Finding Fulfillment When The Goalposts Keep Moving
Ever since I was a teenager and decided I wanted to be an author, it was my dream to get a book deal.
I would have loved the full-on, old-school, author experience: agent, book tour, publicity, fly-me-to-New-York-to-meet-the-sales-team, magazine interviews, the works. Sure.
But mostly I just wanted to go into the bookstore and find my book on the shelves beside all of those thousands of other authors I grew up reading and admiring.
In 2010, when I was twenty-seven, I got my first book deal, and it was a good one: big league publisher, all of the perks. Two books to start, with the potential for more. I was on my way.
In March, 2012, THE PROFESSIONALS was released. Not only could I go into my local bookstore and see a whole stack of copies, but my publisher was sending me on tour and giving me a whole crazy publicity thing, too. At one point, I found myself duct-taped in the trunk of a Nissan Sentra for a photoshoot with Maclean's Magazine.
It was everything I'd ever dreamed of.
But by that point, the goalposts had moved. I had a second book, CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE, set to come out in a year, and I was working on the third in the series, KILL FEE. Simply put, I was too busy to enjoy the moment, and too focused on keeping the ride going.
I'd made the big leagues. Now, I wanted to do everything I could to stay there.
Fast forward another year, and CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE was in stores. Once again, a big release, lots of publicity, great reviews, a big tour.
A crazy tour, like eight cities in nine days, so exhausting that I was nearly sick in the green room at Minnesota Public Radio on the last day.
And then, suddenly, just as quick as it started, I was home again and the ride was over, and I found myself alone in my apartment in Vancouver, staring at a bottle of whiskey and wondering what came next.
What came next, theoretically, was another book, KILL FEE, and a book after that, THE STOLEN ONES. I had plenty of work ahead of me.
But the thing was, I just couldn't see the point.
I'd invested so much, mentally, in this belief that a publishing deal would change my life. That strong sales and good reviews would magically solve all of my problems.
And when the first book didn't do that, I didn't stop and scratch my head and recalibrate. I just assumed the second book would.
But it didn't. In fact, it made everything worse.
It's so easy to chase after external goals or validation, believing they'll change our lives. It's not always easy to meet those goals, but even if we get there, the view from the top isn't always what we expect.
I was chronically depressed and had been for years. I hated myself and had anxiety issues. I was square in the middle of my real men sleep with a lot of women phase and I was hurting people who cared about me.
Having a book that people liked didn't change that. Hell, even if I'd blown up and made millions and bought a Ferrari and lived life like a rap video, it wouldn't have helped my mental state.
The eureka moment came a few months later. I'd been volunteering with the Vancouver School Board, mentoring a very bright twelve-year-old aspiring writer, and the VSB held a recognition ceremony for all of the mentors and their charges.
I wasn't expecting this, but they brought each of us on stage, turn by turn, and had the student talk a little bit about the impact we'd had on their lives.
This girl was super smart and caustically funny but kind of inscrutable, and I didn't expect the very heartfelt and genuine thanks she gave to me, publicly, in front of a whole auditorium of people.
I nearly cried.
I hadn't been sure to that point if my mentoring had had any impact whatsoever on her life, but to hear her tell it, I'd really made a difference.
And that meant more than book reviews or big sales or a Ferrari in the driveway, as cheesy as it sounds.
That's where I found real meaning, that year. As much as I hated myself, I had taught this girl something, inspired her. She'd enjoyed our sessions together at a time when her life was kind of tumultuous.
Surely, that had to be worth something. And by extension, then, so was I.
I don't want to spout some bullshit like I learned what really mattered, because I'm still learning and I still care about sales and I still catch myself thinking my life will just be better if I meet some external metric.
But I learned to try and divorce my sense of self-worth from those external factors. To believe that if I was happy with a book I'd written, that was enough.
To believe that I, myself, am good enough, regardless of how many books I sell.
Like I said, I'm still working on it. But I'm making progress.
(Another way to find meaning in life is to rescue a dog!)