Lately I've been reading and thinking a lot about living a more organized and purposeful life, and one of the books that crossed my path was Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement (Ken Christian, 2002). Without going into a lot of angsty detail, I'll just say that I've felt like an underachiever ever since I graduated from college, oh, 15 years ago now. Reading this book was reassuring, because it helped me see my struggles as A) not that uncommon for someone with my personality and talents, and b) possible to overcome.
Basically, I'd gotten into a pattern where after I graduated I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do, or even how to know if I was doing it well, without the obvious measures you get in school (or that I might've gotten if I'd gone into a field with clear milestones, like academia or the military, where I could've pursued tenure or promotions the way I aimed to be valedictorian in high school or to graduate with honors from college). So I found jobs that paid the bills and told myself all kind of stories. I was "finding myself," and when I was 25 or 26, I felt like I had infinite time to weigh every possible option. Or I made a sort of virtue of staying out of the rat race, and once I got into my slacker pattern, I didn't try my best because it protected me from the possibility of failure.
In a way, this book was for people at the start of a journey I've already begun--finishing my first manuscript was a giant step away from my slacker past. Now that I'm on my fourth book, well, I still haven't reached the obvious success milestone of publication, but I've proven that I'm capable of working hard, using my talents, and finishing what I started. I needed the reminder that that's valuable in itself. Also, looking at my former self-defeating self helped me see how I got there, and how I might apply some of what I learned from finishing manuscripts to the rest of my life (and, for that matter, how I might take a more focused approach to my writing).