Today’s the big day that I announce my book. It’s not out yet. Not until May 22. But today is the day I put the photo of the book cover on the blog and tell you that you should pre-order the book. Yes. Please do that.
But what I’m really going to do today is tell you about career change. Because that’s what I did when I wrote this book. It wasn’t the kind of career change where I was a ballerina one day and a construction worker the next. I mean, I had been writing a weekly column for five years. So writing a book shouldn’t be a stretch after that.
But in fact it was a big stretch. Writing a book is very different from writing a column, and that was a problem.
After five years as a columnist, I was pretty confident in my ability to turn out a career tip in 600 words. So I waited until a month before the book was due, locked myself in a room, and threw together a book. Then I danced around my New York City apartment crowing about my brilliant authorship. For about four days. Until my editor got back to me with a hand-delivered letter that said, basically: This manuscript sucks.
So, maybe you think if you got that letter, you would immediately hunker down and fix things. But that’s was not so easy to do. I was used to my editors telling me how great my column is. How popular it is. How funny I am. You get used to being really good at something and you don’t really want to hear anything else. It’s hard to start over at something and be just a beginner.
So I spent about four months whining to my agent and saying I write how I write and I’m not changing it to pander to some editor and I think I’m just going to get a corporate job. I said that a lot – like, maybe twenty times.
This is what change looks like: kicking and screaming. Because change when everything is terrible looks like a great idea. But when things are going pretty well, change looks too hard.
The thing is that every time I imagined myself not writing this book, and going back to a corporate job, I got sad. I love writing so much, and I feel so lucky to be able to do this for my work. So, one day, when I was whining and complaining, my agent told me that if I didn’t write the book the way the publisher wanted they were going to dump me.
That was sobering. I did not want to be dumped. I didn’t want to go down in the book world because I was stubborn and difficult to work with. So I decided to write the book the way my editor wanted.
My editor, Diana Baroni, is good. She realized that I was being stubborn because I was scared to have to learn how to do something new. She was patient with me, and she even gave me an extra year to write the book.
Yep. You read that right. My book was a year late because that’s how much extra time I took to decide that I was going to learn to do something new. But it will come as no surprise to you that it was a great learning experience.
One of the biggest differences between writing a book and writing a column is that a book has to have a Big Idea. So the big idea for my book is that the new generation has ushered in a new workplace, and the old rules don’t apply. If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you’ll know that I write about this all the time. But in the book, it’s very organized.
Before I got my book contract, I didn’t really write about big ideas. The process of writing the book taught me how to think bigger. And, of course, Diana was very good at keeping me from writing a lot that is just about my life and only tangentially giving career advice. (Like this post, for example.)
So look, next time someone wants you to change what you’re doing, and you think it’s just a bunch of extra work because what you’re doing is fine, think about my book. How much it taught me about how to think bigger, and differently, and broaden the range of hurdles I can approach. You can do the same. If you can be humble enough to be a beginner again.