Years ago, when I was feeling bad about my lack of success as a writer, I made a timeline of my writing history to remind myself of how far I’d come. I don’t know where that timeline is now, or even what software I used to make it, but I do still find looking back at my journey gives me solid perspective on my success. Which is to say, even if I’m not where I want to be, I’ve come a long way down the road.

I’ve been writing for a long time, but my first “success” came as a fan fiction author. This was back when you had to submit stories to fanzines in the mail or (for the more advanced zines/editors) by computer disk. I’m no longer embarrassed to say that my work was popular; I even won a fan award. At the same time, I’m a little sad to think that my fan fiction is probably still my best known and most successful work.

In 2000, I had my first original works (two short stories) published in an anthology put out by my grad school. In 2004, I had a short story published in a magazine and a poem published in a fairly respected literary journal. But it wouldn’t be until 2012 that my writing career really got rolling. That was the year I had a short play produced (twice) and began self-publishing my first works.

From there and then, it’s been up and down. I’ve won a screenwriting award. I’ve had a few stories and books published by online journals and small publishers, and I’ve self-published a few more of my own. My short play was turned into a short film that was shown at a film festival in San Diego. I’ve been a guest author at a conference, and I’ve given a talk on writing at my local library. I try to remind myself that there are writers who wish they could be even this far in their careers. That, to many, I’m “successful.”

Success, after all, is a personal metric. For some, it’s marked by making a certain amount of money. For others, it’s about awards and recognition. For still others, it’s about selling x number of books and/or making it onto a list. The benchmark is different for everyone, and it can change, too. It seems like the goal posts are always moving, and that once we reach one level, we’re never happy with that—we always want more.

And that’s fine. It’s okay not to settle, and it’s okay to want it all, so long as we take a moment to 1. recognize how far we’ve come, and 2. realize we may never have everything we want. Keep writing and pursuing those dreams, but don’t pin all your worth and happiness on achieving them. That’s a sure way to go through life feeling like a failure, and that’s just depressing.

I’m fortunate in that I have kids who are very proud of me and like to announce that their mom “is a published author.” It does help to have a built-in cheering section. Be sure to get the support you need, if not from family, then from friends and fellow writers. And from readers and fans once you have them! They can see you through the down days and remind you of just how far you’ve come and how successful you actually are.