When I was a young fellow, sixteen or so, I decided that some day, I wanted to be a writer. That gelled when my eleventh grade English teacher, Mary Ann, found favor in a short story I wrote for class. She was gorgeous and I was a little geeky guy, and unexpectedly, all of a sudden, I had a skill that would impress a beautiful woman. Ho, Momma!
My ambition was mostly to be able to make a good living at it. Of course, I had those fantasies of being a New York Times bestseller, movies being made from my books, fame, fortune, all like that, but I couldn't get so attached to those fantasies as to put myself into full throttle for the trip–that is to say, that anything got between me and that pipe dream had to go.
I can admire people who have the dedication to let nothing stand in their way for their career, but I'm not them.
Yesterday, I had lunch with a guy who gets a million or two as an advance for his bestselling novels, and who has been doing so for a long time. I know another writer whose every novel for the last three decades has hit the #1 bestseller slot all over the world, and who gets Stephen King-level money. Both of them are smart, good people, and I much like them.
It would be a lie to say I wouldn't enjoy that level of sales for my stuff. But I don't begrudge either of them a penny. More power to them. I like them, I'm happy for them, and it really has nothing to do with me. If I could, I wouldn't swap lives with either of them. Fame and money are nice, but there are other things in life that are more important.
There's a verse from Desiderata, a great poetic piece written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920's:
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
That is about as good a piece of advice about work as I have ever heard.
Money won't buy you everything, though the old saw is that it will buy you a Rolls Royce and a pound of cocaine and two eighteen-year-old girls to help you enjoy 'em. And if that's what your heart desires, then the lack of money will be a problem. But if you have a relationship with a loving partner, your health, children who grow up to be good people? Impossible to put a price on those.