I’ve been thinking a lot lately about success. Not the standard question, “how can I be more successful?” (which is usually just a tasteful coverup for “how can I make more money?”)
My question is completely different: Have I already succeeded, and just failed to notice?
From 2000-2004, one very specific goal defined success for me – winning the US Olympic Trials. With that ultimate date and location in mind, my team made a detailed list of improvements to focus on day to day during our years of preparation: Improve Boatspeed. Perfect our boathandling. Sail better tomorrow than we did today.
We won the Trials, and went on to win two races at the Olympics in Athens. Yes of course, it would’ve been even better to win a medal… but I digress.
The whole setup was ideal for a results-oriented athlete. We defined a specific goal, achieved it, and – bingo! I’m an Olympian. I felt like I’d just passed a signpost spelling out in a blaring display font: “Carol Cronin has just reached a pinnacle of athletic success.”
Four years later, I checked off another box on my life’s list of achievements by publishing a book. “Oliver’s Surprise” has been very well-received by young (and not so young) adult readers around the world. The book has taken me into classrooms full of kids and into bookstores full of adults who’ve all come to know me through my work. I’m sure the sequel, “Cape Cod Surprise,” due out this July, will take me on an even more exciting ride.
Recently, I was even recognized by Redroom as a “rising star.”
All of this is just fantastic. Yet none of it feels like a signpost spelling out in a blaring display font: “Carol Newman Cronin has just reached a pinnacle of authorly success.”
As writers, we each define our own goals. (Susan Kushner Resnick wrote a great post on this on Beyond the Margins.) For some, producing great writing is enough; others want that great writing validated by publication; a few achieve bestseller status and make a living as authors.
So I’m the only one who can say what the writer-equivalent is for me of that winner-take-all Trials.
And that’s what the results-oriented athlete still living within this writer’s body finds so difficult. My eyes dart around me, ahead and behind, looking for that signpost.
I used to think my ultimate goal was publication, and that did feel like a great accomplishment. But then I began sharing my story with readers. Those readers then taught me something new, and that new idea grew into the inspiration for another book. And now a previously unimagined sequel is almost complete.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve joyfully celebrated every step of Oliver’s progress, from idea to writing to editing to publication, and yes even to marketing. As I will celebrate and enjoy each and every step of the sequel.
But I’m still looking for that signpost.
What’s your signpost of success?