The day my book came out, I spent the afternoon under my duvet watching Friends re-runs. Friends is my comfort TV, it’s what I watch whenever I fly, when I’m feeling down or when I’m just experiencing a mess of emotions that I can’t quite put my finger on. If I’m watching the gang hang out in Central Perk, chances are that I’m not feeling too perky.
Don’t get me wrong, it had been a great day. I ate adorable cupcakes with the book cover on them for breakfast, so many flowers arrived at the house that I had to find makeshift vases and I didn’t even notice that the launch party was over Zoom because I was having so much fun. My inbox and DMs filled with messages about how proud I must be of my accomplishment. Of course, I was (still am!) but I was also relieved that it was over. Put simply, I felt flat. And so, under the covers on publication day, I tried to quash the question looming in the back of my mind: “Now what?”. And, even more shamefully, “Was that it?”.
I’m fully aware of the chorus of tiny violins playing to the sound of me talking about feeling meh on the day my first book was published. But I’m also capable of holding conflicting truths at the same time, as I’m sure you are, too. Those opposing realities are both big (I’ve had an amazing professional year while the world suffered through a devastating pandemic) and also small (I’m proud of writing a book and also flatlined by it).
Thankfully (!) there’s a term for what I’m going through. Arrival fallacy. I first became aware of it when the journalist A.C. Shilton wrote about it for the New York Times a couple of years ago. After wrapping up production on “The Innocent Man”, a Netflix docu-series about two wrongful murder convictions, she deflated. “A few days later, I sat in my truck and cried,” she wrote. “An empty work schedule yawned before me, and I was sure that my most meaningful achievement was in my rearview mirror. This wave of hopelessness has a name: I was experiencing arrival fallacy.”
Tal Ben-Shahar, the author and organisational behaviour expert, coined the phrase in his 2007 book, Happier, to describe the (false) belief that achieving our goal will bring us lasting happiness. It’s a quietly radical idea because it flies in the face of the hard work narrative so many of us have bought into. Namely, hustle harder and everything in your life will work out for you. Well, I hustled pretty hard to get this book out into the world and everything didn’t work out. Because here’s what I’ve realised: I thought that by the time my book was published the pandemic would be over.
I pitched, sold, wrote and published during lockdown. I’ve never met my editor in real life. When I signed my book deal and we talked about lead times, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d been hosting an in-person event for the launch party. For me, publication day was going to happen in our new future, when the world would be whatever newer, better version of it we were going to create. That day arrived and my hope for it turned out to be a fallacy. And so, I felt weird.
I was struggling to wrap this post up when I realised that’s because there is no neat conclusion to it. And rather than forcing one, I’m going to push back on the trope that all writing on the internet needs to end on an uplifting note. Instead, I’ll leave you with a recommendation for something that helped me: listening to Dr Susan David on the Dare to Lead podcast talk about the granularity of emotions. We talk about feeling “good/bad/happy/sad”, when actually there are many more emotions on the spectrum. The deeper we can drill down into them, the richer our emotional vocabulary becomes and the better we can process difficult feelings.