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August 18, 2010

Do You Know What Will Make You Happy?

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My blog-home-away-home, Edittorrent, had another thought-provoking post yesterday.  You really should go read it, but if you don’t have the time, their point boils down to this: Know what will make you feel like a success as a writer.  I think this same idea can apply to just about anyone—not just writers.

Know what will make you happy

If you assume money will make you happy (first of all, don’t become a writer, because fame and fortune are beyond rare), then you’ll do things that you think will bring you money.  You’ll write stories that feel shallow to you to chase the “blockbuster” dream.  You’ll take the job with the horrendously long commute that pays better.  But what if your assumptions are wrong?

What if what will really make you happy is to make it home from work in time for dinner with your kids every night?  What if what will really make you happy is to write stories with deeper meaning that will end up on someone’s keeper shelf?  Wouldn’t knowing this about yourself change how you approach life?  If you don’t know what will make you happy, then even if you reach the goals you’ve set for yourself, you might still not be happy.

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing

I have it easy, as I know I’m not in this for the money.  I wouldn’t turn it down, mind you, but that’s not my goal.  I write because I have characters in my head who nag me until I write their story.  Because I have movies playing my mind that I think others would enjoy.  And because in the end, I just want to affect someone (hopefully, in a positive way!) with my work.

My talented critique partner (who surprisingly hasn’t killed me for my perfectionism yet), Murphy, eloquently defined her reasons for writing this way:

I write because I want to.
Because I have to.
Because no matter what successes and/or failures came before in my life – the desire to create through words is the only artistic outlet that does it for me.

Working towards self-fulfillment is very different from working toward a huge paycheck.  Understanding yourself, knowing your big picture, can change your perspective.

Let your supporters know what your reasons are

Now, here’s the hard part.  Once you understand yourself, you owe it to your loved ones to make sure they know your goals too.  Why?  Because from a selfish perspective, they’ll provide better support if you’re all on the same page.  And because from a selfless perspective, if they’re making sacrifices to be supportive, they deserve to know the reasons why.

This can be hard.  Many of us keep our dreams a secret.  If we share them, it can feel like we’re exposing them, making them vulnerable to disappointment and failure.  But we need to take that risk to share our goals.

At the RWA RITA awards (imagine the Oscars, but for the romance writing community—all it was missing was the paparazzi and red carpet), virtually every winner thanked their family during their acceptance speech.  Their thanks were usually along the lines of “Thank you, kids, for letting me feed you peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches more often than is healthy” and “Thanks to my husband, who kept our house clean.”  In other words, our supporters make sacrifices for us too.  So don’t they deserve to know our end game?

If they’re thinking of fame and fortune, and you’re thinking of a single fan letter, you might lose their support just when you’re expecting congratulations.  Make your supporters a partner to your goals, have a discussion about what you want and your reasons for that.  If they buy in to your vision, you’ll end up with a better supporter in the end.  Trust me.  I have a partner and some days, it can make all the difference.

Have you shared your goals with your supporters?  Do your family and friends know why you’re doing what you’re doing?  Are they partners to your dreams?

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Theresa Stevens

Very nice post. It helps to remember, too, that we as writers have rewards we can’t necessarily share. Even the simple act of putting down the words can be a huge happymaker.

Murphy

Wow, Jami, what a great post! And, I’m not saying that just because you mentioned me. But hey, that was nice too! 😉

I really liked when you said: **you might lose their support just when you’re expecting congratulations.** This is so true and should give all of us something to think about when we set our goals and expectations.

Murphy

alicia
alicia

That’s a great point about letting our supporters know what we want. We don’t want them disappointed rather than happy for us!
Alicia

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[…] before I made my decision, I had to know what I was looking to get out of it. Remember my post about knowing what will make you happy?  You can’t possibly be surprised that I went in with […]

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[…] As I mentioned last time, whether or not we’re disappointed often depends on what we’re expecting.  After all, if I’d been counting on an agent to call me on Christmas Eve, I’d have been rather crushed.  Luckily, I’m more realistic than that, and it helps that I’ve thought about what will make me happy. […]

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[…] it manifests, I would be happy if people read my words and found them helpful in some way.  And my arrogant muse (who I really […]

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