How do you measure success? It’s not an easy thing to do. Plus it looks different for everyone. Yet when you’re working really hard at something, like writing and illustrating, it’s really important to know what you’re striving for. Would big book deals and flashy literary parties really make you happy? Would fancy-pants awards and fame make you feel valid? I can’t really say I’d say no to any of this, but it’s important to define what success really means to you.
I was reminded of this recently at a Pogues concert in Sydney, when swaying away to their awesome Celtic punk ballads. While that may sound like the tangent of the century, I wont make you try to follow my mind and will make the link for you: one of their songs, ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’, has the lyric the measure of my dreams…
It took me back a few years, to a time when I’d been throwing everything I had into writing and illustrating, yet didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Or at least that’s how it felt. I was incredibly unhappy. This beautiful creative thing that used to make me feel so free was falling flat. I was even starting to begrudge it a little. Embarrassingly enough, it took stumbling across one of those naff kind of sayings (you know the ones that circle facebook) to wake me up. It was typed up on a little cue card and stuck to a friend’s cork board:
It’s not about the destination, but the journey
At the time I’d never seen this saying and for some reason, at that particular moment, it cut through something in me. I realised I had my focus all wrong. I was so focussed on things mostly out of my control – namely getting published – and it was making me miserable. I suddenly realised that if I didn’t enjoy the actual writing (the journey), then nothing that happened from there was going to make me happy. So then I had to redefine what success would actually look like for me. I had to really think about what I was aiming for and what might make me happy.
I came up with the following, which are kind of goals and (for me) a more healthy focus:
- Work on the projects I’m called to: I don’t ever want to focus too much on what I think the ‘market’ might want from me. Instead I hope to make the art that calls to me, so I keep enjoying my writing and illustrating and make more honest art (I hope)
- Be respected by my peers: I realised I don’t actually need to have my name recognised by the general public, or even book lovers. But having my work respected by other writers / illustrators (especially in my field) does mean something to me
- Get to work with those who enjoy me / my work: be they other artists or publishing professionals
- Be able to do this as some sort of career: not necessarily live off it (as nice as that would be), but have it as my main focus
These are all things I have more control over, and they’re still true for me today. I’ve had each of them happen for me in different ways, some small and others more obvious. And after shifting my focus I started to find joy in my art once more.
If you’re honest with yourself, what would success look like for you?