I’m not John Green, and I’m OK with that

John Green from Crash Ccurse
Mr. Stern! Mr. Stern! You were 16 when I was born? Man, you’re old! (Image capture from YouTube.)

John Green is living the life all writers dream of. This week, he attended the red carpet (or in his case, blue carpet) premiere of the major motion picture based on his award-winning, best-selling novel. He has been profiled on TV, hailed as a voice of a generation, and has millions of adoring fans around the world.

As a writer, I am proud of him. Writing has always been a tough gig, especially with all the changes going on in the publishing business. To see a fellow writer break out to achieve global superstardom makes me happy. It gives our field more public attention, and it creates opportunities for other writers.

But I must also admit that I am a little bit jealous of him.

John Green is living the dream I’ve had since I was 16, which was the year he was born. I’ve been writing professionally for over 30 years. Although I’m happy with the success I’ve had in my technical writing career, I’ve yearned to write a novel that would get at least a sliver of the success of The Fault in Our Stars. I haven’t, and I don’t know if I ever will.

And I’m OK with that.

I’ve learned that you have to focus on the experience, not just the outcome. If you focus only on the outcome, you’ll make yourself miserable. If you don’t achieve your goal, you’ll become bitter and take your frustrations out on your loved ones and yourself. And if you achieve your goal, then what? The tabloids are filled with the sordid morality tales of young people who reached success early and found they had no place else to go.

The experiences are what give life meaning and make the outcomes – whether they are positive or negative – worthwhile. I’ve had experiences I wouldn’t trade for all the blue carpet premiers and Time magazine profiles. Sometimes they are little things like enjoying a Chai McFrappe at a McDonald’s in Freiburg, Germany. Who knew that McDonald’s can produce truly delicious food?

One thing experience has taught me is that you don’t have to sell millions of copies to make a difference as a writer. If we can make a difference in someone’s life, even if it is only one person, we’ve done our job. I’ve had that experience before with an apology I wrote as a Little League president. If I never write a The Fault in Our Stars-level best seller, that letter proves to me that I am a successful writer.

I congratulate John Green on his experience, and I hope all of us find enjoyment in our experience too. And don’t forget to be awesome.