Rethinking Success

Success is qualitative not quantitative. In our era, where so much of our activity is based around the internet, it is easy to get bogged down by analytics and the desire for the rapid validation of likes and clicks. These systems of tracking engagement force us to focus on numbers and statistics rather than real life connection with our audiences and what the work actually means to them. Add click farms and bots to this mix and we find ourselves looking at sets of numbers that have little relevance to what’s happening in meatspace. As we let ourselves be driven by these numbers, we tend to forget that each number allegedly has a human being behind it, and it is connection with our fellow humans that is the true measure of success. It is better to have a few “real” fans than it is to have a multitude of clicks that don’t really amount to connection with the work.

When measuring the “success” of our endeavors, whatever they might be, several important factors are often overlooked: does this work make you happy, are you doing / creating the things that you want to see exist in the world, do you enjoy the relationships that you have with the people you work with… These are the truly important questions, because if you are doing what you love, then you are successful, and if you are passionate about what you do others will eventually become interested and begin to share your passions. When we love what we are doing then it does not feel like work. When we enjoy the relationships that we have with the people we work with then we have made meaningful connections, and ultimately connection is the true measure of success. 

Another modern misconception about success is that it is related to celebrity, or that we should strive for fame as an indicator of whether or not we have “made it”. Many of us creative types are introverts, so the prospect of being a public figure is a horrifying one. But success and admiration are not the same thing. Think of the many amazing, important jobs in the fields of the arts that are not public facing: editors, copy editors, casting agents, engineers, graphic designers, videographers, etc. Without behind-the-scenes jobs like these the humanities would not flow, and they don’t have to be tied into celebrity to make them worthwhile or a success. And despite what your work may be you can choose to opt out of the public facing side of the work, it is a choice not a requirement. As long as the work remains satisfying you’re doing fine and people will find the work eventually. It is perfectly acceptable to avoid bohemian notions that the artist must be on display along with the art. The internet has caused this to seem like a requirement, but it is not.

Still, as creators we desire to know how people respond to our work and this is where connection comes in again. It can be difficult to feel like you are operating in a vacuum and the time it takes to earn an audience can feel lonely and long. It is important to remember that fans are earned one at a time, and that each one of these people is important – crowds after all are made up of individuals. The idea of smashing overnight success is propaganda created by companies like YouTube, incredibly rare, and seldom long lasting. In reality, it takes years to build an audience, and this is yet another reason you should use your happiness and love for the work as a barometer for success – it is going to take a while, so you should definitely be enjoying the ride. 

So, when trying to find your success remember that every individual that you encounter in context of your endeavor is important and should be treated with respect. Engage when possible, and only to your comfort level. Request fan mail, start a Discord server to speak with the audience, book a live event where you can meet people, respond to comments, connect in the ways that you feel comfortable with. You may not get along with everybody, but you will make friends along the way, meet interesting people, and hopefully love your life just that much more. Ultimately, how much we love our work is what makes us successful, and when we love our work that love will spread and grow. 

Jean-Paul L. Garnier

Jean-Paul L. Garnier lives and writes in Joshua Tree, CA where he is the owner of Space Cowboy Books, a science fiction bookstore, independent publisher, and producer of Simultaneous Times podcast. In 2020 his first novella Garbage In, Gospel Out was released by Space Cowboy Books and in 2018 Traveling Shoes Press released Echo of Creation, a collection of his science fiction short stories. He has also released several collections of poetry: In Iudicio (Cholla Needles Press 2017), Future Anthropology (currently being translated into Portuguese), and Odes to Scientists (audiobook - Space Cowboy Books 2019). He is a two time Elgin Nominee and also appeared in the 2020 Dwarf Stars anthology. His new collection of SF poetry, Betelgeuse Dimming has just been released and is available as a free download audiobook / ebook at He is also a regular contributor for Canada’s Warp Speed Odyssey blog. His short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in many anthologies and webzines.