What does success mean to you? You’ve probably thought about it before. Whether you thought you’d be happier spending more time with your family, getting healthier, getting a promotion and earning more money, or by turning your creative passion into your career. In this time of enormous change, let’s look at redefining success for the here and now.
The (Previous) Plan
Plans. We love them. Even if it’s just planning a holiday. We like making order out of chaos. That’s why we tell stories.
So there’s a fair chance you not only dreamed about what you wanted to change in your life but were actively making plans and taking steps towards making it happen. Whether it only amounted to a new year’s resolution to eat less chocolate or you had a whole year’s plan mapped out and broken down into manageable monthly goals (confession: that’s me).
You were doing so well, There was a plan. You knew what you wanted to achieve and you were working towards it.
Up In Smoke
And then it all came crashing down. A world-wide pandemic is with us and it feels like all your dreams and plans have gone up in smoke.
The train is not just derailed, it’s fallen to pieces and you have no idea if you can fix it or even when you’re going to be able to try.
If you’re a writer, it’s likely everyone is telling you how wonderful this is for you – how much time you have for your writing now that you’re stuck at home.
But in reality your anxiety is soaring as you worry about paying the bills because your freelance income has disappeared overnight, a loved one is ill, your elderly parents are self-isolating 300 miles way / the other side of the world and they can’t get groceries delivered (have you tried getting a delivery slot lately?!), you’re now trying to home-school / entertain / not kill your small (not always adorable) children.
If you’re being productive, getting stuff done, that’s brilliant. If you’re not, that’s ok too. Focusing is really hard right now and it’s not surprising when you think about it. It’s a shock to be told not to leave your house (and it’s backed up by legislation), to lose our right to do as we choose, when we choose.
And the scale of change is enormous. This wasn’t incremental but was sudden and shocking. People lost their livelihoods overnight. Reports of deaths started to soar.
That speed and scale of change can be paralysing.
The world feels uncertain and chaotic. Our old normals have disappeared and we don’t know when we’ll get them back. We nervously watch other countries and speculate about what might be next for us but we just don’t know.
And it’s no wonder we feel anxious when every news report opens with a daily death toll. Death and mortality have always been a part of our lives but never have they been foregrounded like this. Before this pandemic, on average in the UK over 1300 people died every day, but you didn’t turn on the news and hear that number day after day after day.
It’s frankly no wonder that at times you are barely managing to get out of bed, let alone create a masterpiece.
There’s a huge sense of loss and for many people this feels like grief, with its recognised stages:
- Denial and isolation
Everybody moves through these stages in different orders and timeframes. You can read more about the stages of loss and grief here.
Right now you might be feeling like hibernating or reflecting or escaping or connecting. And you might feel completely differently tomorrow.
Everyone’s experience of this will be different so don’t compare yourself with others. Instead, be honest with yourself about your own situation and feelings.
“Success” as a word originated in the mid-16th century and comes from the Latin word “successus”, from the verb “succedere” which simply means “come close after” – think “succession”. As Lesley Taylor points out in her article the definition of success as the accomplishment of a desired end came later. Success is any outcome, good or bad.
For most of us though, we’re tied to defining success as a good outcome – achieving something we wanted to achieve.
And that can still hold true, even in these challenging times.
We just need to adjust our expectations about what is achievable. To create new goals to match our new reality.
We’ve talked before at Script Angel about defining success not by other people’s reaction to your work (you cannot control whether your script gets optioned) but instead by the creation of the work itself. In this brilliant article our screenwriting coach Jay Harley advocates for aiming to collect rejections as a measure not of other people’s response but of your output.
Right now, that level of productivity might not be achievable.
So what is achievable for you, right here, right now? The key is to stay focused on what is within your control and what feels right for you.
It might be worth asking yourself a few key questions to help you redefine success and take steps to achieve it.
What are you enjoying doing right now? Be reflective, adapt to what actually feels good.
If you’re finding it hard to focus on progressing existing projects, spend time day-dreaming, imagine new ideas and new projects. Create worlds to escape into. Get something else into your head to distract you. Or try journaling to capture your thoughts and feelings.
If you’re not feeling creative at all, use this time to improve your learning. Be analytical about your craft – watch films/tv shows and read scripts. Or learn more about the industry – sign up to our newsletter and those from other reputable industry organisations like BAFTA.
Connect with other writers by joining our Screenwriting Hub or search for other writing communities online.
What do you need to stop doing? What drains your mental, physical, and emotional energy? What can you do to remove or deal with those things? For me, the answer was to only watch the news for thirty minutes each day – I watch the official daily briefing so that I know of any policy changes but am not bombarded with endless speculation.
What boundaries can you put in place to make this new reality work for you?
What things boost your mental, physical, and emotional energy? What can you do to increase those things?
What routines and rituals can you put in place to help you? I adjusted my work hours to get 3-4 hours done before the rest of my family got up, leaving me time to spend in the afternoon with my children.
Change coach Ali Davies has more great questions here.
Whatever you’re trying to achieve, however small, we’ve got advice from William Gallagher to help you get stuff done when you’re working from home, whatever that work might be.
Be honest with yourself about how you feel and what’s achievable for you in a day.
Be kind to yourself. These are extraordinarily tough, challenging times and you should be proud of yourself just for getting through each day.
Take baby steps. Can you carve out thirty minutes to yourself each day to think your writing? That thinking time is just as valuable as writing script pages.
Redefine what a mini-win is for you and celebrate it.
Success is whatever you choose to define it as. Whether your definition is unchanged but maybe your timeframe expectations are adjusted, or whether you’ve turned on its head what success really looks like to you, we wish you all the very best.