everyone else is so successful and somehow we’ve missed the boat. It’s easy to feel defeated, like all our work is fruitless.

This is why it’s so important to keep our eyes on our own goals and work toward them. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I don’t know who actually said that, but it’s so true. We must define success for ourselves as a personal thing and then not worry about how well everyone else is doing.

1. Define what success means to you
2. Set concrete, quantifiable goals that will help you be successful by your own definition
3. Repeat

What does success mean to you? What goals have you set and how do you go about meeting them?

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