First of all, I hope everyone is having a happy and healthy holiday season. I am writing today because I want to touch base with you as we cross over into 2019, particularly because I’d like to share what was going on in 2018 (in my life) and how I expect to apply what I’ve learned going forward. I hope my insights may help you, too, especially if you are feeling criticized in your life or you are holding back on pursuing a dream.
Many of you know that I have two children (my son is now 5 years old and my daughter is 22 months old). I consider myself primarily to be a “stay-at-home” mom at the moment. I don’t work a normal, full-time job. When I’ve worked since my son was born, it’s been part-time as an adjunct professor on and off, when my schedule allowed (update: I’m taking a break from teaching for the foreseeable future to maximize my family and personal time).
I mostly spend my days preparing my son to go to school, dropping him off, taking care of my daughter during the day, picking my son up, helping with homework/reading, playing, cleaning my house, cooking, and anything-moms-typically-do type of work. My “off-hours” (namely when my kids are sleeping early in the morning or late at night), or on the weekends when my husband can help with the kids, are typically the only moments I can do anything else, and that usually means some form of writing or consulting-related work. Some of you have read my non-fiction books or have taken my online courses/coaching. If you’ve read or participated in anything I’ve done there, it was all prepared during those “off hours!”
The aforementioned writing/courses I started a few years ago were mostly borne out of a passion for helping people. Earlier this year my husband and I started a scholarship at my alma mater, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). It’s entitled: The Kardos and Jusino Family Annual Scholarship in Memory of John F. Pappetti, Sr. I’m very pleased that we started this scholarship in memory of my grandfather, someone who always encouraged my education. I mention this because around the time the scholarship was being set up, someone had asked me a number of questions about why or how I got started in writing. My initial response without even thinking was, “Because I would have wanted this advice years ago.” I truly think about what I didn’t know, especially in my early 20s, and wish someone had explained to me how to be successful. Note that I did receive some help and support from mentors and people who cared about me over the years, but I would have loved to read a few pamphlets or guides with a succinct framework years ago! Therefore, I wrote the book that would have resonated with the younger version of me.
When I first embarked on my author journey in early 2015, I had no idea where it would lead. At that point I didn’t even anticipate an online course or more than one book. I wrote Optimize for Victory on the heels of earning my Ph.D. and working in the chemical industry, mainly as a summary of what I had learned and thought could be most helpful for people to be successful. But embarking on that author journey opened up a whole new world to me outside of academia and industry. Soon I found myself following podcasts, YouTube, blogs, etc. of other authors as I became interested in the changing and evolving publishing industry. I learned quite a bit about marketing books, writing, and more. Despite being busy taking care of the household, teaching part-time, and a very difficult pregnancy (with my daughter; she turned out to be a very healthy baby but I needed to rest for nine months as we waited for her arrival!), I turned out three non-fiction books total, one major “premium” course and also a number of other courses within my own online school, not to mention that I learned how to create a website, etc., all stuff I never did before. Now, over the years on and off, I’ve ignored my own advice and suffered from “comparisonitis” — namely comparing book sales and reviews. Other non-fiction authors have either yielded more or less success than I have. But I’m happy to say I’m finally starting to get over worrying about what other people are doing, or even worrying about what people think of me (I have had to navigate many difficult discussions of what I’m “doing” now post PhD; I’m getting better about not worrying about what people think and standing behind what I want and my values, but it hasn’t been easy). I can do this if I follow the advice I provide in my own work: just focus on what I’m doing each day and only compare myself to the Lisa from the previous day. As long as I’m learning and improving, that’s all that matters, especially if I can help a few people along the way (readers or course participants).
I’ve talked about the growth mindset before, mainly because it’s something I have personally had to work on–I could relate to the pain some of my readers’ experienced about “not being enough” or not being “perfect enough” or things like that. If you are struggling with that, as I have in the past, I would suggest that you remind yourself that no one has ever walked in your shoes, only you have. Further, no one has the unique combination of talents or achievements that you have. And if you start to question your achievements, I bet if you listed out a few of the things you managed to do the past five years, you’d surprise yourself.
I mention all of the above because I want to set the stage, or context, for what I pursued the past year, that of becoming a fiction author. I had moments since 2015 where I felt I wasn’t successful enough as a “non-fiction” author or “consultant/coach/educator” online. I would remind myself of everything I had going on in my personal life but it still wouldn’t quell my concern. But then I remembered the key reason I earned my Ph.D. after eight difficult years navigating all kinds of issues: perseverance. How long it takes you to do something doesn’t matter. As trite as it sounds, it is about the journey and who you become in the process.
What happened in 2018 is that I pivoted. I did not give up on non-fiction or helping people, but I decided to test my own systems in a new area and fulfill a dream I’ve always had — that of becoming a fiction author as a completely unknown person. I put the non-fiction on hold, not indefinitely, however. It will be there when I’m ready to return to it. In the meantime, I created a pen name that I did not share with anyone (except my husband at first and now just a handful of people). I started from scratch completely. And keep in mind I haven’t had any kind of English or literature course since high school (some individuals have actually criticized that I shouldn’t be writing non-fiction either for that reason and that I’m “embarrassing” myself, but I’m getting better at ignoring them. I recently heard a quote by New York Times Bestselling Author Rachel Hollis: “Don’t let someone in the cheap seats have an expensive opinion in your life.”).
I managed to teach myself to write “culinary cozy mysteries” and published two titles, selling hundreds of copies (to my surprise); the third title will release on Christmas day and I plan to write and publish the fourth in the coming weeks. If I were to compare myself to some of the Amazon cozy mystery authors who have 50+ titles, I would feel like a failure. But if I didn’t try at all in 2018 I would have zero titles, no sense of how to write any kind of fiction, and most importantly, no perspective for what’s possible. I can’t explain how much I’ve learned and how the world of writing and publishing is even deeper and holds more possibilities than I realized.
I’m still learning how to improve my craft. But I’m keeping in mind that this is brand new for me, and most importantly, I’ve finally learned to stop worrying about what people think and focus on producing a creative piece of work (and enjoying it in the process). Further, I try to remind myself that time is our most valuable resource. If someone was able to enjoy the few hours they took to read my book (fiction or non-fiction), that it elevated their mood or helped them cope with a difficult period of their life, then I’ve managed to add value to that person’s life, and that’s not to be underestimated. Time is something we’ll never get back, and it’s important to try to appreciate and enjoy what we have left.
This is turning out to be a long blog post, but I wanted to provide the entire context to you for a few reasons. In summary, my point is to be gentle on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up about what you have or haven’t done in life. We can’t change the past. But we can focus on the present and the future, and you can decide what you want to learn and improve going forward. It doesn’t mean you have to have rockstar success at first. While we don’t know why things take time to come to fruition, I do believe “all things work together for our good” (essentially Romans 8:28) and eventually it all works out, we just can’t see it now. I think as long as we are always learning and creating, and not just consuming, we are adding value and that’s important. Further, to do that you do need a level of discipline. That doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up. Don’t underestimate the power of a few minutes here and there. Try to work everyday on something you want to achieve, even if for just five minutes. It adds up. The five minutes don’t need to be perfect or consist of perfect work. Having anything is better than nothing (and then refine as necessary).
That said, remember my first point: be gentle on yourself. If you’re not gentle on yourself, people won’t be gentle on you. Treat yourself as you would like to be treated. That doesn’t mean being lazy or a couch potato all the time, but it does mean it’s good to try to add value and be of service when you can, but also take care of yourself, too.
These are my end of the year musings for 2018. In essence, I tried a new challenge (fiction), tested my success systems in the process, and I plan to continue to write fiction and non-fiction going forward in my “off hours” (as explained) and helping people whenever possible.
(TL;DR — In case you skipped to the end)
I sincerely wish you the best this holiday season and moving forward into 2019. If you have a goal or dream but haven’t been able to achieve it (yet), don’t despair. Carving out even just five minutes a day is an achievement and more than someone else might do. After a year or two you might be surprised you completed whatever it may be. The point is to be consistent and persevere. Don’t make a resolution and give up. Just keep going and you’ll get there. Have faith in yourself. I have faith in you.