So this is going to be a very personal post. This week I am celebrating the 10 year anniversary of my business, WeGrowMedia. A decade of working with thousands of writers and creators. Of learning how to support my family through this company. Of writing and publishing hundreds newsletters and podcasts. Of so many little successes, failures, and an unending process of learning.
I have been fortunate to have a decade of success, and my business has been doing well. I am working with so many writers every single week, and I’m grateful for every moment of it.
Starting my company was a big risk. Ten years ago, my job of nearly a decade was ending and my wife and I were about to have our first child a month later. The safe thing to do would have been to look for another corporate job in publishing, and for my wife to have gone back to work as an art teacher after the baby was born. But that’s not what we did.
Instead, I learned how to work from home, helping writers to grow their author platforms, launch their books, and make creativity central to their lives. My wife briefly returned to her job to finish out the school year, but then quit her tenured teaching position at the bottom of the recession.
We weren’t trying to embrace risk. Rather, we were embracing our vision for the life we wanted to lead.
It is bizarre to look back on that 10 years later and know what happened, as if I skipped to the middle of a book.
Since that time, I have had the immense honor to work with writers each day. My life is filled with those who create.
A decade ago I recorded a video where I shared my feelings of what the moment felt like, of leaving a corporate job to go out on my own. After spending years in a gray cubicle, I said:
“It feels like I can take chances again. I can be bolder, I think. I’ll have failures and will just start again.”
It’s amazing to consider this person who was not yet a father. This photo sums up the moment of transition perfectly. In front of me are the papers I am signing that formalize the ending of my employment. To the right are the stacks of thank you cards from my wife’s baby shower:
While I am celebrating the success of this venture, I’m also considering the journey. How my path as a creator is like everyone else’s: filled with impostor’s syndrome, comparisonitis, confusion, and anxiety.
Today the work I do feels so closely aligned to who I am. Every year of the last decade has been full of change, but it has all led me to a place of greater clarity.
When I recently interviewed Jarrett Lerner, he shared this quote from Walter Dean Myers that I have been thinking a lot about:
“In Walter Dean Myers’ memoir, Bad Boy, he talks about the best writing advice he ever got. An older author told him to look at his career and stop worry about this paragraph of this book, this page of this book, and stop worrying about this one book. Step back every now and again and think about your career.”
I’ve talked about my Clarity Card process recently , and I’m going through that process, considering this: “What do I want to create in the next 10 years?” I’m not thinking about products I want to create or milestones I hope to reach, but rather as experiences and moments I want to be a part of. The people I hope to engage with, and the conversations that will fill my life. I’m thinking of how I spend my days, and the transformation that is possible.
But I do realize that milestones are important. Just this week a couple of writers I know release books. One of my clients, Leigh Stein saw the publication of her new novel, Self Care: A Novel. She and I have recorded a couple of podcasts on her launch process here and here .
I was emailing with Leigh this week after she shared that an essay she wrote went viral, with more than 145,000 views and a lot of engagement. Amazing, right? But behind the scenes, it felt the opposite to Leigh. This is how she described the feeling of writing the essay:
“You would think that writing five books would inoculate me against conscious incompetence, but to be honest, the practice of actually sitting in my chair and writing the thing I’m supposed to write doesn’t get any easier just because I have the external validation of the publishing industry. I’ve been working on an essay all weekend that’s due tomorrow and the thought that keeps going through my head is, I don’t know how to write!!! It’s imposter syndrome. It’s the nightmare where you’re back in high school and you have to give a presentation but you haven’t prepared anything. I’m giving myself the same advice I’d give another writer. Just write a bad draft and fix it later. Just write something. ”
Once she submitted the essay, her fears only grew:
“When my editor didn’t get back to me for a few days, it seemed to my anxious mind like further proof my fears were true: it really was badly written, it wasn’t what she wanted, she was just trying to find a nice way to tell me. I checked my contract to see what the kill fee was.”
Can you imagine that? Here she is writing an essay that will go viral, that thousands of people will love. That her editor loved. But even after all of Leigh’s experience writing and publishing, it still wasn’t easy, and she didn’t know that this was the piece that would go viral.
That resonates with me so much as I think about the thousands of decisions I’ve made in the past decade. We don’t know what will lead to success, but we know that intentional effort and risk is required.
I talk to so many writers who are trying to find a way to break into various aspects of publishing. Leigh has an incredible network in media and has written so many essays in notable publications. Yet this is how she described the process of pitching:
“Pitching essays related to your book is a big part of the book promotion machine. Between April and June, I pitched 20 stories. Ideas about Coronavirus that seemed timely and relevant in April were completely irrelevant by May. Two of my pitches were accepted—then one of those two was killed.”
I share this here to illustrate that this is work that one needs to show up for day in and day out. Leigh is amazing. She is successful and will continue to be successful. Because she shows up to do the work.
This week I shared my interview with Marcus Whitney. He has a new book out called Create and Orchestrate, and he said something to me has been bouncing around my mind all week: “You have to shift from consuming to creating.” In our chat, Marcus talked about how he has been going through a major health reset in the past year and half. This too was another reminder that no matter how much you create, how much you accomplish, you always need to work on the foundations. You always need to go back to the well and find your clarity and source of inspiration.
What he shared is a reminder that we are always in transition, and with that comes incredible opportunity to feel clarity in who you are, and what you can create.
As I considered the last 10 years, I wanted to be reminded of the place I was in July of 2010. The company I had worked for was closing down, and I was one of the last employees left. In the final days, I went back into the office to take photos of the place I had spent nearly a decade working with writers and publishers.
I worked with people from across 40+ magazine brands, including the amazing staffs of Library Journal, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.
This is what transition looks like:
Row after row that look exactly the same, but was someone’s professional home for years. In each of these tiny gray cubicles, someone spent 8 to 12 hours a day for years and years:
This was someone’s work:
This was my office for a period of time:
And this is the library of back issues of Variety, one of the magazines we published:
Here is a random page I opened to as I reflected on leaving the company. Looks like it was from sometime in the 1950s or 60s — famous names promoting themselves, and news of deals:
On that page is an ad for the legendary Cab Calloway promoting his show in New York. An ad for Bill Haley and His Comets available to play shows. An article about Harry Belafonte, and another focusing on Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lionel Hampton playing a show in Atlantic City. I mean, can you imagine this?
That was a moment of time which is now gone. Just like those gray cubicles, which likely many people have moved in and out of in the past decade.
This cartoon was posted in the kitchen in the office, and it perfectly encapsulates so much of my decade at that company:
It is a barnyard full of animals talking to each other, and one says, “That’s not what I heard. I heard they’re keeping the pig and getting rid of five chickens.”
It is meant to show how when working at the company, there were constant rumors of layoffs. Even in this “safe corporate job” we were always in transition. Always on the cusp of not being allowed back into the building. Always working towards one transition, or reorienting ourselves after another.
And this is the place that I look back on 10 years, and look ahead 10 years. This is me now, earlier this week in my studio:
I am in transition. We are always in transition. And with that comes responsibility and opportunity. To wake up each day and create.
Thank you for your incredible support this past decade.