People describing their successful career journey or achievements often include the phrase “…and I’ve never looked back”. I appreciate that it’s an expression rather than literal truth, and I understand what it means, but somehow it sounds a wee bit smug or self-satisfied. As though they no-longer have to consider their humble beginnings, or anyone who might have given them a helping hand on their way to success and glory. Anyway, for those of us who don’t feel consistently swept away by the tide of success, this post will explore a few reasons why looking back can be a good thing.
1) The journey is never over. Well, unless you’ve decided to quit doing your thing. And just because you’ve done well so far, doesn’t mean you’ll continue to do well. Circumstances beyond your control may change, and you may need to be prepared to adapt. Look at the changing women’s magazine market – when I started subbing to the womags, there were a number of titles open to us newbies. Then some magazines announced they would only accept submissions from their previously published writers. Then came contract changes taking all-rights. Now there are hundreds of writers competing in a very narrow market. I’ll admit, this knocked me off track for a while, but I’m thankful that I had already started publishing my own short story collections by then, and this is where I see my writing taking me in the future.
2) You may be surprised by what you’ve achieved. Taking a moment to review all that you’ve done will (I almost guarantee) remind you of elements you’d forgotten. Remember the pride you felt at each new achievement? These are the building blocks which have brought you to the present day. But you might also discover something you didn’t know – for instance, I only relatively recently took the time to analyse my KDP sales and readership patterns. And yes, the majority of my readers are in the UK or USA, but there are also readers in Germany, France, Spain, India, Canada and Australia. Wow!
3) If you feel you’re stuck in a rut, or that your writing is only going downhill, a review of your progress will give you context and perspective. You will know whether something is a blip or a trend. It might also give you a boost to realise how far you’ve come. Charting your progress over time will help identify any patterns – particularly if what you’ve experienced personally doesn’t seem to follow the general trend. If you can identify what’s different about the way you are doing something, you are in a stronger position to decide on action for the future.
4) Reviewing your progress to date helps you to identify where to focus your energies in the future. Monitoring your earnings per book (or downloads of free books) shows you which titles are most successful – which may influence what you choose to write and publish in the future. I’ve just worked out that about 8% of my book royalty income comes from KU page reads because I’ve chosen to enrol my books in KDP Select. Monitoring this percentage could help me when deciding whether or not to stay enrolled.
5) It’s all too easy to compare yourself to other more successful people in your field – and that’s where self-doubt and impostor syndrome sneak in. And be assured, there will always be someone more successful than you (by whatever measure of success you are using). Yes, you need an awareness of your peers and their status, but it is far better to chart your progress from your own beginnings so you can see how far you’ve come. I’ll borrow an analogy from my other obsession – horse-riding. I used to compete in dressage competitions with my previous pony – a fairly ordinary cob mare of indistinct parentage. We’d turn up at some events and there would be lots of very glamorous people riding sleek warmblood types – like the ones you see on the telly – and then there would be me and my slightly fat, hairy mare. We would try not to be put off in the warm up ring while these fine examples of horsy athleticism thundered around, and my little mare would whinny at them and wonder why no-one wanted to talk to her. But when it came to it, in the dressage arena there was just me and my mare, and we would just get on and do the test. Even if we didn’t get placed, we always had the dressage score sheet with the judge’s comments to take home and work on. Sometimes we would get placed even when I knew we hadn’t performed that good a test (perhaps because some of those classy looking warmbloods were too highly strung to behave in the arena). Whatever, we could always compare our score with our previous scores – benchmark our achievements against our own progress not the competition.
When you review your own journey, just take a moment to feel a tiny bit smug and proud of all that you’ve achieved.
And then crack on with the next story! 😉