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Fortune cookiesI keep two fortune cookie messages on my desk. They were in cookies I got from Chinese restaurant meals I’ve enjoyed since I began writing a few years ago. (I’ve received many more fortune cookies from many more Chinese restaurant meals, but these were the only two fortunes worth keeping.)

One message reads, “You’ll be unusually successful in an entertainment career,” and the other says, “You constantly struggle for self-improvement—and it shows.”

20140201_125039When I opened the first cookie, I had to laugh. I’ve never had any inclination to engage in an entertainment career. While I am comfortable presenting in front of a group when I’m prepared, I’ve never wanted to be an actor. And I can’t carry a tune.

An entertainer? Not me.

Then I thought, but fiction is entertainment, and I want to write fiction. I want to write novels in which readers escape their daily lives, which is why I enjoy fiction so much. I love to inhabit worlds other than my own, if only for an hour at a time.

So I came to hope: Maybe I will be successful with my writing. Maybe I’ll even be unusually successful.

I decided not to ponder the meaning of “success”. Success in some format will come.

The other message struck home immediately. I do strive for self-improvement, and always have, except when it comes to physical exercise. I keep a list of goals and objectives for each month and year, even now that I don’t have any boss other than myself to prod me. I assess my progress against those goals regularly, and I’m usually disappointed by where I’ve fallen short.

Do my self-improvement efforts show? Not always to myself, at least not on a daily or weekly basis. But if I step back to see where I was a year ago, or two years or five, then I can see progress. Then my self-improvement struggles show.

So maybe there’s something behind these fortune cookies after all. Maybe I should have kept my other messages.

How do you assess your own progress and success?

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