by Kheryn Callender
I’ve been feeling a lot like the “Expectations vs. Reality” meme. I had a crazy-ton amount of expectations for what my life would be like once I was a published author:
- I would have enough money to pay off all of my student loans and continue to live in, and maybe even buy an apartment in, New York City.
- I would finally find my sitcom-worthy group of tightknit author friends who would throw amazing parties every weekend (everyone would be invited), and would end up on my acknowledgments page.
- After pouring my heart into my words, my soulmate (or, at the very least, future partner) would read my books, understand me more than I understand myself, and we would fall in love.
None of these things happened, of course, or I wouldn’t be writing about the topic of expectations vs. reality. I drained my bank account on rent and had to move to a new city, and I had a few emotional breakdowns over feeling isolated in the author community. If my future partner has read my books, they haven’t reached out to me yet.
Becoming a published author has been my dream for the past ten-plus years. What do I do now, when I’ve reached my dream, but it isn’t what I expected? I’d always been so motivated, constantly yearning for my money/friends/soulmate goals. Now that I see reality on the other side of being a published author, I’m finding it harder to keep going—harder to find my motivation. I’d had a fulltime job before, but was so determined to make my dreams come true that I’d wake up at four in the morning just to write; now that I’ve left New York, I’m writing fulltime for the first time in my life, but I spend most of my day binge-watching The Real Housewives instead of brainstorming ideas for my next ten novels, as I might’ve done once upon a time.
I don’t want to appear ungrateful. I had two books come out in my debut year, have four more on the way, have gotten multiple starred reviews, and a few other things I could humblebrag about. But even with these achievements, I’m not happy. Even with these achievements, I’ve had multiple breakdowns, and have returned to states of my clinical depression many times. I’ve had to take a long, hard look at myself—at the things I want, why I want them, and what makes me happy.
I’ve realized that writing and storytelling is in my blood. I don’t think that’s something I’ll ever be able to stop doing, and I’m grateful that people are willing to pay for my words enough that I can put a roof over my own head, whether it’s in New York City or not. But I’ve realized that I can’t expect the results of my writing to bring me happiness. I see now that the only thing about writing that can bring me happiness is the act of writing itself: the joy in telling stories and dreaming up worlds and bringing characters to the page, of sharing pieces of myself and my own truths to the world. I have to stop expecting my writing to bring me anything more than that.
It’s interesting that I’m writing this post from my home in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands. It’s the first time I’ve been home in two years, when I would normally come back at least once every year for the holidays. Coming back home this year was scary. It’s the first time I’ve been back since I started my physical transition and came out as trans, and the islands haven’t been very accepting of the LGBTQIA community. A part of me thought I’d be run off the island by a mob with pitchforks. Instead, the opposite happened: I’ve been welcomed, loved, and accepted by family. I’ve sat down and chatted with people I haven’t seen in years. I’ve walked into the saltwater of the sea, closed my eyes, and just breathed. The Miranda Lambert song, “The House That Built Me” has been playing over and over in my head: You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can/I got lost in this whole world and forgot who I am.
I’m seeing myself with a clarity I didn’t have in the states. I’d made writing and becoming a published author my entire world, my entire reason for existence, because I thought it would bring me happiness. I can see now that becoming a published author isn’t what will make me happy. I don’t know what that path to happiness looks like. I don’t even know if it actually involves money/friends/soulmate goals, or if those things tend to come as a result of happiness, or if I’ll never have any of the three at all. But my new focus on mental health and self-care has me starting a new list of goals:
- I’ll keep writing, because I love writing, regardless of how much money I make.
- I’ll reach out to people who aren’t just authors or in the publishing industry, and try to find a community where I feel accepted. It’s been a hard lesson to not try to force myself into groups, and to go where I feel wanted.
- I will, at the risk of sounding incredibly corny, not rely on a soulmate to find me; I’ll focus on reaching out to, and loving, myself. (Ugh, God, that was painfully corny, but also true, so, *shrug*.)
What else is on my list of goals? Therapy, a gratitude journal, more therapy, and staying off social media are on the horizon. Staying off social media is a biggie, actually. Getting pulled into the world of proving my happiness and success to strangers hasn’t been healthy, and it’s difficult to stay peaceful when suddenly I have access to other people’s opinions on my books, and on myself. Meditation, and learning more about my spirituality. Exercise, eating better, the usual. Finding hobbies, something fun that has nothing to do with writing; finding part-time jobs, something that can help me not rely on only my writing to make ends meet. I’ll probably make an effort to come back home to St. Thomas more often, and not just during the holidays. I’ll explore my new city, Philadelphia. I’d been angry and bitter that I couldn’t afford to live in New York City anymore, but the truth is, I wasn’t enjoying my time there, and I love Philly—love this new adventure I’m on. I’ll keep watching The Real Housewives, but in smaller doses.
I’ll probably always still want those original goals I’d hoped becoming published would bring: money/friends/soulmate. Who wouldn’t? But those goals aren’t a part of my expectations anymore. I’m slowly learning to stop dreaming about my expectations, and start enjoying my reality.
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