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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Success? Well-Being? Catch-22?

Ok, so last week I failed. I failed to put up a blog post. What is my excuse? Summer? Sure, that is part of it. 

Another part of it, though, is that I’ve been in a holding pattern for awhile now with my book proposal. My agent has done a great job of getting my proposal to the desks of editors at publishing imprints that I’ve heard of  - and now we are waiting. Some of the editors have passed, but all have had reassuring reasons. They just took a title too similar, for example. That’s one. That’s pretty reassuring. Of course, I am very quick to turn that into big frustrated sigh that I wish I’d gotten my act together and gotten that proposal to that editor SOONER, so that MY book was the one they were using to turn away others. Oh, sure a couple have said the story needs to connect more broadly to the issue of success or something like that - which it does, actually, or could, if I wrote the book. That is the plan, and maybe it doesn’t come across fully in the proposal. My agent says the proposal is good and doesn’t need tweaking. Stay the course, she said. Well, she didn’t actually say that, because she’s not a seventy year old bearded sailor, she’s a thirty-something savvy urbanite, so she said something equivalent. Something that I have apparently translated into nautical terms for no good reason at all. 

But anyway, it’s the closest I’ve been to publication and I’d love to feel really great about that. But of course, it’s very difficult to feel great about this situation, because no matter how promising these rejections are, they are still, you know, rejections. And at some point I’m going to have to have more than a good story about how I ALMOST sold my book proposal.

Except that the idea that I “have to have more than a good story” is an example of magical thinking. Who says? What entity is keeping track of my attempts in its virtual ledger-book of life frustrations? Is this entity actually going to tally things up at some point and say, “Okay, it’s Hope’s turn now for something really meaty, an unequivocal achievement she can brag about at cocktail parties?” Which is, you know, ridiculous, because I never go to cocktail parties, and because of my furtive, neurotic nature, bragging is not what would happen. I promise! An apologetic admission of my big, meaty success is all it would be, I swear. I might even keep it within the family and just put on a lot of makeup and make kissy-faces at myself in my bathroom mirror. 

So, no. Reality says that this really might be all I get, in terms of my publication story. That story might just be that my savvy, urbanite agent sent my proposal off to five, ten, twenty, fifty editors at imprints of diminishing impact and they all said, “Thanks but no thanks.”  I will have to live with that. And worse, I will have to live with having shared it with you, Readers. Maybe I will have gotten your hopes up and you’ll be discouraged for me. Maybe I will have annoyed you and you’ll have your anonymous schadenfreude. It’s a big risk. 

But would it have been better never to have taken the chance?

Actually, no. No, it would not have been better. And here is why. Regardless of my ultimate success, my well-being depends on it. Well-being is a good and worthy goal, if it can be a goal. Having a sense of well-being is probably even more important than feeling successful. So I was interested to read this post in Scientific American’s blog about positive psychology research to determine the elements of well-being. I’m now passing them on to you. Please note the one on the right:  

The one on the right is Accomplishment. As in, achieving stuff, reaching a goal, having success.  Accomplishing things - or at least feeling accomplished - is one of the five main components of well-being.

Ok, this is a catch-22, isn’t it? It is, indeed. These five elements of well-being are closely interrelated. According to research, people who scored high in one area of PERMA tended to score high in the other areas; the inverse is also true. People who scored low in one area tended to score low overall. 

So. Yes, this is a fix, in a way. Or maybe it is proof that I don’t need to waste time apologizing for wanting to feel successful and achieve stuff. 

Which leaves me with this advice: ultimately, you have to keep going, and you have to find ways to feel like you are achieving in life. The trick is to celebrate the steps along the way, the mini-accomplishments. Like close-calls with Big House Editors.

Interestingly, the two character traits that are the biggest predictors of well-being are Gratitude and Love of Learning, closely followed by Hope, Honesty, Love, and Humor. I can say I've got those, some days more, some days less.

So how are you doing? I think I’m actually doing fine.