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What’s your definition of success?

Let’s say you’ve been working on a project. It’s been a long road, but you’ve kept your head down and kept gutting it out, moving forward. You’re primary goal is to make progress and you’re doing that, but…

Have you asked yourself this question: What does success look like?

What happens when the work is done? Maybe it’s a garden or a plan to be debt-free. How does that work into your plan for long-term success?

But wait…

I was talking to my son about the publication of my first novel on May 31. It’s a big win for me. I thought, “Yep. That’s success for me.” (See The finish line and other wondrous moments)

Then he asked, “What’s your goal? How many books do you want to sell?”

I was like a deer in headlights.

Hmm. I hadn’t actually thought about it.

Do X number of books sold equal success for me? I didn’t think so, but if that doesn’t what does?

It got me thinking: How do I measure success?

One story of success

You may have heard of Stephen King, author of horror/suspense books, many of which have been made into movies, like It and The Dark Tower. Well last week, he posted a short story on Instagram in advance of his new book, The Outsider. In 4 days he had 63,760 likes and 1,448 comments.

Whoa. I don’t know much about marketing and such, but I’d say he’s a successful guy and that was a successful post.

Even though I’m not a fan of his fiction, I love his book On Writing. It’s part memoir, part writing lesson and I recommend it even if you aren’t interested in writing.

A little bit of what he covers in the book: He’s

  • been writing since he was a kid
  • written and published dozens of books
  • been married since right out of college
  • a recovering alcoholic
  • was a high school English teacher when he sold his breakout novel, Carrie. He says of that time, “If I ever came close to despairing about my future as a writer, it was then.”

And here’s something else about Stephen King:

  • Legend has it that he writes every day. Still. Every day. His birthday. Christmas.
  • He’s a generous guy. The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation helps writers and various organizations in their home state of Maine.
  • You’d never know he’s wealthy by looking at him. He looks like a regular guy, doing appearances in a t-shirt and jeans.

So, sure, his is the far-out, wildest dreams kind of vision of success even he couldn’t have dreamed of.

It doesn’t happen for everyone.

A different story

When I was in Italy, my daughter and I took a trip to Nove, a town known for ceramics and home of the famous La Ceramica VBC.

I was looking for pottery, the hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind stuff. We wandered into a dusty, unpolished ceramics shop that looked promising. The owner’s name was Giovanni and he spoke English. He had the kind of pottery I was looking for.

It turns out Giovanni is an artist. His work is beautiful, but it was hard to tell because it was lost in a mix of other styles he said most people looked for.

Ceramic bowl. Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on

Unfortunately, health and money problems have made it difficult for him to stay in business. When I asked if he sold his work online, he waved off the idea and shook his head, like it was out of the question.

Giovanni’s work is extraordinary, but no one knows about it. He’s a gifted artist, but not a good businessman.

Ceramic bowl. Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on

My takeaways from these contrasting stories of success:

Adapt, but don’t quit. Work through the rough periods.

Stephen King has had his struggles, including alcoholism and suffering life-threatening injuries when he was hit by a speeding van. He kept going.

Even if Giovanni closes his shop, I hope he figures out a way to keep going. There may be a better way.

Find your style, then focus on that.

Early on, Stephen King had to ignore people, including teachers, who told him he was wasting his talent writing his brand of horror/suspense.

Giovanni had what I was looking for and I thought the other more commercial stuff distracted from his amazing work.

Be authentic.

It’s exhausting trying to fit some one else’s mold of who you are and what you should be doing. No, there’s only one Stephen King and I’m not him. And there’s only one me and he’s not me, and there’s only one you and we’re not…. You get the idea.

But the question remains: How do you define success?

You may have heard the phrase: “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

As you can see from these contrasting stories of success, it’s not that simple.

We each have to decide for ourselves and it’s an important question, even though there’s no easy answer.

What’s my definition of success?

  • Keep writing and publishing.
  • Find my audience.
  • Be authentic and honest.
  • Keep things in perspective. My work is important, but it’s meant to support life, not the other way around. (Insight by Stephen King)
The finish line and other wondrous moments

The finish line and other wondrous moments

Well, of course my big news this week is that my book is published. Actually published.

Yes, self-published, or as I’ve learned is a more accurate term — Independently Published. (In case you missed it, you can go to my book page here.)

At my desk holding my preview print copy of “A Song for Jessica”

I noted last week that, in my mind, until I get to the finish line (published work) I haven’t really done anything. (Click here to read about celebrating milestone accomplishments.)

Well, I made it to the finish line.

And it hit me, almost knocked me over in fact and actually did bring me to tears, as I was updating my book’s webpage with a link to Kobo and I clicked the “Preview now” button.

I was able to read the first chapter of my book, this story I’ve worked on and fussed over for the past 18-months was there. That made it real like never before.

Something happened

There was something very surreal in that moment.

It was the realization that my work is out there, that it’s not just for me anymore.

And then I clicked the “Preview” and my book loaded. There it was. My character, my novel (the story I wrote!).

It was one of those surreal moments of accomplishment, relief, euphoria, and absolute satisfaction, one of those moments you almost can’t describe.

It’s like seeing your child for the first time. One second he’s in your womb, the next moment he’s in your arms. There’s no way to adequately explain the power of the moment. But I think you know what I mean. 

This whole thing is like having a child in another way too. It’s like being a mother who adores her child and wants everyone to notice how great he is. Some people may think he’s amazing, but some people may think he’s nothing special.

She’s got to be okay with that.

For me, as much as I’d love for everyone to love my book, some may, some may not.

I never really believed I’d be okay with that, but somehow I do now.

Maybe it’s because I did what I said I wanted to do. I reached my goal. I’ve written and published a novel. Will it get good reviews?  How many will I sell? Who’ll play the lead role in the movie? : )

But for now…

For the moment, this wondrous moment, none of that matters.

It’s like finishing a marathon with a very slow time. It doesn’t matter. I crossed the finish line.

Time to celebrate? Definitely.

Do you know what I’m talking about? If you’d like to share a wondrous moment I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Click here to read a short synopsis of A Song for Jessica. Available for pre-order now!

Why it’s important to celebrate milestone accomplishments

Why it’s important to celebrate milestone accomplishments

Over lunch the other day, my husband asked, as he often does, about where I am in the process of publishing my book.

I’d been learning about book cover design, format specifications, pricing, distribution, and much more about self-publishing. There was so much to learn.

The process had been tedious and overwhelming at times. I joked, “And I thought writing a book would be the hard part.”

He said, “That was hard. It was a huge accomplishment.”

I gave him a look that must have said, “Yeah, but….”

Meaning, yeah, but I’m still not done. Until I get it out into the world, it’s still a work in progress and I haven’t really done anything.

He says he can’t read my mind, but I think he did because then he said, “You’ve come a long way. What are you doing to celebrate your accomplishments?”

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on


His question caught me off-guard. When I finished my first draft March 2017, we celebrated with a special dinner and he bought me a congratulations plant, but that was over a year ago.

Now I’m nearly ready to publish and get it out into the world. I’m almost to the finish line. And in my mind, until it’s published I haven’t really accomplished anything.

“I haven’t done anything,” I said.

He disagreed. “You’ve done a lot to get you to this point. It’s important to celebrate your accomplishments.”

My husband manages projects for a living and he’s very good at it. He explained that one of the ways to continue positive momentum in a project, especially a long, tedious, labor-intensive one, is to celebrate the milestones along the way.

It’s a way to reflect on what you’ve learned and how far you’ve come.

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Of course, he has a point.

There’s so much to learn and so much to do. It can be overwhelming at times.

I can see how even a small celebration before pushing forward to the next step can help refresh the spirit. If nothing else, it helps to recognize the incremental growth and progress toward the end goal.

And big projects (training for a long run, losing X amount of weight, starting a business, finishing school, and the like) don’t happen all at once. They’re done incrementally, little by little.

Little by little, a little becomes a lot. Tanzanian Proverb

We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, Valentines Day and Star Wars Day. Why not make a point of celebrating our personal growth and accomplishments?

Makes sense to me.

I believe it’s important to trust the process.

So, I resolve to make celebrating accomplishments an important part of my process.

Thanks to my husband for the lesson and, as always, recognizing and supporting me and my accomplishments even when I don’t.

Related posts:

Dream of the finish and then get started

Strive for progress not perfection

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Wayside altars in Italy

One of the things that stood out on my recent trip to Italy is the Catholic influence in culture. Catholicism is by far the dominant religion in Italy, of course. Many of the famous artistic masterpieces are religious in nature, such as The Statue of David and the Sistine Chapel.

And, of course, people flock to Italy from all over the world to see these amazing masterpieces.

But wayside altars were an unexpected treasure.

Catholic influence

Of course, these types of shrines can be found in many places, not just in Italy, but they seem fairly common here. Maybe it’s simply another indication of the huge Catholic influence in the country.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on
This one reminded my husband and me of the tree where Boo Radley left “gifts” for Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird.

They’re often near shops or restaurants. This one’s beside a parking lot.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on
Near a ceramic shop in Nove, Italy

The altars may commemorate an incident that took place there. Maybe the location holds some personal significance to the person who erected it.

Or maybe they’re meant to honor Jesus, The Virgin Mary, and/or a Catholic saint.

No matter the reason, I found them interesting and beautiful. And Italian.

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Italian wayside altar


Interested in reading more about Italy, readRiposo (a time for afternoon rest) is a serious Italian tradition