Friday, December 12, 2014

Perception, Reality and Misguided Depression #writing

I want to tell you a story about reality and perception.

I went to school with a guy who is now a self-made millionaire. A few years after high school he got into Amway and from there created a lucrative career as a life coach, traveling the country as a motivational speaker. His website features a glowing resume of success that began with an early venture into the restaurant industry. His pod casts, recorded on the deck of his seaside home, offer hints about how his plan can transform your life. Just for fun he wrote a book offering a few of his secrets and sold thousands of copies...because who wouldn't buy a book about how to succeed from a guy who appears to have done it? 

Conversations with him always involve a monologue detailing his wealth and influence. Our latest lunch together included all the stereotypical trappings: a rented limo, a posh restaurant in a city painted with pretension, expensive wine, names dropped all over the floor. You get the idea. Many people hover between envy and depression during those conversations...except those of us who know the details behind the numbers. 

Photo by Peter Lee

Yes, he ran his own fast food place the summer he graduated from high school, a shack the size of a carnival booth. He was out of business by the following summer. Yes, he earned a million or so from Amway and what he didn't lose in the stock market, he spent on travel and the fancy house and expensive car required to maintain the appearance of success. He's brushed up against bankruptcy several times and sold a handful of start-up businesses mere months before they died of financial starvation. He's hustled 70 hours a week for decades with rarely a break. He's failed and started over and over and over...but nobody hears those stories. They hear of his triumphs and pay hundreds for his advice about building the carefree existence of the financially secure. An existence he's never had because it's all an illusion.

The truth is in the losses and delinquent loans, mortgages and leases, sleepless nights and ulcers. It's something he will never admit because keeping the perception of affluence alive is about more than his ego. That dream is his business and selling it to others is what keeps him afloat.

Photo by Gianluigi Calcaterra 

I've found several parallels between his career and mine. It seems authors and life coaches have similar problems. Everybody has had a book perform far below expectations. Few admit it at the time because perceived success is as important to an author's image as actual success. Readers don't want to take a chance on a book the author admits only sold 20 copies. 

"I wasn't lying. I was writing fiction with my mouth."
~ Homer Simpson

That's the biggest reason I avoid comparing myself to other writers. How do I know I'm not comparing myself to an illusion? I have met authors who really are making millions each year, supporting their spouses and sending their kids to private school on royalties alone. I haven't met very many. Most people I know are struggling to reimburse themselves for covers, conferences, and marketing expenses. They live for the annual tax refund that temporarily fattens a starving bank account. They fret over how and where to spend money on promotion and lament the time it takes away from writing the next book.

I'm sure you can see the point of my tale. Don't be depressed because your success as an author doesn't match the stories you hear drifting around the internet. Things aren't necessarily what they seem. Sometimes a story of great success is just that...a story.

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