Raising the Bar: the ever shifting concept of success


When I first started writing my main goal was to get published.  Period.  At the time that seemed like enough of a goal to keep me going for a few years, if not forever.

I’ve found, however, that the closer I get to attaining that goal, the more that goal has shifted.  Like now I’m thinking, sure, having my novel published would be great, but maybe I don’t want to publish it without it being a success.

And if it’s published, does that make me officially a good writer?

Or does it need to be a success before I can make that claim?

And how do I define that success?

And what changes am I willing to make to my manuscript to attain that success?

And…well, the list of ands is pretty much endless.

It raises the question of: is there ever a point in anyone’s life where they say “Yeah, this is good enough, I’ll stop here?”  I don’t think so.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City in 2014, and to listen to New York Times Bestseller, Harlan Coban, speak about writing.  And what he had to say was surprising.  Because he told the crowd of people gathered in the enormous ballroom solely to listen to his words of wisdom, that inside, he believes he sucks.  He used those words.  “I suck.”  According to Harlan, this is the curse of the writer, that ever present war between “I suck” and the need for affirmation that you don’t, in fact, suck.

At the time I remember thinking, if Harlan Coban worries that he sucks, what help is there for the rest of us?  Now, I think that there will never be a time that I don’t feel that what I’ve produced is sub-par, that it could be better, that I suck.  And that ever elusive bar of success will continue to shift (hopefully upward), and that’s okay.  After all, what else do I have to do with my time?   🙂



3 thoughts on “Raising the Bar: the ever shifting concept of success

  1. Hi Amy,

    I love this post. Success is such a slippery concept. I’ve almost come to the conclusion that you’ll either never have it or you have it already, except insofar as one may make the switch between those states.

    Almost any external measure (whether a benchmark/milestone or a comparison to someone else) seems to stop feeling like success once it’s achieved. But there’s also something a little unsatisfying about saying it’s just about the journey or the right mindset, though I suspect that’s closer.

    I lean toward a process-centered (or maybe practice-centered) definition of success. If I’m doing the right thing for the right reasons and continuing to get better and create more (not just settle on what I’ve done) I’m succeeding. And milestone achievements become waystones to celebrate, but not a sign that I’m done.

    I posted some of my wrestling with the same question here and would love your thoughts if you’re interested.


    1. Hi Ben,

      Thanks so much for your feedback, I read your post you linked to here and it is right in line with what I’ve been thinking about. It’s disappointing in a way to finally reach a milestone only to find there are still 10 more to get through and that the initial milestone is no longer enough for you. Maybe someday we will both reach our infinite goals, but then what we would have to work toward? 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!

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