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A common lament I hear from writers is that “so-and-so” has achieved breakthrough success. Isn’t that odd? In a way it is, and in another way, that’s human nature.
Whether we personally know a bestselling author, or we envy him or her from afar … writers tend to turn green when someone else is cashing the green for their efforts.
I’m here to tell you: That’s hugely destructive.
Instead, I have an antidote of practical value. Here it is: You will be amazed at the benefits of genuinely being happy for another’s success. As we’ve discussed in this space many times, “success” means different things to different people. For what it’s worth, I will give you some personal insight.
I make a living writing. I’m not rich, I’m not poor. Truly, as Paul wrote, I have learned to be content in all things. I’ve been thrilled to receive a book contract; I’ve been thrilled to be asked to write a brief blurb for a newsletter. I have neither ascended the heights of a James Patterson or Bob Woodward, nor am I sitting in a shabby apartment with a hotplate, trying to concentrate at the typewriter while the landlord bangs on the door for back-rent.
I want to do more, like most people. But a key reason I am content at this stage of my career is that I’ve learned to be truly happy for others who achieve their big breakthrough.
A friend recently signed a multi-book deal with a major New York publisher. Six months ago, another friend landed a prestigious blogging gig.
I am still happy for both of them. Enthusiastically pleased.
Conversely, I’ve known tons of writers at various stages of their careers, enveloped in a dark fog of bitterness at every bit of news that “somebody else” hit the big-time. I’ve seen it derail promising careers.
For one thing, a successful writer (whatever your definition of success) must endure rejection, harsh criticism, time in the wilderness, lean times. But all must have perseverance.
Sure, there are occasionally writers who grab the brass ring immediately. But sometimes that’s not always a good thing. J.D. Salinger published “The Catcher in the Rye,” then avoided people until the day he died. One can only speculate whether he was happy, content, miserable, but the fact is, quick success is sometimes a distraction.
I hear too many writers who want to be J.K. Rowling (personally, my hero is Mark Twain) or Dan Brown, or Danielle Steel or Stephen Ambrose. Since they aren’t, the misery sets in.
Don’t be this way! Learn to go to a friend who’s just signed a juicy contract and hug and take him or her to lunch to celebrate. Learn to really listen to their perspective. If you have to – and most of us do – practice being happy and see where it takes you.
You might have to do a combination of things to relieve your own stress and envy. For example, drop a quick note of congratulations to a friend basking in writing success. Then go take a walk. Have a cup of tea. Sit. Reflect. Will yourself to change your perspective over “writer envy.”
I think you’ll be surprised where this can take you. At the very least, it will take you out of the doldrums. Use the time to dream about your own career because, while I am not an advocate of New Age self-help stuff, dreaming a few dreams is actually healthy. I’m not asking you to engage in astral travel, but I insist that using a dry season to plot your future career is not only healthy, but it has great practical value.
The first step in this journey is accepting that some writers make wads of money and jet around the world. And you don’t.
That single word is the key. Yet.
By spreading some much-needed cheer and congratulations in a too-often cruel world, you will in the end help yourself down the sometimes-lonely path of a writer and find yourself in places of glory you scarcely imagined.
I am already drinking to your future success.