Success and Self-care

The world is full of what Hugh Howey calls “ten year overnight successes:” people who showed up over and over (and over and over) for years until some magical combination of hard work and perfect timing blew up into a perfect storm of fame and money. Of course, there are also people who struck it big on their first project, but you will almost always find that they did a lot of prep work, too. In any case, almost every single success story has one important thing in common: they had no idea how crazy success was going to be.

If you’re thinking, yeah, uh-huh, it must be so hard to be rolling in all that fame and money, you’re not alone. Pretty much everyone thinks that, including the people themselves, which unfortunately, makes it pretty hard for them to get help with the fact that they’re suddenly in the limelight, overwhelmed by people who love them or hate them or are writing buzzfeed articles about them, trying to manage a radically new financial outlook, perhaps being asked to foot bills by family or friends, and wondering if this was all some terrible mistake and they’ll be exposed as a talentless hack sometime in the near future.

If this is you, you’re not crazy for feeling this way. If this is someone you know, maybe make them a cup of tea and offer them a few minutes of silence, away from their computer. Say it with me: success can be hard. Success can be really hard, and one of the hardest things is that everyone, including you, kind of feels like it should solve all of the other problems in your life.

So, today, let’s talk about what to do if you strike it big. First, if you’re a friend, spouse, or family member of someone who has hit it big:

  • Ask how they’re feeling – this is a very open-ended question that allows them to admit to maybe feeling a bit overwhelmed (pro tip: I hear this also works wonders with expectant mothers, whose beautiful glow may really just be a flush from having spent the last hour throwing up)
  • Don’t be offended if they’re exhausted and not up to socializing – they may have spent their ENTIRE day responding to various emails, being perky and pleasant and talking about their books until their brain melts out their ears. They may simply not have it in them to socialize.
  • Keep in low-key contact – people knock texting, but it’s great. Something like, “thinking of you,” or a pretty or funny picture.
  • Ask if they need anything from you – they probably won’t, but it never hurts to let people know that you’re there to help
  • If you’re thinking that these are eerily close to the sorts of things you do when someone is depressed or anxious, you would be correct. Say it with me again: success can be hard.

If you’re someone who has recently experienced wild success:

  • Pay close attention to your physical cues. You may be working in an fight-or-flight state that is really excellent and useful when you are being pursued by rabid bears (a situation your body knows well after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution), but actually not so useful when it cues up all. Day. Long. For weeks. (It was only meant to be cued up for about the duration of your average rabid bear chases, and those, for better or worse, are usually over pretty quickly.) Make it your business to respond to muscle aches, thirst, tiredness, headaches, urges to get outside, etc.
  • Either turn off your wifi, or invest in something like Freedom, which will forcibly keep you offline for a specified amount of time. If your phone has notifications, turn them off. Set aside time to respond to emails, preferably at the end of the day. If it’s really urgent, someone will call.
  • Keep a journal where you can get out your feelings, or make sure you have a close friend, spouse, or other confidant you can share them with – preferably both. It takes guts to say, “I know I suddenly have $8 million, but actually I feel kind of like crap,” but it’s worth it.
  • If people are being jerks, stop talking to them for now. You can start again later when you have more energy.
  • That said, make time for the people you love and who treat you well. Walk your dog. Cuddle with your spouse. Go coo over your friend’s baby. Remind yourself that there’s a whole world going on out there, because after so much relentless, anxious focus on your success, it’s actually kind of wonderful that the rest of the world is continuing on pretty much like normal. Unwinding by spending time with people you love is beginning to look like it might help with everything from anxiety to heart disease (not a typo!).
  • Don’t feel shame if you’re not happy all the time.
  • Do whatever you need to do to tune out the world and focus on your next project. The reason you hit it big is that you were working on the thing you love. Success can sometimes give you a paralyzing wave of fear about your next project. So breathe, and remember these few things: new projects are always hard; you are the same person you were before you hit it big, with the same set of talents; and last but not least, some people not liking your work does not make you a hack.

Hang in there. Your life is so much more than your career. Try to bask in the glow of your (hard-earned!) success as much as you can, but don’t feel like a failure if you sometimes wish you could be transported to your previous life.


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