From a pure workhorse perspective, one of the most impressive things I did last year was write a 75,000 word Edit Your Life book draft during the first three months of shutdown. And one of the most depressing things was the emotional rollercoaster associated with that book going nowhere.
Yes, my timing was abysmal. (I finished working with a book coach and started pitching the polished book proposal the week before shutdown. Once the reality of the pandemic set in I stopped pitching and decided to see if I had it in me to write a book draft while I waited. I then resumed pitching in the summer.) But what ended up being the worst was that the two agents I connected with on the phone were both Asian (meaning, it felt symbolic in terms of solidarity and representation) and then they both ended up fucking with my head. The first agent told me I wasn't enough in terms of platform size (really, couldn't they communicate that via email?). The second told me they wanted to work with me and asked for some significant next step actions, which I delivered within a week, and then they proceeded to GHOST ME.
I mean, what the actual fuck? Professional adults ghost? Be a grownup and just tell me you're no longer interested! (And yes, I did troll their internet profiles to determine they were alive and still working.)
As I approached the end of 2020 I found myself dreading the new year because I knew it was reckoning time; I needed to decide whether or not to pursue the Edit Your Life book because the experience with the two agents had messed with my head so significantly that I felt bad and uncertain about myself constantly, even when other good things were happening in my life. Ultimately, after analyzing my professional landscape and realizing hello, you have everything you need I decided to put the Edit Your Life book in a parking lot. I realized I was taking things too personally and letting two strangers (of questionable communication capacity) dictate my purpose and actions. I could feel the emotional weight coming off of me as I removed due dates for book-related action items from my to-do app.
I decided instead that my central goal for 2021 would be to improve and refine the projects I already have going. And that I wanted to finally get serious about a longstanding intention that I have thought about repeatedly, but done absolutely nothing about: to write something worthy of publication in a major media outlet. I set a goal that seemed both doable (because it was numerically small) and daunting (because I know so many talented writers): to attain one major byline in the year 2021.
And here's a very important thing I want to share to normalize the shine you see on other people's success and any self-doubt you may have along the way: There is always a lot going on behind the scenes. Goals don't just magically happen. Intentions require attention and vulnerability. You need to be honest about what you want in the world. You need to be OK with rejection and criticism. You may need to come to terms with the fact that you don't know what the fuck you're doing. But vulnerability can also open different doors – internal and external – you never, ever imagined.
The first step in my vulnerability journey was to ask for help from a few writer friends to figure out the basic mechanics and etiquette of pitching. I literally had no idea what the fuck I was doing, which I am totally fine admitting, but asking for help is definitely not my strong suit. And then once I had what seemed like a good idea for the first thing I wanted to write, I just started writing. As my words gained strength on the page, I asked a trusted colleague whether she would be willing to read what I wrote, and -- if she thought the work was good enough -- introduce me to her editor. OMG this required a ton of vulnerability because I was putting myself out there, yes, but also putting a potential burden – if they thought the piece sucked – on someone I respect.
That moment of vulnerability led to some incredible things. Most immediately, once I let go of the emotional burden of the Edit Your Life book and just started writing, I rediscovered the pure joy of writing -- that stirring in the chest when a narrative comes clearer into view, the need to scrabble for a pen and paper when an idea or turn of phrase comes to you after you already snapped off the light to go to bed, the deep, nerdy satisfaction associated with crafting a compelling sentence…and the hope that is the unifying thread through everything I do: that my words might help people feel more seen and less alone. Those moments are pure magic for a writer and I was so grateful to feel that glow.
It turned out my colleague thought the article I wrote was strong and happily brokered the introduction. My first pitched piece ended up becoming my first major byline on why working mom deserve to tantrum, for the Washington Post (and apparently the piece went kind of viral). That article caught the attention of a producer at BBC World News and led to a live segment. And while I was working on finishing up edits on the working mom tantrums piece with the Washington Post editor, I received an email from Boston Globe Magazine inviting me to pitch a piece for their forthcoming parenting issue (notably, the inbound ask I had always wanted but the universe didn't give me until I started putting attention on my intention). I pitched a topic I felt deeply passionate about but honestly wasn't really sure they would go for given that Boston is an academic hotbed. They said yes, and the article I wrote on letting go of metrics expectations during the pandemic school year and instead supporting your kids' life skills and self-directed passions ended up being the #1 most read article on the Boston Globe website the day it went live, and I ended up with my byline on the front page of the print edition yesterday. The Washington Post, BBC World News, and Boston Globe Magazine all invited me to pitch future ideas.
Now back to my point about there being a lot going on behind the scenes. All of this happened in February, a month where I have also experienced next-level personal turmoil. The photo above is from just over a week ago, when I was in a very low place and spent a lot of time holding crystals, crying, and saying, “OK, universe, I hear you.” My point is, anyone who looks like they have their shit together is probably falling apart at times, and that is OK. We humans are complex. Experiencing incredible professional highs in tandem with personal lows has helped me focus on empathy and compassion. I let go of the grudge I was holding against those Asian agents. They are two data points in a notably finicky industry and who knows what the hell was going on with them personally or professionally when they burned me? I don't need an explanation. I'm here for the growth.
A final note on vulnerability: I started drafting this essay in January and I kept not finishing it, partially because life was brutal this past month but also because at some level I think it was very hard for me to say out loud, “Oh hey! I wrote a book and it went absolutely nowhere! I failed!” So sharing this story with you is where I come full circle to say what I have always believed deep down: that every step and every effort leads to the next thing, whether the trajectory seems logical or not and whether you are riding the struggle or celebrate bus. Certainly my path from neuroscience to the internet was not logical. And this journey of putting the Edit Your Life book in the parking lot and putting loving, thoughtful attention on my byline intention has opened up new paths, opportunities, and glimmers of what might manifest in the future. I'm OK with not knowing what's coming; I'm focused on the now.
See you here next time.
Until then, I hope you find space to be vulnerable.
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