The concept of success is a curious one indeed. I recently ran into someone who asked me how my book was doing. I shared stories about a nine year old girl who found solace in my book because it reflected things she and her friends were going through; about a friend of mine who, after reading my book, picked up a pen after years of not writing; about a mother who remembered, through the stories of the ten year olds in my book, that their lives are a lot more complex that we realize, which helped her reconnect with her ten year old; etc.
This someone interrupted me and said: “So basically, your book is not successful and you are taking comfort in that it has helped a couple of people?”
Let me get one thing straight: this someone is a kind, gentle, loving person who, having read a pre-published version of this piece, agreed to have it posted in the hopes of generating thoughtful reflection on the topic – that is the kind of person this someone is. But what this person did not realize is that their perception of success is a deeply flawed one that narrows its definition to an almost unattainable reality. In this case, success was narrowed down to the number of books sold.
This distorted understanding of success inevitably affects the disproportionate importance we place on an even narrower definition of winning. As an article a friend of mine recently sent me (which you can find here) put it, “there’s something about the relentless focus on winning — and more specifically, our shared reverence for “winners” — that leaves me feeling deeply uneasy.” Referring to athletes who fell short of winning a medal by a few inches or a few seconds, the writer wonders: “does falling a tiny bit short make these athlete losers unworthy of our admiration? Are the winners of these competitions different from them in any meaningful way? Is winning all it’s cracked up to be?”
I guess it depends on how one defines one’s purpose in life. As a religious person – more specifically, as a Bahá’í – I believe that life is about knowing and worshipping God. So, ultimately, winning is about getting closer to Him. Success, then, implies getting closer and closer to God. When it comes to athletes, while the ones who win medals are the best in their sport, it is the discipline that all athletes develop on the road to, say, the Olympics, that is most important. After all, this discipline will come in quite handy when said athletes are to make day to day choices between right and wrong.
As for me, the sales of my book are exceeding expectations, but they are very far from the definition of success currently prevailing in the book market. But writing the book took discipline, which I can apply to my spiritual life. Writing a spiritually based coming of age book made me reflect long and hard on my own spirituality, and adjustments have been made accordingly. Having said book published made me think a lot about the definition of winning and success, and I have what I feel is a healthier outlook on these two. So while I am millions of copies away from being a best-seller, I have, at the very least, refines my character a little bit, which in my view, makes me a winner.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 22 September 2012.