I started this post by looking back at my What Rebecca Wants–2013 post. Very interesting, for me anyway. I accomplished #1-4 and #10. Not bad I think.
As I start this first day of 2014, I’m not really in the mood to create a list of resolutions. I think they’re great, and I look forward to reading the many personal lists that will be posted on the blogs I regularly read, but today I’m only feeling like writing about a single goal I have for 2014.
I think, like many people, the urge of accomplishment has hounded me, night and day, for most of my life. The worry about starting, maintaining, and finishing various different goals has caused me tons of worry and stress over the years.
There was writing books–sure. Publishing (oh my God the unhappiness!) But certainly other areas of my life. There was graduate school, paying off debt, even waiting for a specific amount of time to pass so that an event, like a vacation, would come quickly.
All of it was always this eternal leaning towards the future. This idea that happiness, or maybe it was only relief, would finally happen once XYZ came to pass.
Except the relief never did come. Certainly XYZ did. I finished books. I found an agent. I finished graduate school. I found a job in my field. I wrote more books. Vacations came–and went. We paid off debt. I saw my books published (by a small press, but still.) I left the job in my field.
But happiness, contentment, joy–relief from the striving, it never came.
I have come to believe that, even if every single one of my wildest wishes were to come true tomorrow, it wouldn’t bring with it a relief from the wanting because whenever something on my list gets accomplished, I simply move the bar of expectation.
I know, for a fact, that I’m not the only one.
Most recently, it has been Big Publishing. There has been the idea that if that happened for me, when that happened, finally, finally, I would have arrived at my Happiness Destination that has for so long taunted me out on the horizon of my life.
But, recently, I have been noticing a very unsettling truth.
Big publishing does not necessarily make authors happy.
I mentioned before leaving the profession I had trained for (school psychology) to begin working in publishing (many of you know that last summer I started working at a literary agency.) The idea was to learn as much as I could about the industry that has plagued me since the day I set my sights on it. Know thy enemy I suppose. So, I have peeked behind the big green publishing curtain and have seen The Great and Powerful OZ working the controls of the giant institution I had, for so long, been trying to click my heels into.
Want to know what I’ve seen?
A thousand people working a day job–in publishing. Writers included. Maybe even most striking for me–the writers. Most of them leaning towards a future that looks radically different from the present they already hold in their hands. A vacation. Retirement. That next book. The New York Times Bestseller List. The NYT BSL–again. A higher advance. A good review in the NYT. A Printz. A Newbery. National Book Award? A retweet by John Green? Their own personal Happiness Destination that continues to elude them on the horizon of their life because, like a mirage in a hot desert, that image keeps moving further away.
Don’t take my word for it. Here is Hugh Howey’s Huffington Post article about publishing and happiness. Nathan Bransford blogging about Creative Fatigue. Nova Ren Suma’s haunting post on on the single minded pursuit of an ambition that terrifies me in its beautifully, brutal honesty. The acknowledgment at the end of Felix J Palma‘s Map of the Sky where he alludes to his, “…moodiness, anguish, and insecurities.” And, most tragically, the irrevocable decision made by too many authors to take their own lives.
For sure, there are a great many happy people who are writers. Just as there are a great many happy people who work in publishing. But I happen to think that these people would be happy regardless of their hierarchy in the land of publishing OZ, either behind that big green publishing curtain with their hands on the levers and cogs–or shut out in front of it.
Happiness, for them, is a mindset, not a wavy, far flung future destination. It’s a focus on the immediate task at hand and finding enjoyment in the execution. It’s looking around at the current moment, as it occurs, breathing it in.
Goals–I think they are VERY important. I have them, many of them. I want to continue to work towards them for sure. It is only that I would now like to think of them as little more than signposts at the end of the series of tasks required to complete them. Finish lines that always turn into starting lines.
There is no end, no relief, no “Finally” to look forward to.
I am already there–and there is here.
And right now, here is New Years Day at a bowling ally with my husband and our two kids. I left my list of wants on my desk–I don’t want it to distract me from enjoying this moment.