Tuesday, September 5, 2023

S is for Success?

 What is success? This is the question I open my first year seminar with every fall. We spend time during the first two weeks of class exploring it, considering it, and personalizing it. Then, for the rest of the semester, we examine things that can contribute to or detract from our achievement of this nebulous construct, tinkering with our definitions, revising them, and giving them a final polish at the end of the semester.

It's a fun class, and one I love teaching. And, every fall, I find myself re-examining my own conceptualization of success. One part of this and two parts of that? Add (or subtract) a dash of something more, or keep the recipe the same?

While I generally consider these questions in the grand scheme of things, lately I've been wondering about them with respect to my writing. A firm believer that failure and setbacks are detours rather than the end of the road (something I teach my students), I typically manage rejections from precisely that perspective. Embedded in the path and part of the journey, they are detours that require us to determine whether to stick to the original road map or find an alternate route, rather than just sitting in a hot car in the middle of nowhere bemoaning our fate.

But lately, I've been doing a lot of bemoaning. The road seems long, dusty, and riddled with potholes. "Promising" rejections feel more like dead ends than near-misses. And, as they pile up, it requires more dexterity to smoothly navigate the necessary U-turns -- the ones that will lead me back to the path where ideas felt promising and the destination was enticing -- or at least enticing enough to keep me moving forward.

It's getting harder and harder to determine whether I'm in a traffic jam or stranded on a dead-end street. Or, whether I should perhaps just take time to enjoy being in the middle of nowhere, the hot car easily remedied by a flick of the A/C button. 

That's the thing with journeys. They often don't go as planned and, when that happens, whether we brand the trip a success or a failure -- whether we power (or putter) forward or turn around and head for the comforts of home -- depends on whether or not we believe the destination will live up to our expectations.

Some days, the comforts of home win. Unsure of how long this trip is going to take, or whether the destination will resemble the travel brochures, I struggle to put pen to paper or fingers to keys, finding dozens of excuses to do something else instead. Other days, I do the writing equivalent of packing the car, gassing it up, and checking the tires, never quite making it out of the driveway, but feeling as though I've made progress, and all that remains is to put the car in drive and hit the writing road.

And, on really good days, I push myself past all of that and drive. Some days, I'm sure of where I'm going and travel is good; other days, the destination is a bit of a mirage, and it's hard to convince myself that continuing the trip is worth the exhaustion the journey is sure to provoke.

Somehow, the trip is never quite as predictable as we'd like and, as with any journey, repetition doesn't guarantee smooth travel. Cars break down. We hit potholes, run into detours, and run out of gas. Whether or not we persist depends on how much we value both the trip itself and whatever lies at the end of the road. 

Some days we drive. Other days we park. And, many days, we find ourselves asking the question millions of children have posed from the back seats of innumerable vehicles.

Are we there yet?

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