It occurred to me a few days ago that for the better part of my life, I was more concerned with the appearance of success than I was with any internally-driven goal. I’ve been fortunate that my passion for art, literature, and learning have collided with my my strengths–synthesizing material, meeting deadlines, sizing up the requirements to succeed in a given situation. But that last one has gotten me into trouble.
During my first year of college, I quickly mastered the essay exam — that classic five paragraphs of tell them what you’re going to say, say it in three points, then tell them what you said — which drove up my grade point average, those early markers of success. It took me countless years to unlearn that essay format, by the way, and write freely. I was also incredibly adept at figuring out what my teachers wanted to hear, and later my bosses, and giving it to them.
I always appeared to be successful.
The problem was once I was achieved success in a job, I got bored and quit, leaving me with a succession of positions that didn’t add up to much. I was thirty-seven and midway through my dissertation when I decided to jump the academic ship, and turned down a tenure-track position. I quit academe because I was deeply unhappy, finally acknowledging the deep disconnect between who I was at core and the work I was doing to be successful in public life.
I tell you this not to put myself down, but because I think it’s a common misstep. In our Creative Mix Interview, Jen Louden told me that her first book, The Woman’s Comfort Book, gave her an identity and made her a success, but the self-help genre never sat well with her. She had a desire to go deeper in her writing, which she is only now reclaiming.
Recently I became a ware of something psychologists call, “fronting,” when you put on a good face and not let anyone see what’s going on underneath. Fronting is dangerous business because you can never fully be yourself, which makes it pretty darn hard to express yourself, not a great option for artists or writers. In the age of the Internet, we have a lot of fronting, always putting on a good face for social media. Of course, some of us feel obligated to appear successful for our businesses. No one is going to hire a coach who is constantly discussing her failures.
Still, I can’t help wondering what it would look like to stop “fronting” online, to stop trying to appear successful and simply live and work from a deep place, and create a platform out of that.
Part of the Heroine’s Journey is looking at our past attempts to be successful–without judgement. It’s about closing the gap between who we thought we were supposed to be and our deepest desires to create. It’s not about jumping through hoops or figuring out how the game is played, but listening to what is calling and working out a plan to get that work done.
The journey begins tomorrow. Who else is ready to reclaim the lost pieces of their creative lives?