A dream of mine is soon coming true: My novel, “Don’t Try to Find Me”, will be released in hardcover on July 8. As thrilled as I am, I’ve learned that realizing your dream doesn’t stop the laundry from piling up, or the kid from having a tantrum. It doesn’t make more hours in a day.
But I do get the satisfaction of knowing I succeeded at doing something hard. (Of course, I also have to make peace with it if no one buys the thing, but that’s a whole other blog post…)
Any time we’re able to succeed at something competitive, it has the potential to boost our self-esteem. But along the way, most of us are going to fail, a lot. I know I did. You always hear that saying about how it takes twenty years to be an overnight success. How do you know when to keep plugging away, and when to turn your energies elsewhere?
This is an intensely personal question, and can be an immensely painful decision. Dreams are deeply held. Many people who want to publish a novel, for example, have wanted that since they were kids. I know I did. Creative endeavors often feel like they speak to the core of who we are as people. It can become a part of your identity, and that’s pretty difficult to part with.
So I’ve broken that large question into smaller ones.
1) Do you know what the path to success in your particular endeavor looks like? Are you constitutionally suited to that path?
For example, it might involve schooling or credentialing; networking with the right people; talent, perseverance, and hard work; or a lot of lucky breaks. You need to consider whether your temperament matches the road you’d need to travel, or whether you’re willing to do some serious changing.
2) What are the odds?
The fact that the odds against becoming a succesful movie actor are high doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. But it does mean that you should recognize those odds because they might be relevant to how long and hard you try. They might influence whether you try to find a fulfilling day job/alternate career to pursue in the meantime.
I was in school to get my MFA in creative writing some years back when I realized that the odds were severely stacked against making a living as a novelist. I wasn’t driven enough (or optimistic enough) to take those odds. So I transferred to a program in marriage and family therapy, and soon found that my day job was satisfying all on its own.
3) Can you just love what you’re doing, rather than trying to make it financially sustaining?
If your livelihood doesn’t depend on it, you might find you enjoy the process more.
4) Does your self-esteem ride on it? Are you psychologically affected by every bump in the road?
I find that sometimes people with jobs they don’t like or don’t think are interesting put a lot of weight on their other pursuits, so much so that a day of writer’s block can feel devastating.
Or maybe their pursuit is one where frequent rejection is par for the course. Yet every rejection feels cataclysmic. In this case, I’m not saying to give up. But I am saying that you might need to work on bullet-proofing yourself, or reconsider whether you’re setting yourself up for a lot of pain.
5) If you don’t receive outside validation/remuneration/accolades, can you still find happiness?
If the answer is no, then you probably need to figure out how to diversify your life. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself (which often makes it harder to produce creatively), and you’re defining yourself and your life rather narrowly.
Sometimes people spend a lot of time and energy on things they’re supposed to want, and on identities that no longer suit them. Being able to reevaluate your needs and priorities regularly can help you avoid that trap.