If you’d been driving behind me on a certain country road a few night ago, you might have called the police.
It was dark and rainy, and as my headlights pressed a hazy glow into the mist, I was barrelling around curves as fast the speed-limit would allow…all while sporadically swerving like a drunken maniac in convulsions. And no. I was NOT on my may home from a wild party celebrating my best-seller status on Amazon. (Though I was pretty excited about it.)
I was frog-dodging.
Spring comes early in GA. The air is warming up, the rains smell of new life, and the frogs are going crazy after dark. On wet nights, they quickly cover roads in small, bouncing traffic hazards. Now, I don’t consider myself an animal rights activist. I still eat meat, and I’m not a member of PETA. But if I can avoid squashing small creatures while driving home on rainy nights, I think I should.
So there I went down the road, jerking the car left and right to avoid small, croaking projectiles, and somewhere along the way it struck me what a strange thing success is.
What does frog-dodging have to do with success? Let me explain.
When I started writing Where Daffodils Bloom, I didn’t have what you might call “big” goals. (Like making millions, or being a best-seller). I just didn’t imagine that sort of thing was within reach for a first-time author.
My goals were much simpler. I wanted to write a book that would accurately tell the amazing story of this real-life couple. I wanted it to exceed the expectations of their two daughters, who were giving me the material. I wanted to make it professional, skillful, and entertaining for readers. I wanted to pay off the money I put into it. And…if possible…I wanted to make a little profit to boot. I never really expected anything more than that.
Which is why I was in shock when a woman walked up to me at a meet-the-author event this week and commented, “Hey, did you know your book is an Amazon bestseller?”
Say WHAT ???
Now, I should explain that there are multiple kinds of bestsellers on Amazon. The highest possible rating would be hit the overall bestseller list (i.e. sell more than 95% of all other books on Amazon). The other option is to simply be a bestseller in a certain category. And, depending on the size of the category, being a bestseller in it might not mean much of anything.
In my case, I was the #1 bestseller in Historical Christian Romance. Which is a pretty decent-sized category. (It’s also updated hourly, so I’ve bounced back and forth between 1st and 2nd place multiple times in the past week).
In any case, it was a pretty shocking experience to see my book at the top of a list that included works by Francine Rivers, Jocelyn Green, and other authors I’ve read and admired. Did I feel excited? Yes. Did I feel startled? Yes. Did I feel like I’d achieved success? Ummm…
That’s the interesting part. Of course I was happy to see my book with a little orange flag next to it that said “bestseller.” And quite thrilled to get my sales report and find out I sold over 1,000 copies last month. But somewhere along that frog-infested road, I realized something sobering.
Material success is always a moving target.
Like a never-ending video game, there’s always another “level” waiting to be conquered as soon as you think you’ve made it. Did you navigate the frog-strewn obstacle course and arrive safely on the far side? Good. In the next level you get to dodge exploding starfish while swimming through peanut butter. Have fun!
You never really “win.” There’s always a bigger goal ahead. Sure, I’m a bestseller in Historical Christian Romance. But what about being a bestseller on ALL of Amazon? What about being a bestseller on the New York Times list? What about having my book made into a movie?
There’s always more “success” flirting with you from just around the corner. (Which explains why some of the most “successful” people in the world end up loosing themselves to drugs, destroying their marriages, committing suicide, etc.) Material success can never satisfy. It only wets your appetite.
So…am I saying I’m unsatisfied?
Nope. Remember my original goals? I hit every one of them. And the ones that are the most satisfying are NOT the ones measured in sales, ratings, or acclaim. The most satisfying successes are the immaterial ones. The joy of giving this gift to Sharon and Susan, who get so see their parents’ story being shared with the world. The reviews I read from people saying how much the book blessed them. The friends of Fred and Lily who write in telling me how perfectly I captured the personalities of the couple they knew so well.
Those are the successes that leave me satisfied, instead of instantly wanting to achieve the next level.
Kind of like, (on a much smaller scale), the satisfaction I felt when I pulled up to my house without killing a single frog on my way home. I didn’t need to run out and try dodging bigger frogs on a faster road, or earn an award for being the best frog-dodger in GA. I was just happy I could drive home in the dark without killing tiny creatures along the way.
Would I still like Where Daffodils Bloom to end up a NYT bestseller? Sure. Would I still think it was cool if somebody made it into a movie? Of course. But is that what I want to get my satisfaction from? Not a chance.
Material success is never going to be satisfying if we don’t invest in the immaterial things along the way. Racing full-tilt up the road to fame won’t bring us joy if we recklessly crush everything in our path.
We were designed in the image of a personal, relational God, who is in the business of blessing, saving, preserving, and caring for His creation. We are most fulfilled when we follow in His footsteps, blessing, preserving, and caring for the people and world around us.
Whether that means writing books that impact thousands of readers or simply dodging frogs on a dark, rainy night, everything we do can either be a blessing or a curse, either bring more life or more death into our sphere of influence.
Am I saying we shouldn’t want/try to be skillful and successful in our work? No. Am I saying that if you accidentally run over a frog, or a turtle, or even a kitten on your way home tomorrow, you’re a terrible person? Of course not. I’m simply pointing out that if we walk through our lives focused on doing good, not just making records, we’ll end up far more satisfied in the long run.
So let’s set goals that matter. Let’s find our satisfaction in things that last. Let’s go through our world touching lives, not counting Amazon ratings.
And maybe even save a few frogs while we’re at it. 😉