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A Little Happier: The Right Thing to Say to Someone Who Has Big Hopes.


I know, I talk so often about finding the right words for a difficult situation. I love hearing someone choose the right words.

And right now I’m giving myself a gold star because I’ve figured out a right thing to say in a tough conversation—and as is so often the case with the right words, they apply in many situations, and as is so often the case, they apply to me as much as they apply to other people.

Often I find myself talking to a fellow writer who's hopeful and anxious about a book that’s about to come out. I’ve had people say things to me like, “This book is my best shot at breaking out,” “I’ve worked on this book for ten years, it had better be well-received,” or “This book could change my career.”

Those are big statements, of big hopes. I’ve said things like that, myself.

I tell other people, and I tell myself, the same thing. “There are many ways for a book to succeed. It might sell a lot of copies. It might win a lot of critical praise. It might provide invaluable information to a small group of people who will benefit enormously. It could help you get a teaching job or speaking gigs. It might lead you to another project that you can’t foresee now. It might connect you to someone who will be important to your future. It might be a super-fun intellectual adventure, or something that’s crossed off your bucket list.”

And I remind myself, and other writers, we can only do our best, and then wait to see what the future holds. It doesn’t help to get overly focused on a single measurement of success, because in the end, we don’t have much control over what will happen.

There are many ways for a book to succeed. There are many ways for a college student to succeed. There are many ways for a vacation to succeed. Very often, there are many ways for a situation to be successful.

And this is comforting because it’s true.

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