On choices, risk-taking, envy and not complaining

Heads up: this is a long, ranting post. I’ve found the posts that are hardest to hit ‘publish’ on are the ones that most need to be posted. It should be noted that it is not aimed at any one. It’s just my reaction to a build-up of people’s comments this year, and sort-of a lecture I need to hear myself.

It’s also a bit rambly. Sorry about that. My overwhelming points are:

a) Don’t envy me, please! The grass is not greener on my side.
b) Success takes sacrifice, risk, and stubborn self-belief. The next time you find yourself complaining, find a way to make change happen.

I’ve been told several times in the last few months how well I’m doing, sometimes with envy, and I know this is in part to do with sharing my successes on social media.

I’m not going to apologise for that. Most of the time I’m sharing them because I’m hovering somewhere between pleasantly surprised gratitude and downright shock. I want to show that if you really put your heart into something, it can pay off. I’m also trying to convince myself that I’m not a complete failure.

Almost four years ago, I decided I was going to write a book. There was no evidence that I could do this: no university degree, not even a particularly good English report from highschool. I started anyway.

That year, I stopped working full-time so I’d have the time to write, as well as working on my mental health. That may sound wonderful, but do you know what else halved? My income. I was now budgeting on half the money I was used to, with a $3,000 credit card loan, in a kitchen-less flat in West Auckland.

I made a choice. I took a risk.

This was an investment in my writing, which I had no evidence of talent or future success for. I had between zero and thirty dollars for food each week (that’s about US$20), and one week I had to borrow money just to pay my rent. It was an incredibly hard choice to make, and I cried more that year than I had in my whole lifetime.

I was lucky to have the support of my family, friends, and my partner. Occasionally, friends who were aware of my bank account balance would shout me lunch or coffee. But that was where the luck stopped. The rest was hard work, risk-taking, and a stubborn self-belief.

My small successes have flowered from seeds I sowed. Spending time on social media, networking with creatives, reaching out to reviewers, attending markets even if they were a flop, editing and editing and editing and editing, attending counselling, supporting others, doing author events for free… the list seriously goes on.

I’ve taken little droplets of positivity from things other people might class as failures. I once proudly said that I asked 50 reviewers to consider my book, and I got ten reviews. It was referred to later as something that ‘didn’t work’. There were several events I attended last year that cost me an excess of $300 for nothing in return. I still found the good things from those events, and chalked the rest up to experience.

I try to look on the bright side of life.

I could complain, and sometimes I do. I’m complaining now. I have a lot to complain about. My books aren’t selling, people don’t buy children’s books online, mainstream books are easier to sell, I hardly have any reviews, rent is so expensive, people don’t understand how hard it is to be me! With everything that you see me do, every success I have, every milestone I achieve: I’m still not making any sort of income. From the perspective of the general public, my business is a failure.

But you know what? So were most people’s when they first started out. For a classic example, Picasso went from burning paintings for heat to a 5oo million dollar net worth at death. In the contemporary landscape, artist, illustrator and writer Lisa Congdon, took nine years to go full time, and JK Rowling was on the benefit for years before she started earning.

Not that I think I’ll be the next JK. I don’t want to be the next JK. I just want my small successes to build up until I can make a living from doing stuff I love doing. So I pull my socks up and get on with it. I try new things, take new risks, and celebrate the small stuff. I celebrate them with you, because I want to inspire you to take risks for your own dreams, and I love seeing happy, fulfilled people.

So please don’t envy me. I’m not doing any better than anyone else would in my situation, and my successes come with their fair share of sacrifices. Sacrifices which I am willing to make, but are hard nonetheless. Every day I am putting myself on the line and stretching my comfort zone. Every day I am learning to embrace risk, and develop a positive mindset. Every day, I have to convince myself I am not a failure.

It has been 99% my own choices and hard work that have brought me the successes I have had. I was not handed anything on a platter except the privilege of being born into the first-world – and if you’re reading this, you probably have too. Giving in to envy or complaining is giving into a victim mentality, which is dis-empowering and a waste of the gifts you have to offer the world.

If you’re alive, you have choices.

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8 responses to “On choices, risk-taking, envy and not complaining

  1. Hi Zee – anyone who says that they envy you, know nothing!! – respond as I do – when people say ‘you’re so lucky.’ etc… I tell them writing is a job like any other it is hard work. If I have a month when I have other things in my life or am ill, I don’t get out and sell my books and don’t earn any money. Keep your spirits up, believe in yourself, you love writing and illustrating – so perhaps for a little while think with your marketing hat on and write and illustrate what will sell and what people will buy. Take a deep breath, a long walk, count your blessings (sometimes I had to rack my brain at the end of the day what they were) and keep going. If you want to have a rant sometime over a coffee or email – I’m here.

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    • Thanks Robyn! I prefer my marketing hat to stay on the rack while I’m creating, but I appreciate your advice. From one creative to another, here’s to hard work *clink*

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  2. You really are amazing Zee, come such a long way. I love celebrating your successes, your creativity and your generous spirit. Keep going, girl, and when it gets tough, just keep doing what you’re doing.

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  3. First, I want to say, I love this post. It’s so real and raw. To be honest it made me a little misty eyed to read it. (It probably would have brought real tears to my eyes if I weren’t at the office).

    You are and will always be a huge inspiration to so many. You are such a brave and strong woman to be able to take the risks you take on a daily basis (even when you don’t see it). I am honored to be considered a friend of yours. Continue living your life with no rules!

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    • Hi Amanda – I’ve taken so long to reply because I didn’t know what to say – other than thank you! I’ll keep your words to remind me when I’m not feeling strong or brave in my trail-blazing ❤

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  4. Well done for writing this Zee! Great post. Keep on keeping on, one foot in front of the other. This is obviously what you were made to do, so keep at it!

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