First, I'd be less than honest if I did not admit to some secret part of me that hungers for?--no, too strong; hankers after--still not quite right; lusts after? Wishes for? Desires... um, wealth and fame. See how hard it is for me to say it? Big success, the best seller, the rave review in the New York Times Book Review...
AND I must remind myself that in all likelihood this will never happen. If I attach to that desire, I'll end up suffering as a result. I could end up a disappointed, angry, bitter man who blames the world and particularly those closest to him for his failure to succeed.
And it might be well to recall here that celebrity and/or wealth are as likely to bring suffering as obscurity and penury. One of the essays in my book, Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce is called "Supernova." It was written at the time of the death-by-medication of the pop idol Michael Jackson and what appears, in my limited knowledge, to have been the tragedy that was his life. But think, too, about those other superstars--the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison (what is it with those J's?) Or, in a different arena, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath...
So I must find a definition for success that addresses who I am with some measure of reality, but also one that keeps me motivated: I don't want to settle for anything less than my full potential.
I'm not one of those who can "do it for myself." It just doesn't make sense to me to be writing words without the belief that someone out there is going to read them. I believe that the artist in the studio, at some place in her heart, shares with me that need to communicate; as does the musician, practicing his heart out. So a part of my definition has to be finding an audience, and speaking in such a way that I can be heard. Which involves, of course, work beyond the preliminary task of writing.
Another part of success is the feeling of having done it right. On the one hand, that implies quality: I need to know that I have made this work the best that I can make it. On the other, it has to do with authenticity. I have a clear understanding of what I was given to do with my life. I believe, in fact, that every one of us has a sense of mission, though not all of us are fortunate enough to find it. When we do, authenticity has to do with being, as it were, "on mission" with the actions that we take. I have known that I was meant to be a writer since I was a child, but I spent many years being something else--to make a living, to support the family, to be a responsible adult...
So it's not that I regret those years. Not at all. But I always carried around that sense of vague discomfort, of not quite fitting in, of not quite doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life--a sense that everything was a little "off."
Success for me personally, then--and I stress, for me; I stress, for me personally--is knowing that I'm doing what I have been given to do, of being in integrity with that authentic self, of being in tune with myself and the universe.
And finally, in the context of authenticity, I need to remind myself that there is always more to be learned--about myself and about the world I live in; that success is always provisional, and that a good part of it is in recognizing that there is always a next step to be taken, a new threshold to cross, a new discovery to be made; that it is always a matter of digging deeper than I managed to go before and that success if always, necessarily and beautifully, in the future.
Thanks for listening, friends. I welcome your thoughts and your response.