Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 27, 2013

When there is no end in sight, how do we define “success”?

I’m a writer. Writers feel a thrill of success at writing “The End” when we complete a manuscript. But what happens when there is no definable end to our effort? How can we get that thrill of success?

My three consuming passions—writing, genealogy, and now coin collecting—are all prime examples of activities that have no set “end.” There is no set-in-stone finish line for these things. One writing project always leads to another. One generation discovered leads to the next. And unless I become a billionaire, it will be impossible for me to collect every American coin that ever was minted (forget foreign ones!). So no matter how much you strive, how much you achieve, there will always be farther to go.

So how do I keep this knowledge that I will never be “done” from making these passions into activities of despair?

I define success differently.

After I began genealogy, it became obvious that this was a sprawling enterprise. I had to limit my goals, or become bogged down after just a few generations. So I decided to limit myself to direct-line only. I would record names and dates of siblings if I found them, but would not be concerned with who the siblings married or if they had children, etc. Only my direct-line ancestors. And I further set a goal that I felt I could attain in my lifetime: trace each line back to the moment when they came to America. Even this has proven a difficult task—especially for the female lines. But it is a reasonable goal.

I am new to coin collecting, but once I created a database of the coins I had inherited, plus what I already had, I had to decide what coins interested me most in pursuing. Coin collecting is not an inexpensive hobby, so deciding where to direct my money is important. Also, I will never be able to collect all the coins of the United States—in most cases every coin has at least 3 yearly variations. So I decided to choose coins that interested me, and try for as complete a set as possible of those coins.

As to writing, we all have ideas of success that are not totally within our control—get an agent, get a film deal, get on the New York Times best-seller list. I choose to set goals that I can control—finishing a project by a certain deadline, sending out a certain number of queries, reaching word-count or editing milestones. For me, success in writing is making my current project better than my last—upping my game and honing my craft. Hopefully, my focus on writing’s craft and work ethic will lead to other outward signs of success, like a contract or a popular seller.

So that’s how I make my passions fulfilling while knowing the goal-posts will keep moving—if goal-posts even exist. I choose goals that are attainable, reach them, then make new ones. That way, I can feel the thrill of accomplishment and triumph even though I can never stamp “The End” on it.

How do you define the elusive “success”?


  1. If I affect my readers hearts and thrill them then I’ve done my “job”.


    • That’s a great way to define success!


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