Today I shook the hand of Paula Hawkins, two-time best-selling author. Over 18 million (yeah, I said million) copies of her novel Girl on a Train have been sold to date around the world in an insane number of translated languages. This is a woman whom some folks payed $10,000 today just to meet for a few short seconds. Woah.
Paula and I exchanged a couple of niceties, marveled briefly at the Houston snowstorm, and then I even threw in an awkward joke about ‘jumpers’ (totally spoken in my best – by which I mean worst – English accent…would you expect anything less of me?) at which, to her eternal credit, she laughed in good nature.
The venue was a distinguished book signing event hosted by the John Cooper School in which a keynote speaker (Paula) was featured along with 22 visiting authors (me among). I was pretty excited about this event because it’s a kind of big deal…plus, well, Paula Hawkins. She’s at that place where every author someday aspires to be (and the vast majority of us never achieve).
Somewhere between invitation and showtime, I placed upon myself some wholly unrealistic expectations. Become friends with Paula? Why not! Sell 100 books? Definitely. Find my big literary break? Without a doubt (mostly).
That’s why, when I drove away from the venue today, I didn’t feel overjoyed, or successful, or even happy.
In fact, in frank quantification, I felt like a big fat failure. So much so that, on my drive home, I pretty much convinced myself that I was done writing forever. Because seriously, what’s the point? Eighteen million people won’t read my books anyway (never mind that at least that many have read my aviation blogs this year. Bah humbug, that’s not the point).
Don’t you see? I was totally playing host to my own one-woman pity party, sparing no expense. I was telling myself the exact things I wanted to hear to make me feel the way I was intent upon feeling. That’s what we do more often than not as flesh-and-blood humans (let’s apply that implication to our marriages for just a moment and…woah. But that’s another blog entirely).
We feed our inadequacies with manipulated realities and voila. We now have a distorted version of the truth that supports the conclusion to which we wish – whether consciously or subconsciously – to come.
Don’t tell my husband, but I might have even (I’m not saying I did) went home, downed a [big] bag of M&M’s and cried a few frustrated tears in solitude. Pathetic, I know. But failure is a hard pill to swallow, and those 189 leftover books were telling me their own harsh story of my ineptitude.
My mind pleasantly numbed by chocolate, I sat down and began to weigh my end-emotional reaction to the day. In so doing, I examined the distinct moments that comprised the overall experience. Surprisingly they were almost entirely pleasant (the tasteless chicken aside).
So why had I walked away with an overwhelming focus on the negative? It’s so crazy how much easier and almost more natural it is for us to cling to the ‘bad’ stuff than it is to all the ‘good’ in our lives! Living life in the positive takes some keen amount of mental retraining! And yes, even I fall short sometimes, quite obviously.
Was today a failure? I guess that really depends on what we base the definition of failure on. In terms of numbers, I definitely thought it was. Did I sell a hundred books? No. Did I become rich and famous? No. Was I offered a million dollar book contract? No. Are Paula and I BFF’s? No, not yet anyway…she just needs to get to know me better!
Did I find my ‘it’, my audience, my moment of glory and success? No.
I didn’t need to; it was already in front of me the entire time. As it turns out, you are my ‘it’.
Interestingly enough, my conclusive revelation was that my deepest frustrations stemmed, not from my own personal aspirations for fame (which I couldn’t actually care less about), but from the fact that I felt like I had let down the people around me – my friends, family, followers. I felt like I failed the ones I love. I wanted to be something extraordinary, not for me, but for the people that look to me. I wanted to honor my uncle well. I wanted my children to have a reason to be proud. I wanted to be worthy of the great confidence my husband had extended me. I wanted to earn the respect and love that you constantly show me. But in my mind, these were all stipulated by the number of books I sold; that pride, love, respect, and honor were somehow all directly correlated to the concrete numbers and not who I am.
Being drunk on the immensity of the moment, I forgot the real truth.
I don’t need to sell 18 million books to be successful. I don’t need to be known worldwide for my children to be proud. And you don’t love me because of the number of books I have or have not sold. Those things are just…things.
The people in my life are what matters most. You are my ‘it’.
As absolutely honored as I was to shake the hand of Paula Hawkins, the moment was brief and left me feeling…well, nothing much. Don’t get me wrong, she is an awesome woman and a talented author, and she is also just another person in this great big world – one that won’t remember my name or my existence tomorrow.
But meeting Elvie (header photo), one of my beloved pilot wives who came all the way there in the snow just to meet me and hug my neck? That filled my heart with immeasurable joy. It was one of the highlights of my day. She is my it.
Sitting in a room filled with published authors was a fantastic opportunity…and one that made me feel like another nameless person in a sea of nameless persons. But sitting at the table beside my pilot proudly telling anyone who would listen how much he and my children love my books? He is my it.
Watching 700 people walk by me and barely glance my way (I mean seriously, don’t they know who I am?) made me feel small and insignificant. Seeing the glowing faces of my children when I returned home? They are my it.
Selling [only] fifteen books to complete strangers made me feel like a total failure. Reading the countless daily messages, comments, and stories that you share with me? You are my it.
The relationships that have been built through this community, the friends that called or showed up today and everyday, the messages of encouragement, teaching you to F.L.Y., shopping and coffee with my girlfriends, the pride in my children’s voice when they tell people mommy is ‘famous’, the responses to my blogs, the opportunity to write books that affect your marriages, my husband holding my hand and beaming proudly…
That is my ‘it’!!
My husband said something during the event that stands out in my mind. As he watched the men and (predominantly) women walking around in their expensive clothing and their high-class mannerisms, he observed simply, “You may look like them today, but you will never be like them.” It wasn’t a criticism, but rather a statement of deep, rich, beautiful truth.
It’s not shaking the hand of a world-famous author, having my name splayed in lights, or standing in the midst of a plethora of esteemed wordsmiths that makes me who I am – I didn’t fit in. Instead, it’s my propensity to fiercely love people who are hurting, my heart to focus on loving individuals instead of impressing the masses, my deep desire to make the world a better place and not to line my pockets through the use of my talents – that’s who I am, deep down in the core of my soul.
I walked away momentarily defeated today because I went in looking for something I already had. That room full of strangers was not my venue, they were not my people, they are not my measure of success. You are.
Success is not about being someone to everybody, it’s about being everyone to somebody. By those standards, I’m pretty much the most successful (and luckiest) girl in the world.
So in retrospect, I enjoyed the event quite deeply and deem it a great success. Just not for the moments or reasons I ever imagined I would.
I love you, aviation family. Thank you for loving me too.
Angelia (a girl who has found her ‘it’)