Faith and Hope · Writing

Redefining Success

It’s been awhile since I’ve spoken about writing. There’s a reason for this. I felt like all I did for awhile there was whine. I whined so much about how hard it was to adjust to my new life, that I was sick of even thinking about my own whining, let alone writing about it. So, I set it aside, and wrote about other things for a while – totally random subjects, for the most part, as you have seen if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, while I figured myself out.

Here’s the thing (is that my catch phrase? I say that a lot, don’t I?): I know quite well that I am currently in a position that millions of people wish they could be in. I am able to stay at home on my husband’s salary and fulfill my lifelong dream of writing. I know that there are countless people who would love to be able to quit their jobs and pursue what they have always wanted to do. I know I should be over the moon delighted, and I feel so awful about who I am as a person because I’m not. I didn’t think (and on some level still don’t) that I had any right to be complaining. That I had any right to be struggling at all with a new direction in my life. That I had any right to be acting like I have it so hard because I’m following my dream.

And, in one sense, I don’t. But in another sense, I’ve come to realize that discounting the veracity of my feelings was making it worse.

I sat down one morning a little over a month ago and spent a couple hours going through scriptures, praying, and honestly asking God what on earth was going on with me. And I feel like I learned a lot about myself that part of me already knew, but didn’t want to acknowledge.

I defined myself through my career and how much money I made. Looking at people and saying I am an unpublished writer who doesn’t make any money at all is honestly humiliating, and makes me feel like a failure. I feel like I am worth less than I was before.

I feel like I worked myself to the bone to get through college, into a career, up the ranks and ultimately fulfill the American dream of starting out dirt poor and moving into an upper middle class status. I felt like quitting to pursue writing dropped me right back down again, making all that money and time a waste.

I always assumed I would be able to write full time when I retired—and I intended to retire very early. Quitting my job means no early retirement, and no viable excuse when people ask me about it (‘cause, you know, people go around asking people about when they intend to retire).

I also assumed that when I did pursue writing full-time, that, unlike all the minions around me, I would immediately be published by half a dozen magazines and everything would flow from my fingertips like I had the Midas touch. When my short stories weren’t immediately accepted, I plunged into a pit of self-doubt, failure, and “a perfect graveyard of buried hopes”.

I also realized that I don’t like the idea of giving up my career entirely. I legitimately like working, bringing in a paycheck, feeling like I’m making a difference. I like the structure of the office, the excuse to wear business clothes, and the comradery of jobs well done when projects are finished.

But, above all, I felt completely and utterly buried in shame. Shame for all the above, shame that I had these feelings, shame that I wasn’t a better person, shame that I was letting myself get crushed under these mundane things when people around me had real issues, shame, shame, shame. And then doubt. Doubt that I would make it on this road. Doubt that God could get me published, doubt of my worth. And then shame for feeling doubt.

As an attempt to compensate for all my feelings of failure, when I began writing full-time, I concentrated on being a writer the right way. So, I focused all my efforts on building my website, my social media platforms, and doing all the other things that professional writers do, rather than actually writing or doing anything that I liked doing. Apparently, I was determined to find a way to make myself miserable writing full-time to make up for not having a career anymore.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day as I worked through all this, and it still strikes a chord in me: How do I strip away what I’ve become so that I can be who I am supposed to be?

The answer, I think, is to allow God to redefine me. It is to define myself in a new way. To define success in a new way. I view success as a very specific set of standards. If I don’t meet my standards, it isn’t that I’m not successful, it is that I am a failure. But, under God’s eye, my status does not define me. How much money I make does not define me. Whether I am published or unpublished does not define me. What does define me is what I do with what He has given me. And what He has given me right now is time and money to write. Every day that I get up and write, God might have someone who needs what I have written or might use what I have written to lead to something that someone does need, and I will have fulfilled my purpose.

Once I allowed myself to fully acknowledge all of these assumptions and feelings and work through these questions and answers, it was like a weight fell off of me.

It was okay to feel lost as my life and career did an about-face. It was okay to acknowledge my feelings of shame and doubt to both myself and God. It was okay to actually like having a career, and take some time to figure out my new lifestyle. And, possibly the hardest part for me, it was okay to actually rest, enjoy what I am currently doing, and let myself heal from burnout. It was even okay to take days off to just sit and read.

This is not the end for me and a successful life. It is a new beginning. It may be the beginning of a prolific writing career, or it may be the beginning of a new definition of who I am as Christ’s child, or it may be the beginning of a reset before I go back into a career, or it may be a new beginning for something over the horizon that God hasn’t shared with me at all yet. But I hope, no matter what happens, I come out of it with the new understanding of who I am, what defines me, and the true meaning of rejoicing in the Lord, no matter the circumstances.

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