Tag Archives: success

How to be brilliant and successful

I’m always fascinated by the advice writers hand out to other writers, as though there really is a magic formula that will get your book written and published.

There really isn’t.

If something feels weird and uncomfortable, probably don’t do it. This is advice that holds up in most situations, not just writing. The exception may be around medical checkups. 

Of course it’s tempting to think there are easy answers and things that are bound to work. But honestly, if that’s what floats your boat, get into something where doing what you’re told to do actually gets you results. Whatever those things are. I can bake a cake by following instructions. I can make a granny square. What I can’t do by following other people’s rules is make something original and also be guaranteed to sell it for a lot of money. 

When you start out doing something you have to put in the time to find out how it all works. No one would expect to win a baking contest with the first cake they’ve ever made. I find it odd that many people have entirely different expectations for their first book. 

Being brilliant takes time. It means going beyond whatever natural gift you have, and finding out how to work with it. Putting in the work is essential – just dreaming about it doesn’t lead to success. However, being brilliant doesn’t lead reliably to success either. In the creative industries, luck, privilege and nepotism count for a lot. These are not meritocracies.

Most authors do not earn enough to live on and either work other jobs, are supported by other people, have resources available to them or accept being poor. Or exciting combinations of those things. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something. It may be a book. Perhaps it will turn out to be a book about how to teach people how to write books. 

You have every chance at being brilliant. Find out how you do things to best effect and keep doing it. Brilliance has everything to do with time and determination. You probably won’t be successful economically, because that seldom happens. Other measures of success exist. Joy matters. Being able to share with people is good.

Not a self made man

I wonder about all the advice to be independent. A certain amount of self-reliance is good, but too often what happens is that those with privilege fail to see the ways in which they rely on others. The workers growing, delivering and selling their food. The people who built and maintain the roads. The education system that helped them get where they are… no one is really alone. No one is successful on their own, and hiding the support can really distort the story. Billionaires are not self made, they’ve crapped into the same sewage systems as everyone else their whole lives.

Behind allegedly lone, successful people, there are usually a host of invisible people doing the work. That might be their mum, or their wife – self made men often have invisible women enabling and supporting them. There may well be funding. The rags to riches story is popular, and people like to present themselves as having made a lot of money by dint of their own efforts. Dig a little deeper and there often turns out to be inherited wealth, opportunities and open doors that most of us would not have been able to access.

We achieve more when we cooperate. The myth of the lone successful, self made person encourages the rest of us away from the approaches that would do most good. Competition gets less done, and by trying to be individually successful, a person might cut themselves off from the very resources that would benefit them most. 

When we buy into the myths of the independently successful person, we can end up not noticing all the resources and invisible helpers they depended on. We can end up perpetuating class and gender based oppression where the unpaid work of women, and the underpaid work of working class people disappears from the story of the self made man. We need new stories that better recognise who is doing the work, and that no one is successful on their own.

It’s important with any success to recognise who was part of it. Who made it possible? Who picked up the slack somewhere else and created the space that gave you opportunities? Who did the work that your work builds on? We all get opportunities to acknowledge this kind of thing in our own lives, to give recognition, and to resist the temptation to make our successes seem like entirely solitary activities.

Stories about ourselves

We all tell stories about ourselves. Humans are storytelling creatures and we like to make narrative sense of the world. We present ourselves to each other in the stories we tell about what we’ve done and seen, where we’ve been and who we’ve known. Many stories are very short and often we don’t notice them – as tellers or as audience, or what effect they might have.

I’m intrigued by people who tell stories about the sorts of people they are – that they are empathic people, or highly aware, sensitive, special – these come up around Paganism a fair bit. These are stories that tend to come from people who seem to be none of those things, in my experience. Then there are the people who want to tell a story about who you are – to measure you and demonstrate that they understand you. When there’s depth of relationship this can be valuable feedback, but it’s the empathic people who do it off the cuff I find least helpful.

No doubt we’re all inclined to make ourselves look good when we tell our stories. We want to pick out the best bits. At some point there’s a line to cross between a good retelling and an actual falsehood. That line is seldom easy to see.

One of the falsehoods I see frequently, and that I know to be harmful, is the habit of bigging yourself up. Social media is full of it – people putting their best self out there and doing their best to look like they have great and successful lives. I see authors doing it too – overplaying book sales, what ‘best seller’ on Amazon means, and the like. Success is attractive, is the theory. Who wants to buy from a moderately successful author? The trouble with this comes when you need help.

If you’ve been telling stories about how good you are, but those stories aren’t true, how can you ask for help? I’ve seen authors who have presented as successful start Patreons and not get any support – either because what fans they have believed the success story, or because they never had many fans in the first place. On the flip side, creators who are honest about how things work for them are often much better supported. Fans understand the struggle, and care and want to be involved. In practice, most creators don’t earn enough to live on and investing time in creativity alongside regular employment isn’t easy. But when you’ve overplayed your success, this is hard to talk about.

When you’re over-invested in the story of your own success, you can end up tied in knots about your reality. This way lies cognitive dissonance. When you have to believe in your literary legacy, even though no one seems to be reading your books. When you have presented a perfect family and cannot then admit how your household is falling apart… The greater the distance between your stories and your reality, the harder it becomes to let anyone into your life. The more you’ve misrepresented to look good, the harder it gets to effectively ask for help.

The stories we tell to ourselves, about ourselves and about our relationships with other people are tiny, every day things. We might not even notice when we do them. We might be crafting it deliberately as good PR, as fake it until you make it, as positivity or to feel better. But, these distortions come at a cost – they increase anxiety and feelings of pressure to succeed and they don’t reliably work as marketing strategies, whether you’re trying to look good to your family, or sell more books.

Most of us identify more with stories of honest struggle and occasional success than we do with people who seem to have it all. Our kindness is engaged by empathy with other people’s trials. We can enjoy the success of people we feel have earned it but may resent people who seem to have had it all handed to them on a plate. Better not to fake it until you make it. Better to be real, and human, open to being supported and able to have a wail about the crap along the way.

Life goals and spiritual goals

We live in a goal-orientated society. Success is understood in terms of achievement, goals and markers. Qualifications, promotions, pay increases, a bigger house, a more expensive car… we set up goals and chase them and then, when we’re done, we head for the next goal. There’s no space here to feel happy or fulfilled, and this is part of what keeps us locked into consumerism. People who feel unfulfilled can be persuaded that products will answer this need.

Now, in some ways, moving goalposts are unavoidable. If you have any investment in improving yourself, you’ll always see ways in which you can improve. One of the signs of knowing more, or deepening a skill is that your scope to see what else you could achieve always increases too. However, this is a constant process, and it doesn’t create goals that you can easily brag about.

Paganism does offer us ‘levels’, titles, certificates, and all the things that help us live a goal-orientated life. What does it mean to be a successful Pagan? How many books and articles must you have published? How many followers must you have? How much must you be able to charge for courses? And what does it do to your spiritual path if your path becomes all about the number of moots you can run, and students you can sign up? The more goal-focused we are, the more the spiritual things may slip from our grasp.

For me, spiritual growth has proved to be a lot like growing as a creator. I can’t tell you what exactly it is that makes me a better colourist than I was a few years ago, but I know I am. Many tiny things have changed day to day as I’ve worked on comics pages. There are things I know because I’ve done them a lot. There’s the consequence of showing up to the table and doing the work. I know I’ve improved and I can see it.

On the Druid side it gets even harder to explain. There’s the same process of showing up. At the moment I am showing up for the land as much as I can. I know things that I did not know before but as much of it is body knowledge I’m still struggling to put it into words. It doesn’t make me a better druid than any other druid, but I feel it as growth and I feel I’m a better druid than I used to be. I am not trying to compete with anyone else, any more than it makes sense for me to try and compete as a colourist with other colourists who have totally different styles and intentions.

My success is a process. It’s a day to day thing with no real goals; only to deepen and widen and become more. I see very similar things happening in my relationships, in my writing and thinking. I have no specific ambitions, which I’m finding liberating. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone else any more, which is a great relief. This success process allows me to celebrate small things all the time. It allows me to feel sufficiently satisfied with my life not to be miserable. It also keeps me on my toes enough not to feel bored or stagnant. I can enjoy what I have because I’m not focused on the next goal. At the same time, I can develop and grow. I don’t have to look at anyone else’s version of success and compare mine in order to feel validated.


(thank you Tommy Elf for the inspiration to write this – https://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/2018/10/27/looking-for-advancedpagan-practices-roll-for-initiative/ )

What do we tolerate in a genius?

I’m not offering any answers in this blog, I just thought it was worth asking the question. Extraordinary people often aren’t the easiest to get along with. This can be because they’re so involved with the awesome thing they do that they don’t connect with the rest of life easily. They may think differently, have different priorities. Some, it must be said, are a long way up their own bums, suffering from over-entitlement issues, ego trips, power trips… How good do you have to be for it to offset not being very good at all?

It comes up every time some high profile, brilliant person is caught doing something downright criminal. This happens a lot. See previous comments about ego trips, and feelings of entitlement… How much slack do we cut them because we like what they do? How much do we tolerate in the allegedly great and the good that we don’t find acceptable in ‘ordinary’ people. What’s the basis for the massive double standard? Is life a scales where the harm we do and the good we do (or the goals we score, or the songs we sell) can balance each other out? Does anything that isn’t about making up directly for our shit offset our shit?

When people are successful, the price of their success looks justified. They were bold, heroic, courageous. They kept to their vision, were disciplined, had integrity… When there is no success, those same actions look like utter selfishness and stupidity, often inflicting ongoing damage on friends and family. We frame it with the outcome and judge it accordingly. Obsession in the winner is something to be proud of. Obsession in the loser is probably going to be treated as a mental health problem. Dedication or self indulgence. Persistence or stupidity. How much money you make will probably define how everyone else judges you, including the people who bear the brunt of it. If you’re suffering for someone else’s heroic achievement, that’s pretty heroic too. If you’re suffering for someone else’s selfish indulgence, there’s not much to be proud of.

What price do we pay? What price do we ask others to pay? What are do we think we are entitled to? How does the idea of success reshape the ideas about entitlement? When does it become acceptable to stop making effort towards being a good sort of human being?

A sense of perspective

We spent yesterday in Slimbridge – somewhere we lived for several years. Going back into that landscape brought a rush of all the emotions associated with living there – the fear and anxiety, the pressure we were under, the hideous uncertainties. Those were tough times. I was surprised by how bodily my response was and how it was a response simply to location. We aren’t there any more, in any sense, but the perspective that creates is decidedly interesting.

I can’t say this last year has been easy, either. There’s been much to do, some demanding challenges, steep learning curves, vast amounts of work. There have been scary bits, too, but that’s worked out for the greater part. Much of this stems from being more in demand, having more to do, and playing at a higher level than we were.

Success creates challenges and pressures, but they are nothing compared to the challenges of failure. Working hard to get a job done is a whole other game from working hard to try and stretch a small amount of money far enough. The anxieties around house buying are nothing compared to the anxieties caused by fearing homelessness. (The Canal and River Trust routinely threaten liveaboard boaters with homelessness. Apparently they can square this with being a charity.) The stresses of deadlines and a packed schedule are as nothing compared to the stresses of not being able to see how you’re going to make it all work. We fought our way out of the one and into the other.

One of the things the ‘hard working’ can easily be persuaded to feel about the ‘scroungers’ (to borrow the divisive language of politics) is that to be unemployed is an easy life, just dossing around with everything paid for.  Much of the benefits money in the UK actually goes to working people who just aren’t earning enough to live on. The minimum wage is not a living wage, and part time jobs won’t reliably keep a roof over your head. When you don’t have much money, and have to think about every penny, thing are stressful.

If a sudden request for funding a school trip could compromise your food budget, or means you can’t replace worn out shoes yet… the jugging is intense and unending. What can we cut back on? What can we do without? And so you end up with one in five mothers skipping meals to feed their children. As the government sets up ever more bizarre and pointless hoops for the unemployed and ill to try and jump through, the pressures of poverty become dire.

We were in some ways, just plain lucky. We have privileges on our side – skills and education that enables us to get some brilliant opportunities. I had the time and space to get depression and anxiety under control so that I can work, rather than sinking entirely as so many other people do.  We never stopped believing it was possible (sometimes by dint of taking it in turns), where many people are defeated. It is possible, but that’s a hard thing to hang onto. Once we no longer had to pay solicitors on a regular basis, things became a lot easier. Not everyone’s pressures and problems go away.

To be poor and dependent on the state to any degree, is to live with uncertainty and vulnerability, especially with this current, compassion-free political culture. The stresses of getting somewhere can be huge, but when you feel like you have some control over your life, some scope for hope, that’s really not as bad as the stresses that come from being slowly crushed by life. I have, to a degree, done both. Powerlessness and hopelessness are hellish things to face on a daily basis. We could be a lot kinder to people who are in that situation rather than demonising them.

Exhaustion, bees and depression

A total absence of energy is often taken to be a symptom of depression. Based on experience, I am inclined to think this is not a simple case of cause and effect. Exhaustion can be as much a cause of depression as a symptom of it.

Every other mammal rests. The creatures that work flat out – the busy bees and their fellows – have very short life spans. We humans have got into the idea that some of us, should be working like bees, despite the fact that our mammal bodies really don’t handle this well. We are meant to rest. If we do not rest, then eventually we fall over. Based on watching my own cycles of burnout and depression, it tends to be the case that I get depressed when I am exhausted, and not the other way round. Exhaustion is not a symptom for me, it is the root cause. There are days when it takes all the will I can muster to get up and keep doing. Continue that day after day, with no proper breaks and no respite, and body and mind alike will eventually falter.

We are sold the idea that hard work is both a virtue, and the answer to all risks of poverty. Hard working people are celebrated by politicians, while those who are not able to be working hard enough are denigrated with words like ‘scroungers’. If hard work were all it took to be successful, I would be significantly more successful than I am. If hard work were the magic answer, those years my other half spent working two jobs and only getting a few hours sleep a night, would have made him rich rather than damaging him.

I know a lot of people who work very hard, and many of them are not especially successful. There’s an influence in choice of job – if you set out in life to get a job that will pay a lot of money, you’re probably doing better than someone who answered a calling to teach, to help, to put something of beauty and innate worth into the world. Medicine seems to be an exception there. If we measured people by the value of their contributions, teachers and nurses would be a good deal better paid, and football players would not, I suspect, have quite such vast incomes.

Work hard, throw all of your energy, passion and inspiration into what you do, and one of two things will happen. Either you will see no significant benefit, or you will get somewhere. The difference in outcomes may have more to do with luck than your own efforts. To work hard and soulfully in any capacity, and see no return, is soul destroying after a while. Depression seems an entirely natural response to this. To be unvalued, not well remunerated, not going places, seems to invalidate not only the work, but the soul and effort that went into it. This is always an issue for creative people, and very often an issue for anyone who gives a damn about what they were doing.

We do not live in a meritocracy. How good you are and how hard you work often do not count for much. The loudest, angriest voice often wins the argument. The person with the most buying power pays for the result they want. The person willing to do whatever it takes to make the profit, makes the profit and never mind the exploitation along the way. We spend our school years being told to try our best, work hard, and strive, and then we get out into the real world and find those rules frequently do not apply. If you want to be successful, you’re much better off getting someone else to work hard, while you cream off the profits and sit back. That way lies respect, power, and kudos. Work hard, and all bets are off as to what may come from this.

Nothing offends those in power like poor people with no desire to work themselves to death as busy little bees, enabling someone else to make a fortune. I am not a bee. I want a culture shift.

Money in a druid’s world

Money makes the world go around. It buys privilege and political clout. Those who can pay to advertise, lobby and make themselves heard, get much more voice than those who cannot. In our private lives, economic power often equates with decision making power. The person who pays the bills is the one who ultimately decides. I’ve heard money described by pagans as ‘the movement of energy’ – and you can productively relate to it that way. It works better if you rank it comparably with other exchanges of energy, where time, effort and creativity do not otherwise relate directly to a financial ‘worth’.

In an entirely fair system, money would just be another tool we could use to facilitate exchanges. Nothing wrong with that. Bartering is slow, especially if you want my chickens and I have no use for the lawn mower you are offering in exchange. We’ve deified money. The presence of it in a person’s life is far too often taken as a measure of their worth and importance. This is, on closer inspection, insane and counterproductive.

The following traits and actions will not result in you being rich. Working hard. Acting honourably. Keeping your word. Being fair. Being compassionate. Upholding the law. Treating others with respect. Being mindful of the environment.

On the other hand, ruthlessness, a willingness to use others, profit from them and take advantage, may well make you rich. Disregard for the environment, willingness to break promises, to lie, to bend the laws, especially the tax laws and so forth, will all help you keep your money. I am sure there are plenty of lovely rich people out there, it’s just so much easier to be a rich bastard than a nice person if you want to accumulate worldly goods.

How do people become wealthy? There are of course always stories of rags to riches, through luck or the triumph of ingenuity. Most people who are affluent were born that way. Which country you land in makes a lot of odds. Whether your parents are millionaires, billionaires, is going to have an influence too. If working hard was the key to financial success, teachers would have fortunes and playboys would not. That’s not how it happens. Even if you have a ton of creative energy, the best idea ever, and even some backing, whether or not you find success is as much about luck as anything. There is no sure fire way.

If power is in the hands of the rich, really that comes down to giving control to the people who were inherently fortunate in the first place. Money buys its own opportunities, for learning, commerce, living well. Does it need any extra help? Not really. Do the people with money perceive themselves as just lucky, or do they believe in their hearts that they deserve every penny of it? I’ll bet it’s mostly the latter. Should the power they wield therefore be used to uphold the system that keeps them wealthy? Hell yes.

And what keeps us all running on the treadmill is the belief that we too could get lucky, we could be like them. Win the lottery, sell that novel, be discovered, join the wealthy elite. So we keep the world turning just the way it suits the tiny minority who really benefit from it.

How do you go about being a Druid in this sort of reality? Money is not one of the gods I worship. Honour is integral to my life, I have no place where ‘greed is good’ or it’s all about the bottom line. I’m not going to make a profit by trashing the environment or oppressing the workers. I do believe that hard work, integrity, value and creativity ought to be rewarded, and money isn’t a terrible way of doing that. It’s the power that goes with the money I’m worried about. And how people understand themselves in light of their earning and spending capacity – or absence thereof.

I can’t opt out of the money system. They lock you up if you go very far at all down that route. But if I think of my money as energy, as potential for change, I can deploy it, make it work for my agenda, my world view, my values. Not all the time, because my taxes are going to go on wars whether I like it or not. But sometimes.

There are plenty of places where the money doesn’t matter. In the woods, with my feet on the earth, it doesn’t make a great deal of odds what is in my bank account. I don’t think the gods care whether I have a fortune or not. Why would othey? My being a Druid doesn’t depend on being able to cough up enough cash for designer robes, and an actual sickle made out of gold. There are other places money is equally meaningless, and I shall be contemplating them a lot.