Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram already know why I’ve been so quiet the last several weeks. Our family took a wonderful two-week holiday to central Alberta, mostly to visit family, but along the way, I did two book signings and then, Jason and I left our kids and our 7-month-old Husky puppy, Hiro, at my father's and went to a 4-day writing conference in Calgary.
What you probably don’t know is the behind-the-scenes adventure that happened that weekend.
Gearing up the facial muscles for the extreme smiling marathon that's about to commence at When Words Collide. Joining me in the word geekery this year is my partner in, well, most things. If you're at the conference and see him looking freaked out and overwhelmed, be sure to go over and say hello. If a little causes the problem, a lot should be the cure, right? @rokclimer73 . (Jk. He's way more extroverted than I am.) . #wwcyyc18 #whenwordscollide2018 #writersconference #besthusbandever #writerscommunity #writerslife #amwriting
For context, our boys are 15, 14, and 12, and are generally pretty responsible kids, but a couple of them are prone to bossiness. My dad still works a full-time job, plus has a part-time golf obsession/hobby, so we knew going in that the boys would be at his place alone a lot, but we weren’t worried. There were plenty of family and neighbours close by, and we were only ever a phone call away.
We didn’t expect them to need that phone call on the very first night.
Jason and I arrived at the hotel, settled in, had a fantastic happy-birthday-eve-to-me supper at the restaurant, and decided to take a walk to an ATM to pick up cash for the weekend. A block later, at about 8 p.m., my phone rang. It was Jude.
“Hiro found a porcupine,” he said.
Well. My husband and I have owned a lot of dogs jointly, but this is the first time any of them found a porcupine. We could hear the panic in the kids’ voices as we talked first Jude, then Jabin, then all three of them through what to do (with the help of the Internet). Jude estimated that there were at least 30 quills in Hiro’s snout and front paws, including one under his tongue (!). The first thing we said was,
“Don’t panic. Hiro will be fine. Stay calm, and you will be able to do this.”
And they did. They found the tools they needed to find, and between the three of them, they kept Hiro calm and pulled out every single quill.
At the end of it, Jason and I looked at each other and said, “Now they know that they can handle a crisis on their own.”
Okay, were they completely on their own? No. But if they hadn’t had us to call, they still had the Internet and, honestly, without that, I still think they would have managed just fine, though maybe with a little more panic.
For the most part, all we had to do was remind them to stay calm and take it one quill at a time.
The interesting thing about doing a book signing is that you are a captive audience for anyone who wants to come to tell you their life story.
Fortunately, I generally love hearing someone’s life story, because people are interesting and have a lot to teach me. Sometimes, they teach me by their kindness, generosity, and example of being an excellent human being.
And sometimes, they teach me how not to act at someone else’s book signing. ;-)
But the ones that break my heart are the ones that come and, shaking and fearful or offhand and jaded, tell me that they always wanted to be a writer (or, more often, they have actually started writing something], but can’t/never finished because [insert excuse here].
The excuses are many, and some of them might even be related to actual reasons, but most of them? They can be boiled down to one thing:
Too old? This isn’t a career in sports. There is no age limit on getting started. You may have limited your time for finding traction by waiting, but it’s not too late to start if it’s something you want to do.
Can’t find the time? Hmm. I’m pretty sure that each of us only has the same amount of time. The truth is, you have prioritized something else higher in your life, which might be the good and right thing to do. I’m not judging that. But you will never “find the time” until you take responsibility for how you use the time you currently have.
For many years, I prioritized raising my young family and homeschooling them over my career. And I owned it. When someone asked me about the musical that I was writing, I would say “That’s on the back burner for now. I’ll get to it when my kids are all in [public] school.” (I never intended to homeschool them through grade 12.)
And when that time came and I decided that I’d rather write prose than music for a living? I owned that, too.
Taking responsibility for your time is the first step to taking responsibility for your life choices.
However, many people who say they don’t have the time to write are simply using that as an excuse because they haven’t decided to do it. There is something holding them back, and most of the time, that something is fear.
Here’s a secret: We’re all afraid. Every person who succeeds at something has had to confront fear at some point to get to where they are.
Everything is scary until you get good at it, and sometimes long after. I once heard a rumour (which I’m totally not googling to confirm, so consider this a rare foray into gossip for me) that Hugh Grant pukes before nearly every take. That was only a few years ago, after he had already had a long and illustrious career as an actor.
The trick is to Work Afraid.
I haven’t written many books yet, but I can tell you that there is a little bit of fear that goes into each one. I’m taking risks in content, in putting myself out there, in investing a lot of time and energy into something I only hope other people will find valuable enough to pay me for—but they are the kinds of risks I feel I should take.
I took a risk to start pursuing a career in writing. Before that, I took other risks in business and in my personal life, and they usually paid off.
I came to recognize that feeling of fear that accompanied something I knew that I needed to do, but that was on the edge (or slightly beyond the edge) of my comfort zone.
I also soon recognized that Working Afraid was where the most reward could be found.
Every time one of these wistful people—not just writers, but anyone who tells me that they didn’t pursue their dream because [insert excuse here]—shares their story with me, I want to take them by the hand and say, “Don’t panic. Take it one step at a time. If you just start, you’ll get through this, and then you’ll discover that it wasn’t as scary as you thought. You’ll also know that you can do it again.”
Unfortunately, the voices in these people’s heads are usually louder than mine, the stranger who “doesn’t know me, so she can’t know what she’s talking about.”
I’ve had some natural advantages, but I’ve had a lot of disadvantages thrown at me. And I haven’t let them stop me.
And for every disadvantage you’ve had piled on you, there is someone out there who has had much worse handed to them, and they’ve still done what it is you want to do.
Prove me wrong. Go looking for someone in your field who has achieved success and has not overcome a huge mountain of adversity. If you can’t find anyone, I’ll probably tell you what I tell my kids when they can’t find any clean pants in their drawer when I seriously just finished the laundry yesterday are you kidding me—you aren’t looking hard enough.
But I bet that finding that person will actually be the easiest part of the research into your desired career.
The truth is, most people who achieve success in any field have had to overcome more challenges than anyone else. Yes, “lucky breaks” are a thing, but they are the rarest things. As the saying goes, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
I’d love to tell you personally—with either a gentle, confirming hug or a smack upside the head, whichever would be more effective in your case—that it’s time to forget the excuses. It’s time to take responsibility for your dreams. Think long and hard about what it is you really want.
Maybe you like the idea of success in a certain field, but you are not willing to put in the work. If that’s the case, stop saying, “I always wanted to, but…” Just stop.
Take ownership of what you really want, take responsibility for your reality now, decide if you want to change it, and what you are truly willing to do to do that. But no more excuses.
If you think about it and realize that what you really want is to be able to cozy up on your couch and watch Netflix five nights a week, and hang out with friends the other two nights? Well, sorry, you don't really want your dream. If you aren't at least willing to Work Afraid (or just plain work harder than anyone else you know), you are probably not ready to be an entrepreneur.
But if you decide you are willing to put in the work to achieve what you want, you need to embrace that fear. And once you start, you'll find that you're not truly on your own. There are others on this road, and they are willing to help you out, show you it's possible, and calm you down with a "Don't panic" now and then.
The problem is, if you’ve been letting your excuses hold you back, you will never know what you are or are not capable of doing.
Not until you try.