The Ever-Shifting Goal Posts (If You Let Them)

I’ve been thinking about how to phrase what I’m about to say without sounding like I’m whining. Trouble is: I probably am. And that’s the point.

My recently released novel, To Become a Whale, has been doing very well (I think!) – most people who’ve read it have been incredibly positive. I’ve met book store owners who have championed the book, for no other reason than to be supportive. I’ve received messages out of the blue on twitter and facebook about my book; old friends, people who I haven’t heard from in years. It’s been overwhelming how kind everybody has been. This review in the Sydney Morning Herald was also huge. So overall, this has been very rewarding. Everything I always dreamed.

The point of this post, however, is to describe something uglier within myself. I’m hoping, in doing this, that other writers will be able to relate. I’m also hoping to help those of you who have your heart set on being published.

Here’s the thing: no matter what success you find externally, you’ll always find a way to feel unsuccessful. If you, like me, are hardwired to look for the negative, or, maybe, you don’t have a firm internal validation point, then no matter the success, you’ll always be looking to the next thing.

This is what has happened to me. I think you’d call it envy. Maybe insecurity.

When I didn’t have any short stories published, that was the goal. I’d watch other authors find success in that area and I’d not hear back from magazines for a year before receiving a rejection slip or three and I’d looked heavenward and cry.

Then I had a few short stories published. For a moment I felt successful. I quickly found a different goal. Maybe if I can just kick it through there, then I’ll be important. Then I’ll feel good about myself.

For years I watched others get book deals. I’d write a whole novel – really agonise over it – and receive rejection after rejection. So I’d write another one. Same deal. Others around me moving on, finding success.

Like external success was some magic bullet to me feeling good about myself.

So I got a novel published. And it is wonderful and amazing.

But, now? I’ve only moved the goal posts.

So I’ll look at other authors who are getting better reviews than me. I’ll watch other books be invited to more in-stores than me, sell their foreign rights, and so on. And I’ll feel upset again. Like I’m not important. Like what I’ve done doesn’t matter.

This is an ugly side of human behaviour. I’m praying for a change in heart. Where is my heart focussed? Why do I care so darn much what other people think?

Anyway, here’s the takeaway: if you are looking at being published like it’s some magic bullet to a better life, it’s not. It’s amazing and fun and continue to aim for it, but don’t rely on it to change how you feel about yourself. Only you can do that.

Don’t be like me, always focussed on what you don’t have. Focus on the success you already have! If it’s nothing beyond finishing a story you’re proud of: celebrate! If you’ve had a few stories receive some attention: hurray! Focus on the people who are supporting you. How fantastic is it that they’re in your life? Focus on your own sense of creative pride: how do you feel about what you’ve written?

I hope I haven’t come off sounding whiney, or self-important. I’m doing my best to have a positive outlook. Just sending up the flag of solidarity to those of you who are like me.

Pictures like the one below still leave me speechless.

IMG_1332

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4 thoughts on “The Ever-Shifting Goal Posts (If You Let Them)

  1. Kali says:

    A post that resonated, and reminded me of the Buddhist notion that desire is the cause of our endless suffering. Absolutely have to be grateful for the present moment. Thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. benlhobson says:

      Thanks Kali! I’m no buddhist, but I appreciate the thought. I actually think desire is incredibly helpful in shaping who we are. I just think it’s all about where you place your heart. Anything shifting – a relationship, a job, a goal, a desire – and you’re in trouble. It’s definitely tricky.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Louise Allan says:

    Great post, Ben! I hear what you’re saying and relate more than you know. There’s a drive in us humans that makes us keep striving for more. Once we’ve reached one horizon, we’re already aiming for the next, trying to do better next time, improving our skills and improving ourselves. That’s not a bad thing, though, because if we didn’t, we’d have no goals and we’d bum through life without achieving anything. Or we’d reach the first goal and stop. We’d live very narrow, unfulfilling lives, and we certainly wouldn’t write goddamn novels.
    While it’s not a bad thing to aim higher, somehow, and I’m not really sure how, we have to balance the desire to improve ourselves and reach higher with patting ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come and what we’ve already achieved. As I say, I don’t really know how to achieve that balance, except to give ourselves permission to. To say we’re proud of ourselves and what we’ve achieved. At the age of 50, I find it easier to look back and do that these days, but it was different in my early 30s. Back then, it was all about future goals and dreams. No time for looking back and resting on my laurels …
    I look at what you’ve achieved already—a career, a family and a book!—and I doubt I know the half of it. I marvel at someone who has achieved all of that by their early thirties because it’s taken huge amounts of guts and discipline and hard work. I’m glad you have more dreams and I think there’d be something wrong if you didn’t, if you’d achieved all you wanted to already. So, well done and congratulations on achieving this goal, and onwards and upwards to the next. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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