At the time I’m writing this, it’s the last day of the year and I’ll admit I wasn’t too festive at first. Truthfully, I, like many people out there, have had a rough couple of years. But, in the end, the thing that depressed me the most was feeling as though I would never find any sort of success in my life. In fact, I felt worthless. A couple of people had even suggested it or said it to me over the course of this year. With that year coming to an end, I felt they’d been right.
I can’t say I’ve been published in a big way this year. I’ve been published, yeah, but I haven’t had the kind of win that you could cheer to the world about. Truthfully, I got heavily sidetracked by children and responsibility to my family and friends. At first, that felt like a cheat and a burden.
But then a little guy walked up next to me and said in a very quiet voice, “I miss mommy”.
My sister’s been gone for only a few days from her holiday visit. Though she believes she’ll get her kids back in a few months, we can’t really be sure what’s going to happen in the foreseeable future. I’ll admit, I felt like that was time being stolen from me. Until my nephew climbed on my lap and rested his head against me. Then I realized a truth that I had lost in the last few months.
Several of the “Arbitrary Numbers” I had considered ranting about could really all be compiled into a single category: “Success”. We tell ourselves that success is measured by monetary values, numbers of copies sold, number of viewers, amounts earned. Often times, when a writer is grinding away, he wonders about whether or not the book will sell thousands of copies or only dozens. But my nephew, sweetheart that he is, reminded me of one simple truth: both are a win.
I am currently not a very successful writer, or anything else, really. But what I am is an uncle to someone who needs me and needs stability and compassion in his life. I am a role model to someone that will grow up to live their own life and face their own decisions. Everyone is successful at something and every victory is its own success. Sell a dozen copies and you can know that you’ve sold more than people who’ve never been published at all. Make a couple thousand and you can invest it, at the very least. Tell a story and you can put a child to sleep for one night and give him sweet dreams. It worked for Tolkien.
While I feel some people may see this as saying “being a parent is the best thing ever”, they would be missing my point. How old you are, how much you make, what you’ve done, where you’ve been: none of it matters. In the end, you will be judged for what you’ve done in the whole of your life rather than a period of time where you didn’t do much. And when you have been judged, that judgment will only last for as long as anyone remembers. But if you leave something, anything behind, no matter how trivial it may have been, you have contributed to the human race and that will ripple throughout time.
One of the people who reads one of those dozens of copies may decide that they want to be a writer as well. They could write one of the most ground breaking works of all time, or another stepping stone towards that eventual end. If six degrees can connect everyone to Kevin Bacon, then surely those same six can connect us all to each other. And as a result, there is no such thing as true success or failure. We all shape the world which we live in, one day at a time, one person at a time. Some of us just happen to do it in larger numbers than others.
Yet, if you consider just how someone comes about making that grand impact, typically, they’re with the smallest of acts. Not many people would have thought a man who decided not to eat would somehow lead a great movement in India. No one could have considered that a woman who refused to move to the back of a bus would have initiated one of the most important moments in US history. No one could have considered the value of a single sandwich to the world.
Not to trivialize the complexities and efforts of Ghandi, Rosa Parks and that man who made the sandwich. All I’m saying is, for all it’s worth, everything we do ripples out to somewhere given enough time. Even the act of a single man dancing in the middle of nowhere can somehow do great things…
See what he did there? Remember that and get back to work.