Written by Julia Rose Wild
This must be a mistake. It’s just luck. My book is lame. Such were the thoughts live streaming through my mind when I realized my first book had become a #1 bestseller in —not one, but two—Amazon categories. For me, my impeccably logical conclusion at first was that Amazon must’ve made a double mistake. I say “realized” because I was so non-receptive to the possibility that even after an acquaintance texted me, calling me a “bestselling author,” it didn’t sink in. I figured she was joking and I laughed it off.
Why Was My Response to Success Confusion?
I didn’t consider this intensely devaluing, negative self-talk to be a symptom of “imposter syndrome” until someone mentioned it. Initially, I wasn’t sure imposter syndrome applied to me, because I did not feel like an imposter or fraud in terms of knowing what I was writing about. I did feel undeserving of the success. And, I was confused by the moniker “bestselling author” suddenly availing itself to my footprint of existence, and what that meant.
In retrospect, this was because I did not fully appreciate what I had created. I did not see myself as someone who is or gets to be successful. Also because it happened rather quickly, and because I’d had great fun creating my book. I eventually came to realize that part of me believed having fun and being successful were incongruent realities.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Elizabeth Cox’s TED talk on imposter syndrome helped me understand that it involves the sense that one’s success is undeserved:
Imposter Syndrome means being unable to internalize and accept one’s success.
Apparently more women than men experience this denouncing of their achievements. Learning this motivated me to own my successes more, on behalf of females everywhere.
I consider myself a fairly conscious person. I don’t mean just because I don’t fall asleep watching content about consciousness. I mean because I’m accustomed to going within. I do my best to be self-aware and present-minded. So it was natural for me to get curious about this inability to metabolize my own success.
It wasn’t long before I realized I was dealing with a two-headed monster. Both with deep skulls. The first, you could say, was more from the inside, out. Whereas the second was more outside, in.
The First Monster Head: Feeling Undeserving of Success
The first monster head meant gently investigating where these feelings of undeservedness came from. I asked myself why this success was highlighting feelings of being a failure, and what success and failure truly mean to me. If I don’t feel like my success is deserved, then who is a person who deserves success? Why wouldn’t I be worthy of the same rights to success and enjoyment of success as anyone else? Is there some image of success that I’m not matching in my mind?
I knew that some of my answers lay in messages, direct and indirect, from earlier years. From being someone who felt perpetually overlooked to having family members who put-down or sabotaged my achievements growing up. And a despondent sense that women depend on men for money in ways that detract from their power, and more.
Traumas such as these added up to a sense of self that didn’t feel capable.
Even if I was capable, another thing I’d experienced was that it wasn’t safe to own or show it. It had often meant destructive emotions and behaviors from others in response, such as jealousy or even physically destroying things I had created. I found resonance in this moving TEDxMileHigh talk by Scott Strode. It may seem like an unlikely resonance at first because he talks about his journey from addiction to sobriety. But what struck me was how he talks about trauma, and the ways so-called “smaller” traumas of his childhood contributed to his pain, which then contributed to his addiction:
To me, no trauma is small but I believe many can relate to how he describes the accumulation of them. And how this can impact one’s sense of self in the world.
In Scott’s case, the pain articulated itself primarily through addiction. In my case, one main articulation was the shrinking of my sense of self and my sense of the space I get to occupy.
Just as he describes how his connection to nature began to gradually replace his identity as an addict, so have I found that subsequent steps since the publication of my book have started to heal my spirit and replace my prior sense of identity.
Each time I remember why I wrote it, each nurturing affirmation I give myself, each bookstore that carries it, each kind comment from someone who has read it, has added up. They have gradually helped replace that sense of undeservedness—that identity as someone who doesn’t get success—with an appreciation and ownership of the positive impact my book has had, and the person who wrote it.
The Second Monster Head: How Do You Define Success?
The last question posed above is a perfect segue to the second monster head: is there some image of success that I’m not matching in my mind? I questioned what being successful means, and how it’s been viewed. Not questioning in a self-deprecating way, but in the vein of challenging the image and the persona of success in America, in 2020. Facades heavily conditioned by consumerist-Capitalist ideology. Facades designed to protect unbalanced egos. We’re taught to seek success. Sometimes at any cost. But we need to know why. Is it for fulfillment? Ego gratification?
As someone who takes a healthy amount of exception to the way success has been associated with solely money, corruption, abuse of power, and the exaltation of false fronts and profit over human dignity and truth, there was a part of me that did not connect with being “successful” if it meant approaching the realm of such things.
In her powerful and brutally honest TED talk on how winning doesn’t always equal success, UCLA women’s gymnastic’s team coach, Valerie Kondos Field, touches on similar sentiments:
She speaks about the cost of doing anything to win, and the need to stop leading people from a place where winning is the only metric of success. Where the ego takes center stage.
It has been proven that the egoic focus on winning produces broken human beings.
This is a particularly valuable insight in the social media era, where it can feel like your self-esteem hinges on “likes” and followers.
Valerie’s definition of success requires honoring the human spirit and having fun while working hard at what you love. Hearing this, I understood my book could never have been anything but a success because I so enjoyed the process of creating it.
I will therefore gladly admit my definition of success was incomplete before. To have fun, to delight in your passion, is now essentially a part of how I define success. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, my success is now “safe from the random hurricanes of outcome.”
The Randomness of Success
Frankly, the other thing people seldom mention about success is that it’s random and sort of bizarre. One minute you’re in your kitchen, trying not to burn your tuna melt as you lament the lack of grain-free flatbread options. The next, your book is in four bookstores. You’re still the same person, which is a far cry from the way success is often depicted as carrying you away from yourself. If anything, it’s taken me deeper within. And, I still have two messed-up hubcaps on my car and need to clean the unidentifiable residue from the vegetable drawer in my fridge.
So far, my experiences have run the gamut. Positive and negative reviews. Individuals who are incredibly gracious, and those who demand (not request) signed books like I’m a dispensary. Bookstores offering events. And, it could all change tomorrow. I don’t go a day without profound gratitude and love for being able to write—for the people it seems to touch in ways I couldn’t imagine. This, by the way, is also part of how I define success. Being of service to others in some way, no matter how “small.”
Defining what success means to me has also been part of owning it. As a woman in 2020, I believe it’s especially important to embrace your successes and value what you bring.
Ultimately, through the ups and downs of post-publication, there has been joy, love, focus, and passion keeping me anchored to my purpose. Devotion to your passion and calling is a key feature of Elizabeth Gilbert’s resilience in her TED talk on “Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating:”
Whether her books fail or succeed, she knows she will always come home to that which she loves, more than she loves herself: writing. This is how Elizabeth knows she is “safe from the random hurricanes of outcome.”
I find truth in her beautiful, grounded wisdom. To remain steadfast in devotion to my love of words, truth, creativity, and writing. That doesn’t mean not enjoying and owning other wins, successes, and failures. It means knowing that my spirit comes first. That I will continue to have wins, successes, and failures, and that I will always come back to what I love.
An Invitation to Redefine Success
Many are calling 2020 the year of manifestation. In honor of all that you are here to do with your precious time on this ephemeral, spinning rock, I invite you to consider how you define success. What would make you feel the most successful this year? Happy new decade. May it be your best one yet.
About the Author
Julia Rose Wild is a cross-genre wordsmith, bestselling author, and TEDxMileHigh Blogger. She is also a life coach for sensitives. Her writing has been published in “Pink Panther Magazine” and a few other publications. Sensitive Warrior: 10 Ways to Respond When You’re Called ‘Overly-Sensitive’ was her first book. She is currently writing a novel, plans to write a children’s book, and is launching her signature six-month workshop: “Writing as a Creative Healing Adventure” (a.k.a. WaaCHA!). A proud native New Yorker, Julia is now based in eastern Colorado. She is also a doting cat parent. Check out her website at www.juliarosewild.com.