We all have our own definition of success. We have different goals, we have different dreams and choose our own paths to follow them.
For someone, being successful is getting a new job or building the career of their dreams. For others, it’s buying a house. Or becoming a bestselling author. Or even publishing just one book, sharing that one and only story with the world.
But there is a number of obstacles on the way to success that will be common for any field or sphere you’re striving to conquer.
Being an author, I’m mostly talking about things that can prevent writers from reaching the desired level of success on their writing and publishing journey, but I’m sure that you’ll find them applicable in your particular case too.
1. “If it ain’t perfect, it ain’t worth it.”
Your enemy #1 is Perfectionism. Suffering from this disease myself, I really know what I’m talking about.
Let’s imagine that somewhere, in a parallel universe, there is a cemetery of unborn projects. Different creative projects that could have become books, songs, movies, paintings, sculptures, or any other works of art. I’m ready to bet that they would all have one cause of death engraved on their tombstones: perfectionism of their creator.
All of them have been abandoned at some point because of a ton of little (and in most cases insignificant) faults found by the only person who could bring them to life.
Most of them weren’t given a chance.
It’s sad, really.
Now that we’ve honored their memory by a minute of silence, let’s talk about why it happens. And why you need to avoid it happening to you. To your ideas and projects, I mean.
To be honest, I have no idea where my perfectionism comes from. I don’t know if any psychoanalysis will help me figure out why I constantly need to prove something to the world. I didn’t have strict parents demanding excellent grades from me. I didn’t have anyone putting additional pressure on me. I like to do it myself.
And it’s a real pain, I must tell you.
There’s a good chance you already know it.
So, what do we do?
The most important thing we need to understand is that nobody is perfect. Sounds banal, I know. We’ve all heard it a billion times. Except we didn’t really let the concept sink in. Because there’s always this nasty tiny voice whispering to us, “No one is perfect … but you need to be!”
Next time you hear this voice, tell it to shut up and leave you alone.
Truth is, you don’t. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t owe it to anyone, even to yourself. What you do owe to yourself is to give it your all. Try to be the best (and no, ‘best’ does not equal ‘perfect’) version of yourself. Learn from your mistakes and be grateful for those mistakes – because all they mean is that you’re actually trying. That you’re actually doing something. Be happy when you make mistakes. Embrace them. They are indicators of your progress.
Even your own definition of ‘perfect’ will change over time (it probably already has – multiple times – you just need to look back at some of your earlier views, concepts, and ideas and you’ll see it).
So why bother? Why struggle, suffer and pressurize yourself trying to achieve something that later on you will again view as ‘imperfect’? Total waste of your time and energy.
How about setting a permitted error percentage? A tentative one. Say, you need to get things right in 80% instances, and in the other 20% you allow yourself to make mistakes? Lets you breathe a bit more freely, doesn’t it?
Stop aiming for 100%. You’ll most probably never get there. Chances are you’ll just turn around and go back, which would be a shame, because your success was waiting for you at the destination, and you never showed up. Because you were afraid of being imperfect.
Which brings us to the next point.
2. “This is way out of my comfort zone.”
The next enemy we’re going to face is Fear.
You probably remember one or two nightmares you had, where something was scaring or threatening you, but you couldn’t move or even make a sound?
Same in life – even though in a somewhat more subtle way. Fear immobilizes us.
You might not realize it, because it is usually masked under different other emotions or feelings. But more often than you think, you can’t achieve progress or even quit altogether because of fear.
It can be fear of failure. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of being judged (or laughed at). Fear of change. Fear of success (yup, that’s a thing).
I would say all of them have something in common. They are all related to a certain change. Change of status, or change of emotional state, or change of circumstances and surroundings – and it’s always followed by the need of further actions. And that’s what makes us even more uncomfortable.
We’re all living in our comfort zones. Following certain patterns. And no matter how much we complain about our life – the fact is that we’re actually quite comfortable in it, because we’re used to everything that surrounds us and even to what we think and feel and how we react to things around us.
Changing the pattern and trying something new would mean leaving the warm and cozy place where we’ve been snuggling up comfortably for years and even decades. Leaving it for the cold and windy and hostile unexplored territory, where we’ll have to learn and do new things. And stumble. And fall. And feel like a joke sometimes.
Of course it’s scary.
But I think it’s way more scary to spend the rest of your life in that little box that you delude yourself into finding comfortable.
3. “How dare I even try?”
Does the voice of Impostor Syndrome sound familiar to you? Have you ever found yourself thinking, ”What am I doing? Who do I think I am? Why am I pretending that I can do it? I’m not like them. They will see what I truly am, and it will be a disaster.”
Well, something along these lines. You got the gist.
First, we create an image in our head – a perfect one – and then we start panicking that we don’t conform to that standard. Impostor syndrome is closely tied to perfectionism, and it leads us to finding faults in anything we do, being hard on ourselves while also being overly sensitive to criticism, not appreciating our own achievements and successes and giving ourselves credit, thinking instead that we just got ”lucky” to get to a certain level. And last but not least – constantly comparing ourselves to others (not in our favor, obviously.)
You know what, I’ll just leave a quote by Neil Gaiman here. Read it and you’ll see – it’s all you need to know about impostor syndrome.
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
Beautifully said. Think about it. In the end, all that matters is doing the best job we can.
4. “I want it all and I want it now.”
Impatience. My old friend. Always by my side.
I always “can’t wait.” It’s probably one of my most overused words, especially in the posts on social media.
I realize it, and I’m working on it. And I’m actually getting somewhere – the upcoming release of my book is proof.
When I started writing it last year, in the beginning I was uploading my chapters to Wattpad weekly. Which, on one hand, did me a huge favor in terms of self-discipline, but on the other hand there was an issue of seeking validation and approval.
I was new there, I didn’t have many readers. And I couldn’t wait to share my story and see what everyone thinks.
I was looking for different ways to increase my visibility and came across the annual writing contest on Wattpad. They accepted only fully completed works. I was in the very beginning, only a few chapters through. But I got excited and decided to use it as an incentive. I needed to submit a work of 50000 words, and I had two-three months for it.
The pressure I put myself under almost made me stop writing. I had a little baby and very limited time to write (he’s a toddler now and I have even less time). And I was about to rush the whole process and to end my book at 50K words … for what? Taking part in a contest?
My impatience was kicking me from behind, saying, “Go, go, go! Hurry up! Write it quickly, and submit it!”
And I almost surrendered. And then I realized I can’t make it, which led me to put the whole thing on pause for a month or two.
That was a very risky thing to do. And now, when my novel is available for pre-order on Amazon, after I came back to it and finished the first draft in my own time, at my own pace (which was again pretty fast, but realistically this time) and then spent a few months on editing it (which brought it from 92K down to 83K words) and preparing for publishing, I look back and think about how my impatience almost ruined it.
Everything valuable takes time. Don’t rush. Enjoy the process.
5. “I tried; it didn’t work immediately; so why bother.”
The last thing I wanted to discuss here is Lack of Persistence.
I’d say it’s a combination of Perfectionism and Impatience.
It’s when you have unrealistic expectations, and if they’re not met (immediately, says Impatience), you give up instead of pushing through.
So, to make it easier for yourself, first of all, ditch the expectations. Just focus on the actions you need to take on the way to your goal. Not on the result. Not on the timeline. Focus on the process. Do your best. You’ll trip and fall. Everybody does. Just get up and continue walking.
Continue giving it your best, taking responsibility, and learning from your mistakes. It will inevitably bring results. Sooner or later, one way or another.
If you really want to achieve it, you’ll keep trying. It won’t just be like “I tried once, and it didn’t work”. It’ll be more like “I’ll keep trying until I succeed.”
And it’ll most definitely be difficult. You’ll encounter all kinds of obstacles on the way. You’ll feel like giving up. You’ll feel discouraged and deflated.
But as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Makes sense, right?
He also said something else, and I think the following quote perfectly sums up everything I was talking about here: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”