Carrie Snyder’s Word for 2014

I’ve been choosing a word-of-the-year for nearly a decade, a tradition I’ve shared with a friend who initiated it; several years ago we invited another friend into our circle. I look forward to our annual meeting—in front of a wood stove on a dark winter’s night—like I’m preparing to unwrap an exciting gift. We meet to reflect on how we used (or didn’t) our chosen word from the previous year, and then we reveal our new words, along with the hopes and baggage and dreams and fears and intentions going forward.

My word of the year for 2014 was “success.”

As always, I tested out several different words in the weeks leading up to our meeting, believed I’d landed on one, and at the eleventh hour switched to another. This is a consistent pattern for me. We’ve observed over the years that words can carry with them their opposites, their shadow sides, and I approach my choice with a certain amount of caution as well as excitement. Last January, I decided to go into what frightened me, and dig deep.

Just a few months earlier, I’d sold my third book, and first novel, Girl Runner, to a number of publishers around the world. This was the culmination of twenty years of discipline, work, and outsized dreaming, and to be perfectly honest, I was terrified of what would come next. I couldn’t begin to see it. The word “success” seemed to encapsulate my fears: success carried with it a weight of expectation, and the potential for failure on a previously unsuspected scale. It sounds perhaps silly and ungrateful to fear success, but I was acutely attuned to all that could go wrong. I did not want to disappoint anyone, most especially myself.

What did it mean to succeed? Why did the thought of success fill me with dread and fear, anxiety, even shame?

I spent the year unpacking this, as I’d hoped. In fact, this year was the first that I extended the word-of the-year project to include regular written meditations. Over the course of twelve months my thoughts on success changed in ways both subtle and radical.

At first, I focused on identifying the positive aspects of success—the notion that an achievement is a starting point, not an end, and that success offers a platform to look beyond and tackle even greater obstacles. I thought of Nelson Mandela, who wrote, “But I have discovered the secret, that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb,” which helped me cope with the paralyzing anxiety—that I might have nothing more to say, having achieved what I’d set out to achieve all those years ago. No. What looks like success might, in retrospect, prove to have been simply a catalyst for possibilities as yet unguessed-at, which can only be explored using all of the tools that brought you to this moment. In other words, go bravely into the darkness.

When my book was published in Canada this past fall, success took on a harsher shade, a glare. I was fortunate to receive good media attention and good reviews, and to be invited to festivals and events to share my work. But with the attention crept the doubt. Was I deserving? Did I have anything interesting to say? Had I written the book I’d hoped to write? The more comfortable I became with being on stage, the less comfortable I became with being alone. I liked the light. Was this dreadful of me, was I becoming a spotlight-hogging narcissist? Was I losing myself? Was my self so superficial that it could get lost this easily?

Well. No. (Although perhaps temporarily, yes.)

When prize season rolled around and my book was a finalist for a major literary award (but not for the glittering-est and most coveted), and when it did not win, I underwent some very unpleasant, even ugly, internal emotional battles. Did my notion of success hinge entirely on external acknowledgement? I countered the ugliness by practicing gratitude and savouring the pleasures that came with being nominated. I tried to be mindful and careful to name the pleasures, even if only to myself, so that I would not get caught up in envy or greed or self-loathing.

I knew that my idea of success—the success that I wanted to embrace—was not about envy or greed or self-loathing (which may seem an odd addition to the list of ugly internal emotions, but there it lurked).

Over the course of this year, I’ve learned what I probably knew all along, but needed to know even more deeply, needed to live inside: that success is not only about work. I do love my work. And that is a great fortune. But I consider myself successful when I share my life with people whom I love, and when I respond to needs and responsibilities with care and love—within myself, within my family, within my community, and within the larger world.

It isn’t about what’s visible, necessarily; success doesn’t always get acknowledged. Success, ultimately, is extremely personal.

Here’s what I’ve learned this year: It doesn’t matter if the world tells you that you’re successful if you don’t believe it yourself. And, likewise, it doesn’t matter if the world doesn’t notice your success if you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. Success is progressive, cumulative, built on deep layers; it doesn’t anoint you in an instant. It isn’t a place. It isn’t a thing. It isn’t definitive.

Finally, while it’s good to remind myself that acknowledgement is not the same as success, it’s also good to remind myself to express gratitude and thanks for acknowledgement when it comes—that is something I need to work on, a lot. I need to work on accepting acknowledgement with grace, gratitude, and, um, acceptance (to repeat myself). Know what I mean? What I noticed this year is that I doubt acknowledgement—I disbelieve the sincerity and assume people are just being nice—because I see every flaw in my work and efforts, and I don’t love my flaws very much, at all. (Hm… new word for next year, buried somewhere in there?)

As the year comes to a close, I think I could easily spend the rest of my life exploring the idea of success, which is the way it feels at the end of a year when a word choice has really struck home.

But onward, friends, to a new year and with it a different word, with a different flavour to spice our intentions and reflections.

Walk into the fear! Go deep! Unwrap with excitement.

::

Carrie-Snyder-e1412714186377Carrie Snyder is mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, teacher, photographer, blogger. She is the author of three books of fiction, most recently Girl Runner, published this fall in Canada and coming this winter to the US, the UK & Australia. She looks for the light and embraces transitional moments: winter solstice is one of her favourite days of the year.

 

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Memorable Quotes on Dreams

dream-catcher-902508_640You’ve heard what 4Mothers has to say about our dreams… here is what some slightly (ahem) better known writers have to say about it.  Thanks for joining us this week – have a great weekend!

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The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dreams.

Kahlil Gibran

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls,
That I was the hope and the pride.

I had riches too great to count, could boast
Of a high ancestral name;
But I also dreamt, which pleas’d me the most,
That you loved me still the same.

Alfred Burns, The Bohemian Girl

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

I Dream of Clones

Anne Taintor is my hands-down favourite satirist of motherhood and the life of a woman.  (Seriously, click that link and look at her gallery of images.  Time well spent.)Anne-Taintor-Cocktail-Napkins-I-dreamed-my-whole-house-was-clean

Sadly, she has not yet captured my dream with her witty one-liners: clones for the whole family.

It’s that time of year when folks are asking, “What would you/the kids/your husband like for Christmas?”

I’m sorely lacking in imagination with my answers because, frankly, I want for nothing but time.

How can you make my dreams come true?  Clone me.  Better yet, clone me, my husband and my three kids multiple times so that one husband can drive one kid to hockey while the same kid stays home and gets his homework done and the same husband drives a different kid to hockey and I stay home and supervise homework and attend both hockey games and the third kid’s basketball game and I cook a huge brunch and we all sleep in and enjoy a pajama day.

We have a lot on our plates, but you know what?  We don’t want to give any of it up.  The kids can’t wait to get out the door to hockey, whether it’s morning or night, and while the enthusiasm might be slightly more muted for the academic extracurriculars, they like those, too.  They aren’t complaining about being overscheduled.

Overscheduled is what we appear to be when you look at the bulging calendar, but the word implies an unwelcome burden and zombie kids but none of what we choose to stuff the calendar with is unwelcome and the kids are thriving.  Our lives are bountiful and filled with welcome plenty.  I struggle so with acknowledging all that welcome plenty at the same time as feeling frazzled from so much running around.  I am a homebody, and I crave my quiet nights, but I do not want to say no.  I do not want to trim or cut or axe or delete.  I want us all home and sitting around the dinner table together and I want us all tucked into our beds on time and I want time for my kids to really get pleasurably absorbed in a project and I want them to play epic games of Minecraft/tag/cards/whatever without watching the clock and I want us all at the rink, four cheering on the fifth, and I want to experience that fabled feeling of being in the moment when the moments only seem to come hurtling at me at 100 mph.

So, what is my dream for Christmas?  The impossible dream: I dream of clones.

At Issue: Dreams

to sleep

It’s getting colder here in Toronto, and last week was frigid.  The day starts later and ends earlier, the dark lasts longer.  It’s not just a season of spending more time inside, but for many, also a time of turning inward.

Do you find yourself getting dreamy this time of year?  If you have young children, you know they almost live half in dream, in a world all their own.  What about you – do you daydream, nightdream, or anything in between?

This week, 4Mothers jumps into the world of dreams… see you there!

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