In just over a week on October 15th, I will be addressing 200 women at the Women TIES retreat in Skaneateles, NY. Women TIES. I have to admit right here and now that I am more than a little daunted at the thought of giving advice to so many women forging new careers! In fact, when the founder of Women TIES, Tracy Higginbotham, asked me to speak, I was not entirely sure what I could offer. My career as a writer and editor still feels new, and if the winding road it’s taken thus far is any indication, I hardly have a road map for its future. Probably not the best advertisement for those of you who are considering attending. But that is the truth, and staying as close to the truth as possible is one of the guiding forces in my career and life.
Soon after I accepted this incredible responsibility, Tracy asked me to send her my thoughts on what I would talk about. I sat in my makeshift study after dropping my kids at school and stared at a blank screen. Not an unusual occurrence for a writer, but still… at the time, I was awaiting the publication of my second novel, Social Lives, and putting together my next two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I had just been in a little skirmish over the novel’s cover and was feeling as though all power over my career and my work had been lost. It appeared there was a great divide between how I saw my work and how my publisher wanted to present it to the world, and this left me consumed with doubt over my judgment, my perspective, and the body of knowledge I thought I had accumulated over the past several years from authors, editors and agents.
So what could I possibly say to other women facing the vast open territory of their own entrepreneurial ventures? Be afraid because this is the unknown? Listen to everyone but yourself because you’ve never done this before? Ignore your instincts because you might be wrong? As well as that surely would have gone over with women who had made time and traveled to the retreat, I was suddenly struck with another approach.
As I began to think about this winding road I’ve been on, the greatest obstacle by far can be summed up in two words: overcoming doubt. When I quit my job as a lawyer to take care of my first baby, it was there. Doubt. Something in my life was not complete but I knew I wanted to be home to raise my kids. When I decided to start writing with the distant dream of becoming an author, there it was again. Doubt. How could I become a writer with no formal training? How could I even think I would get published one day when everyone told me it was close to impossible? When I spent two years collecting rejection letters from agents, and then editors, it was there. Doubt. I had spent every precious free second away from my kids chasing this dream. Was it all for nothing? Had I wasted this time?
More years and a second novel later, I got a publishing deal. But that was not the end of this road. From jacket covers to PR to book events, there were decisions to make and doubt followed me through each of them. Good reviews, bad reviews, packed book stores, empty rooms …. conflicting advice from authors, agents, editors and friends. Another novel to write, each page a chance to be brilliant. Or not. Filling blank pages, wondering if anyone would get the things I placed upon them…
I was not an overnight success. Every inch of progress has been fought for with thought and hard work and sometimes luck. It has been two steps forward, one step back – and other times one step forward and two steps back. I have not accomplished all that I dreamed of ten years ago, and I often have trouble thinking of myself as successful as a result. Still, when I stop and think about it, what I do have is not so bad – two published novels, a film deal in the works, a new novel that’s incredibly fun to write, and a great editing gig with Chicken Soup for the Soul. Every day I get to do what I love – write, edit, connect with other authors and people from all walks of life. I get to think and create, and structure my day in a way that allows me to be there for my kids whenever and wherever they need me. Maybe this is success in and of itself.
So what will you learn by coming to Skaneateles, NY next week? When I think back on the journey that got me to this place, the little twists and turns in the road, I can remember with great clarity the doubt that existed and the methods I used to overcome it. I can recall every mistake I made from inexperience or misplaced trust, and what I learned from having made it. And I have gleaned some insights on how to balance rational caution and irrational fear when facing life as an entrepreneur.
Regardless of the field of work you have chosen, there exist some basic hurdles that we all have to face and it is my hope that hearing my story will help you do just that. See you in Skaneateles!