I think one of the biggest challenges to this whole writing journey has been managing my ego. It’s one of the awful little side effects of having gone to really great schools (Stanford and Wharton). You’re puttering along in your life doing your thing and suddenly one of your classmates is appointed CEO of Yahoo! or wins a SAG award, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe for their incredible acting. (Both went to Stanford at the same time I did.)
Or another classmate casually mentions that they sold their firm with $10 billion in assets under management and are now taking a sabbatical to travel the world. (A Wharton classmate. And, ironically, that description may be too generic for you to even identify a specific individual.)
Now, I know in my heart of hearts that their paths are not ones that would interest me. I don’t look at them and say “that could’ve been me”. (Although I do think it would be fun to act. That’s one of those paths not taken for me.)
I know I’m not playing the same game they are. But when your peers have net worths in the hundreds of millions it can make it really, really hard to take pride in your own efforts. Especially when you know that you could be much more financially successful doing something other than what you’re doing.
A couple months ago a classmate at Wharton reached out and asked if I’d submit a class note about my writing. I almost said no.
One, because what I’m doing probably makes me the poster child for how not to use your Wharton degree. (You make your millions first, then you take up skydiving and writing novels. You don’t walk away from a good career without having paid off all your student loans to do those things, which is what I did.)
And, two, because as much as I’ve accomplished with my writing, I don’t view it as a success. Most of those class notes are people who’ve done something worth bragging about and for some reason I don’t feel what I’ve done is something to brag about.
Which is somewhat absurd. I have written ten novels and who knows how many non-fiction titles. And I’ve made a profit on them, which is actually saying something.
There was recently a thread on one of the writing forums where people were saying you should never expect to make $5,000 a month from writing. By that standard I’m a raging success.
(I think it’s a horrible mindset those people have when there are authors out there making $100,000 a month, but that’s another post altogether.)
But the problem is, I don’t apply the normal person in the normal world standard to my efforts. I don’t apply the “average writer” standard. Fuck average.
I apply the Stanford/Wharton standard. I look to my “peers” to judge my worth.
(And then I quickly look away, because holy shit.)
But that’s the thing. The people who’ve made it are in the news or in the class notes. No one writes in and says, “Since we all graduated I lost my job, declared bankruptcy, got divorced, and spent three months in a clinic for substance abuse issues. But now I’m living in a halfway house and getting by day-by-day.” Or, “Well, I got married, put all my dreams on hold, quit my six-figure job to raise kids I’m not sure I even like, and am now self-medicating with wine and Facebook while my husband spends inordinate amounts of time with his secretary.”
I have to remind myself that there are probably just as many people like that in my peer group as the superstars. Not that it helps. Because ego. I still think I should do well at whatever I do. Well being top 2%.
So, anyway. I submitted the note. With a good dose of humor included. And now it will forever sit there next to my classmate’s note about his very successful venture. Really, I think that combination pretty much says it all.
Oh, and for any Wharton classmates who find their way here, the skydiving comment was not in fact a joke. This is me doing a sit-fly over Taupo, New Zealand back in the day.