Hone Your Definition of Success with 2 Truths from Anne Lamott

Building a life of meaning without turning a blind eye to finances is a delicate balancing act, especially as a single parent. Are you clear about your end goal and what success looks like for you?


It’s been two years since I resigned from my job and took a bold leap into the writing life. My savings are lower than anticipated, and despite some progress, I have yet to see a clear path forward to steady income as a creative nonfiction, memoir writer.

A year into my writing journey, I started to wonder if it’s wise to continue on this path. As spiritual coach Nicole Oman said in one of her recent daily guidance videos, “Follow your heart, but take your head with you because you’re going to need it.”

Follow the Leader

I’ve had a companion as I tiptoe along this path. Right before I resigned from my job, my mother, who became a single mom in her early 40s and is now pursuing life as an artist in her late 50s, got her first real gig as the featured artist at the Riverside Fine Arts Concert Series. Watching my mother receive that recognition is what triggered me to start taking myself seriously as a writer.

Six months later I watched as our roles reversed and my mom followed my lead—she made a bold move of her own and resigned from her hourly wage management position to pursue her painting full-time. I watched as she cut back expenses to make room for the work she loves. It was a little scary to observe, especially knowing that I had some influence on her decision.

But just as I hit a creative slump, my mom got her next break. She sold her first painting, a triptych called Essence (pictured at www.melindagopp.com/gallery). She went on that year to sell more paintings and became the Artist in Residence for the Jacksonville Civic Orchestra.

On the one-year anniversary of leaping into the writing life, I was back to where I started. I watched my mom and told myself “If she can do it, I can do it.” We’re cut from the same fabric, and creativity runs in my blood.

Accept What Is

Around that time my mom brought best-selling author Anne Lamott’s TED Talk “12 truths I learned from life and writing” to my attention. Two of the 12 truths in particular stood out to me as I considered my next steps as a writer.

Truth #1

“You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up some day and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart. Your stories, memories, visions, and songs—your truth, your version of things in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us.”

(Translation for non-writers: Whether it’s music, medicine, business, or something else, you’re going to feel like hell if you don’t do that one thing that is calling your name.)

Creative nonfiction is what I do. It’s when you take material from real life and write it in a way that reads like a story. I know this is what I’m meant to do, and when you have a calling, there’s no getting out of it without feeling like someone is sitting on your chest literally crushing the life out of you. Ignoring your calling is like forcing yourself to do piano and ballet when all you really want to do is bang on the drums. You just have to do that thing you’re called to do.

Truth #2

“Try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, that it will fill the swiss cheesy holes inside of you. It can’t. It won’t. But writing can.”

(Translation for non-writers: Getting the corner office, the million dollars, or partner status will not complete you as a person. Doing what you do best and knowing you gave it your all is a better bet if fulfillment is what you’re after.)

I fully admit that in my mind success as a writer means achieving New York Times bestselling author status of the Eat, Pray, Love variety. That might not ever happen, and if it does, I won’t get there by pursuing that goal directly. If that version of success ever comes, it will be because I’ve dug so deep and gotten so raw that what I have to say resonates intimately with my readers.

The Takeaway

Together, these two truths are reminiscent of a lesson I love from best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert: “You have to do this thing not because it will be a success or change the world but because it will change you.”

Being a writer and having the courage to put my words into the world is where the real substance lies for me. As for financial success, I’ll step up if and when the time comes to do what I need to do. For now I’m choosing to lean into the writing life and trust that it isn’t calling me into a dead end.

Initially, this was an especially difficult leap for me given that the universe had recently wiped my life out with such swift intensity. It’s hard to trust and believe in a divine plan after so much loss. Nevertheless, here I go, continuing to put one foot in front of the other every day, and doing the best I can.

How do you define success as a single mom and what risks are you willing to take to achieve it?

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