“Nothing succeeds like success.”
This is what we are led to believe by Sir Arthur Helps, who wrote these words in his book Realmah, published in 1868. For a long time, I had been inclined to agree with this sentiment. Then a minor success happened to me, and it really shut me down.
In popular imagination, it is easy to suppose that once one has landed success, there is nowhere to go but up. At least that’s how it looks from the outside when someone else is experiencing wild success, especially if that success is followed by another, and then another.
But I feel there is a trap in becoming successful before one is ready for it.
And I believe I fell into that trap in some small way last week.
You see, I had a small success on Medium.com. A reflection I had tossed off in response to the death of a hero of mine was selected for the spotlight in the spirituality tag. Quite unexpectedly, I had more readers in a day than I have had in some weeks. Initially, it felt good. The next day I walked around with a bit more swagger even though I felt slightly guilty that my success should come as the result of writing down my thoughts on someone else’s demise.
But later, when I found myself poised to write the next night’s reflection, I froze. I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Not anything that would match the lofty heights I had ascended the night before. I felt that anything I would write would send my newfound audience screaming into the night, or, perhaps howling with laughter at my inability to maintain a consistent level of writing, or tone, or even subject.
So, I didn’t write anything.
And I didn’t write anything the next day, either.
But tonight, I figured I have had enough.
I’ve learned my lessons and I’m glad the process wasn’t more painful than it turned out to be.
The lessons are these:
I must write for some other reason than being an immediate success.
I can’t count on having my writing placed into a spotlight each time. I can’t even count on writing something good enough to be placed in a spotlight, most of the time. I must write for the sheer pleasure of it, or, at least, because I have something I’d like to say that must be said.
I must produce consistently in order to create an even body of work I can be proud of.
This will take time. but it is time well spent to create organically, to grow gradually, to measure my progress in manageable increments rather than great leaps I might not be able to replicate.
I must allow myself the opportunity to fail.
Very often I don’t write because I’m afraid what I write won’t be any good. I need to write anyway. I learn something every time I approach the keyboard with the intent of hitting “publish.” Sometimes the lessons are all for me and pay off in more wisdom, more understanding, more faith, even. And sometimes, someone else resonates with my experience and lets me know through likes or claps or comments—and that feels good, but I’m better off not getting too attached to that feeling.
So now, I release this reflection, clunky though it may be, with new resolve.
The truth is, I mean to be a success. But I want to earn it by the quality of my writing and the quality of my insight. And that will take time. and that will take work. And that will take consistency. But at the end, I will have a product of which I can be proud. Perhaps even a body of work I can be proud of, if I’m diligent and granted the gift of time.
And then, I will enjoy my success. But I won’t be at all intimidated at that point, because I will know how hard I’ve worked, how deeply I’ve dug and how much of whatever accolades I have actually earned.
Wish me luck, and I’ll wish you the same.