After a lifetime of wanting a seat at this table, the published author table, I'm now sitting here, humbled and proud, surrounded by insanely talented authors and wondering how I got here. Only I know how I got here. I never gave up the dream. I wrote whenever I could. I forgave myself when I allowed life to get in the way of my writing. And then I used those hard, derailing life moments in my writing when I got back to it. I worked hard, I sacrificed, I shunned distraction (well, mostly). And I tried to keep the stack of hopeful moments and blind faith piled up higher than the heap of self-doubt. But even though I'm here now, finally, and I can go down to the bookstore and see The Art of Adapting on a shelf there, like a real, actual novel (!), sometimes I still wonder if this is all real.
A very bright, intuitive friend looked at me recently and said, "It's like you're worried this might not happen, even though it's already happening." And that sums it up pretty well. Because when you've spent your whole life butting up against self-doubt and the skepticism of others, when you've heard endless unsolicited advice on the "real" jobs you should have, when you've watched other artist friends rise into their well-deserved stratospheres and longed to find your own arc upward, it's hard to let go of all of that. The self-doubt isn't just humility. It's a shield. It's a way of keeping everyone else's opinions outside yourself where they can't hurt you. You can't tell me I can't do it. Because I've already told myself that a thousand times.
But here's the secret. Although I'm a very quiet, calm, grounded, polite person who never makes public scenes or throws things in private tantrums, at my core I'm the most stubborn person I know. (Well, I was, until I had my daughter, but that competition is ongoing and I might still win.)
And that's what it really comes down to. Dreams are fantastic. Hopes are great. Plans are necessary. Surrounding yourself with the kind of people you want to emulate is brilliant. But it won't get you far if you aren't determined to see it through.
You'll encounter a lot of people who don't understand why you want to do whatever it is you want to do. They'll advise you against it. They'll cite examples of all the failures that have ever occurred. They'll open their hands and show you their own fears and try to convince you to carry them as yours. Don't. Instead, use it. When someone tells you you're wasting your time or energy, tuck that away and use it as fuel. I work just a little harder when I'm trying to prove someone else wrong. Maybe that's just me.
But that's not the point. The point is those people with the armloads of fears of your failure, who want you to pick something less risky, less interesting, less passionate? Who seem to want to hold you back and hold you down? They don't want to live in fear any more than you do. They have had a lifetime of doubts piled on them, too. They can't see their way clear of them. They're not asking you to get down in the dirt with them, even if it sounds that way. They're really asking you to lead the way out.
Maybe that's just what I want to believe. But it works for me. Because the alternative is succeeding to spite someone, which taints the success. Or succeeding alone, which is hard. But succeeding and also lighting the way for someone else, that would double the prize.
It's an honor, to have a seat at the big kids' author table, to look around at authors I've long admired. They have been nothing but welcoming. And equally awesome is looking around at the empty seats at the table, ready and waiting for the next one to dream, persist, work and sacrifice and shun distraction (mostly) until they're ready to join the crowd.
So where is "here" for me? It's an in-between place. I thought once I had a book deal from a major publisher I'd feel some sense of solid ground under me. I'd feel like I'd done something. Seen it through to the end. And now I see that the path goes on forever, for as long as I can stay on my feet and keep moving forward, and there's so much more to write, and new fears to shove aside, and friends to meet, and newcomers to gather along the way. And it's okay to not feel a sense of finally having arrived. To keep asking if it's really okay if I sit at the table. To feel like I still need to keep dreaming, working, sacrificing, as much as ever. Because that is what success actually feels like. It's not the end of a dream. It's the choice, every day, to keep actively living it.