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Personal Essays | The Opposite of Failure

By Kelly J. Gavin

I am 42 years old, and I love being a writer. But I haven’t always done much of it. I wrote short stories as a kid, often with the help of my dad. As a teen, I wrote a lot about new experiences. Space Camp, Summer Camp, Trips to Colorado and Chicago, Relationships, Heart Ache, Family Turmoil. I stopped writing anything other than poetry at the end of my senior year of high school. Poetry flowed out of me so fast and ferociously, that it actually scared me a bit.  Raw emotion found its way onto the page before I had a chance to realize what I was writing about.  But school, youth group, high school musicals, singing, relationships, and then the busyness of college made all that writing take a back burner. I married young, worked as a Banker for years and then as a Bank Consultant and a Professional Organizer. But I have only been actively writing for two years. Why? Why is it that something I love doing is something that I walked away from? Why is it that I let the pace of life overtake me and that I let it steal what brought me joy?

I had two friends who were succeeding as writers and saw book after book being published.  One of my friends made an attempt at a career change from a dead end corporate job to public speaking and booked 16 gigs in the first 6 months.  And yet another friend quit her job of 21 years so that she could pursue her artistic passion and sold piece after piece.  I found myself struggling with jealousy.  When I sat down and poured out my heart to a dear friend about how I was feeling, watching everyone succeed around me, she said something to me that stopped me dead in my tracks. She said I wasn’t a failure because I haven’t yet done something amazing. Hold up. Wait a minute. Failure?  I never saw myself as a failure until she said that.  I was fully aware that she was trying to comfort and redirect me, but the self-doubt set in. Was I a failure?  What had I done to make a name for myself? Is making my name known even something that I want?  Have I failed because I don’t live up to everyone else’s level of success? I even started to question if others viewed me as a failure or if they expected more of me at this stage in my life.

I would cry, talking to my husband and explaining that I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a failure.  He would hold me, love on me, and ask me when it was that I started letting others set the bar for me. He asked me when I started being concerned about what others thought of me. He was also very good at pointing out all that I had accomplished. My heart sang when he told me I was a great mom and wife.  He told me how proud he was of me and the fact that I had started my successful organizing business from the ground up. He also complimented my efforts at helping others and desiring to meet the physical, tangible needs of the underserved local community. He told me he loved me, supported me and would help me do and accomplish anything that I set my mind to. And then he said, God love him, “Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop viewing yourself as a failure because others have succeeded differently than you have.”

That was it.  There isn’t a specific tool that could be used to measure success.  Success is determined by the person who has set a goal or has decided to pursue a passion.  My success and the path that I chose to take would be left up to me. No one would be grading me. No one would say, “You shouldn’t pursue your passion anymore, it is too late. You aren’t 25 years old. Your time has passed.” And if someone was shaking their head at me, or tongues began to wag, I didn’t care. My age wasn’t going to be a factor anymore. I had experience and wisdom. I had more stories to tell because of the life I have lived.

My mother passed away four years ago. I wanted to honor her and write down my memories, but at first I couldn’t even pick up a pen. I often ended up in a puddle of tears and at a loss for which memories I should share first. I am a note taker. I started keeping a small writing notebook and pen in my purse or bag about 3 years ago. Each time I thought of something that would make for an interesting story, I would write it down. Sometimes it was a sentence, sometimes it was a paragraph or random words all thrown together that only made sense to me. Sometimes it was a single word or phrase. Basement. Flowers. Wood Ticks.  His smile.  Her ability to make friends. The Christmas tree. By approaching my note taking this way, those tears became fewer.  I was able to see stories taking shape, and rather than being stuck on the loss, or pain of a memory, I was excited and the stories started to write themselves. The short stories were like a weight being lifted from my shoulders.

I started writing for the local newspaper, entering poetry contests and writing mostly stories just for myself.  Almost like keeping a journal or blog, but not sharing much of it with others.  Then I won a couple of prizes for entries I had submitted and loved it.  People stopped me at the library or at Target to tell me they enjoyed reading my newspaper articles. I began to write more. Not every day, but weekly.  I realized I was creating a habit by writing more frequently. I desired to write, I wanted to write. And then I realized I had to write.  It was just flowing from me once again, like the poetry had in high school, I couldn’t keep the stories in me if I tried.  I found myself boring friends and family with long stories of days gone by, and each time, they said, write it down. Just write it down.

What have I been doing my whole life not writing? What made me think that I should have been doing anything else?

I now enjoy blogging, I continue writing for Southwest Media (17 small town newspapers), for Poetry and Short Story Journals and occasionally still enter a contest or two. I have been published a number of times.  I enjoy knowing that something I love doing actually means something to others.  That something I have written can and will touch hearts and change lives of people I may never meet. My idea of success was never to become famous and known around the world. My idea of success was to inspire others through telling stories that matter and make people’s lives richer.

As I said, I am 42. I don’t often speak of my age now that I am over 40. But now I find myself wanting to share my age with others. I want to share my story with others.  It took me 40 years to find what I should be doing. Writing fills my soul. It inspires me. It makes me want to share my joy. It enables me to share stories of my life that I think others need to hear. But mostly, it means I didn’t fail. It took me 40 years, but I didn’t fail. I need to remember that. Daily. When I am discouraged. When another decline email or letter is received. The realization that it took me a long time, but I am doing what I love, is of the utmost importance to me.

I haven’t yet written that novel I have always said I would write. However, I am pretty sure it will happen in my next 40 years.

 

Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of 22 years and two crazy kids. She is a Professional Organizer with Home & Life Organization and sells Lovely Jewelry. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candle lit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).Check out Kelli J Gavin on Twitter: @KelliJGavin and her blog: http://kellijgavin.blogspot.com/

 

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