Our topic this month is success and how we define it. I think the definition changes over time, as our careers, circumstances and goals evolve.
Many years ago, I was a television anchor and reporter. I loved that job. Success was pretty straightforward. It was the adrenaline rush of a perfect live shot, anchoring a show without flubbing the words on the teleprompter or having the story no one else had.
Then I became a press secretary on Capitol Hill. The definition of success there was simple: get re-elected. Failure was trudging through the November sleet in high heels looking for a new job because the voters gave your candidate an F for failure and you were now unemployed. Politics is brutal because it’s a zero-sum game. One candidate can only succeed if the other candidate fails.
I left journalism and politics behind to stay home with my children. Those days are still a blur. All day long my toddler sons tried to fling themselves from slides, ingest detergent and swallow sand. All day long I dashed from one to the other, saving them from mortal peril. I was like a lifeguard at a pool that never, ever closed. Success was ending the day with two live children and no trips to the emergency room.
Those boys grew, and a sister joined them, and eventually, they all become old enough to go to school. The heavens opened and a choir of angels sang. Because now, at last, (cue that Etta James song) I had more time to write.
Once again, my definition of success changed. First it was just to get published. Then, after some research, I decided that because I write for young adults, and they like physical books, my goal was a print contract with a traditional publisher. So, I turned down two e-book contracts for my first and second novels. It was a hard decision. Sometimes I still wonder if it was the right one, because I know that in the current market, shooting for a print contract with a traditional publisher is like waiting for a unicorn to publish my books. But right now, this is my definition of success.
However, this is just my definition. There are as many different definitions of success as there are writers. I have friends who make a fantastic living self-publishing. I have friends who write in genres where readers prefer e-books. They have legions of loyal fans who can’t wait to read what they write next. My definition of success isn’t the right definition for them. And theirs isn’t right for me. That’s okay.
It’s always tempting to see someone else’s definition of success and think, “Look at that bright, shiny writer/parent/neighbor/friend over there who has it all together. Maybe I should be doing what she’s doing.” It takes a lot courage and some Frankly I Don’t Give a Damn to define success for yourself. But there’s a lot of freedom on the other side of that decision. Freedom to decide who you are and what you want. That’s one definition of success that never changes.
Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion or unloading the dishwasher.