Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange
~Shakespeare, The Tempest
If you’re unfamiliar with the Quest, it’s a month of prompts–three per week–designed to instigate deep and productive thinking about the year ahead. It works because it’s not a handful of scattered New Year’s resolutions made in isolation, but a quest undertaken in community with a wild and wonderful pack of creative people from all disciplines and walks of life.
Today the first prompt arrived via email, a message in an electronic bottle from Susan Piver:
What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…
Such a tiny prompt, and yet so vast.
For most of November, I took a social media hiatus. I find these extended breaks necessary in order to clear my mind and figure out where I’m headed. This past month, I spent time reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to map out my voyage.
What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is that vague notions of success are not good ballast for my voyage.
In thinking about a new year, I envision December as a time to take stock, to prepare my vessel for the journey ahead. I’m poking around in the hold and deciding what I need to take with me, and what I can jettison. In the dank darkness, I’ve uncovered this slimy, fishy-smelling notion of “success.”
I’ve let the desire for success drive me–or weight me down–for a long time. I want to “make it” as a writer. But the problem with this goal is that it depends a lot on other people. On agents. Publishers. I’ve come up against the realization that I could write a good book that wouldn’t “make it.” While I’m not changing my professional goals for my writing, I do need to change my focus, stock my hold with good ballast.
A few years ago, a close friend was diagnosed with cancer. She was given months to live. She did a clinical trial, changed her diet, prayed, believed, hoped. And now she’s cancer-free. If her story hadn’t worked out this way, though, she wouldn’t have “lost,” despite our prevailing cultural metaphor of cancer-as-battle. For many people, the battle metaphor works. For others, it doesn’t, because by implication, a person who dies of cancer is a loser. Not strong enough. Too weak.
I feel this way about the word “success.” If I don’t “succeed,” am I a failure?
Here be dragons…….
In 2016, I need to jettison these tired, slimy, barnacle-encrusted notions of “success” I’ve been hauling around. I want to make room for the good stuff. The treasures I can’t yet anticipate. The good ballast that will keep me steady in the water but not weighted down. I spent a lot of time thinking about this in November.
This month, it’s time to choose what I’ll take with me. Time to purge the dark hold, scrub off the useful items, and put them back with gratitude and reverence. Time to add a few new things in the form of good habits to sustain me on my voyage. All that other junk is going overboard.
I am jettisoning this notion of “success,” this idea that I have to achieve something specific and tangible, that the journey itself is not enough, that I, as I am, am not enough. I’m jettisoning perfectionism, that incompetent handmaiden of success. This may mean that I put stuff out into the world that falls flat. This may mean that at times I get lost, that clouds obscure the stars and I don’t know how to navigate. But I’m not waiting any longer. I’m leaving this blobby, seaweedy success-beast to settle quietly to the ocean floor. The barnacles can have it.
————————————————————-But, as one of my childhood heroes, Levar Burton, used to say on Reading Rainbow, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Read the good stuff other Questers are writing:
Suzi Banks Baum regularly takes my breath away with her words and images.
Vanessa Herald‘s writing is completely luminous and yet earthy-real, down-to-earth and yet dancing among stars, and you should definitely check out her TinyLetter project, because it will be the best thing in your email inbox every day. Seriously.
Barb Suarez is someone you want in your world, whether you’re having a baby or birthing a novel.
Katherine Reynolds tells an inspiring story of her transformation-in-progress.
Lois Kelly vows to stop her “business gambling.”
Janet St. John‘s response is a must-read for writers and impatient people.