Who Do I Think I Am? (Bonus Chapter Part 1)
“What? I’m not demanding; I’m persistent, maybe, or confident, or determined. Yes, I am determined. Not demanding.”
My sweet brother in law agreed (or at least gave in) once he realized that calling me “demanding” had not gone over so well. I had a strong reaction to it. Words matter to me, and if you call me something, it sure as heck better be a word that I can relate to.
When he said that, all I was picturing was of a version of me that was bossy, persistent, and high maintenance. While I was for sure a people pleaser and avoided conflict like the plague, I could also be honest with myself and admit that my addiction to control brought with it a heavy dose of impatience. My children bore the brunt of most of my demanding behavior, but it was oftentimes out of frustration and a need to feel in control. When I did edge into “demanding” mode, I was most likely trying to fake that I was confident or in control when internally, I had no stinking clue what I was doing.
Regardless, I’d much rather think of myself as determined. Once I decided something, I’d usually stick to it until it happened. Personality assessments had even labeled me as brazenly persistent, which can understandably be a positive or a negative depending on what I’m after and who I’m hounding.
Determined as I was then, back in July of 2015, I was undoubtedly even more so. When the business plan on the whiteboard on Discovery Day–a full day I’d spent with a business coach–included that most speakers write books, my natural instincts kicked in and I thought, Well, okay then, I’ll write a book too.
It was that simple. (Well, at least in my mind it was!)
I learned that books were authority builders, serving as very fancy business cards that helped give you expert status. And expert status led to clients and speaking gigs. Books were one of the strategic opportunities that I should consider as I launched my speaking career.
But I didn’t just consider it; I pretty much decided at that moment that I would write a book. A little emotional self-analysis at this point (which I was blind to then) would show that the book also provided me with some false sense of security, a sense of safety, a crutch, a guarantee. If I have a book, then I will succeed. Then I’d be back in control… see how that works?
The idea of a book was fun to me. I would imagine my favorite authors, best-selling lists, and remain blissfully naïve to what writing a book would actually entail. I had never thought about writing a book, but since I was now determined to do it, I started throwing it out to the Universe to see what would happen. When I say throw it out to the Universe, I mean I said it out loud, first to myself and then my husband. Then I started to think about who else I could talk to that actually understood books.
I connected a few dots and had a meeting with a marketing and PR firm in town that worked with authors. After a couple of quick meetings with a young, peppy sales guy, I had a proposal in front of me to do what was known as speak-to-write book services. I could simply speak my book, and someone would do the actual writing part. I was a busy professional, working mother, so this was the perfect way to find a balance (so they said).
I gasped at the price tag. I was stunned at the fact that they said the book could be ready in a matter of months. Luckily for me, the internal gasp turned into much more professional words that came out calmly, “I don’t think I’m ready for the investment yet.”
But determined as I was, I didn’t let the book idea die there. Several months down the road in the summer of 2016 as I sat and had lunch with a new acquaintance, I brought up my dreams of speaking, but this time I added on “and writing a book”. Lo and behold, she knew someone writing a book, and they had been pleased with a local book company in town. She did some intros, and I went in to meet with another sales guy—this one older than the first, but still peppy in his own right.
This book company’s approach felt different—not as rushed and not as expensive. I’d be paired with an editor, which sounded fancy and legit, and that editor would be my partner, helping me create my first manuscript. Project development, they called it. After reading the contract with one of my close, attorney friends that I knew would shoot me straight on what the heck I was agreeing to, I signed the contract.
Immediately, I was charged the full amount that was supposed to be paid out over months. Oops, they said. The sales guy said they could fix the mistake, but I opted to listen to the confident voice in my mind telling me, Nah, go ahead. Pay it in full. Now, you’re not only determined, but you are also committed.
A few weeks later, I walked into a small, local coffee shop to meet Kat, my editor. She was younger than me, but from our first conversation, I knew she got me. I loved sharing my story with her, and I liked how she found cool connections to her own life. She was open, kind, and real. But as she started asking more and more questions, I quickly learned that I had no clue what I was actually doing or what I was really going to write about.
Kat gave me exercises to do, and one of the first was to think about what section of the bookstore my book would be in. She’d asked me over coffee, “Where do you imagine it is?”
“The best-seller section.”
My reply came back quick and confident.
I was joking, but I didn’t have any other real answer because I didn’t know the breadth of different categories out there. How could I know? I had never dreamed of becoming an author.
I was going to have to figure it out, so I made a trip to my local Barnes and Noble to walk the aisles. I took my dear friend, Alisa with me since she happened to be in town, and together, we walked row by row. My mind raced through all the options:
Would it go here? Self-transformation. Um, no.
Here? Personal Growth & Development – Relationships. Um, probably not. That section contained books about sex and I was not an expert there (much to my husband’s disappointment).
Or maybe here? Personal Growth & Development – Success. Perhaps.
Or over here in Personal Growth & Development – Self-Help? That sounded better. Brene Brown was in this section, and she was, is, and forever will be one of my heroes. Could my book sit beside her book someday? The thought of that was very exciting.
After some discussion, Kat and I finally landed on a predominantly self-help style book. I wanted it to be interactive—really get the reader thinking and curious about themselves and their own dreams. To challenge them to decide what action to take to move forward, to make progress, to strengthen their courage muscles. I wanted to use what I’d learned from my personal growth journey. I wanted to create a roadmap for others to follow.
But I couldn’t find the clarity that I knew I’d need to provide.
I was still a work in progress myself. I didn’t have a finished proof of concept. No data to prove this stuff would work. I continued to seek answers myself. The heart of the matter was that while I’d signed a contract, paid lots of money, and had an editor, I still wasn’t ready to write and share my story. I wanted to be, but I still had work to do, choices to process, and decisions to make.
I couldn’t find the words to try and help another person find their own bravery to dream and courage to strive for continual growth because I was still working through it all myself. Yes, I had come a long way. Yes, I knew I had evolved. But I also felt that growth never stopped, so how could I narrow down what I’d want to share to only a few chapters? Even though I lacked clarity when it came to the ultimate message, style, and order of the book, I kept trying to force progress by throwing words on a page.
My life continued to unfold, and as personal ups and downs would take priority, the book would go on the back burner to simmer or get cold altogether. Kat stood by and supported as best she could. I had gotten only so far as to have a basic premise, a list of themes that I wanted to cover, and certain healthy choices and behaviors that I felt were vital to the kind of life I wanted to share about. We even set some deadlines, and I wrote the first chapter.
Well actually, I’d written the first chapter once before.
When I first decided to write a book, I had reached out to a friend from way back in the day that I’d grown up with. We hadn’t really kept in touch, but I knew he’d become an editor in the world of printed words. I had reached out before signing my project development agreement and had been terrified when I asked if he’d read some of my writing.
I may have sounded confident when I asked him, but I had no idea if my content was even decent. It was terrifying to send someone my writing. I experienced a whole new level of nerves when I sent him the first long-form writing that I’d called Chapter 1. I was sick as I hit send on the email and even more so over the days I waited for his response.
His comments then on that first draft of Chapter 1 aligned with what I heard back from Kat on Chapter 1 take two. There was potential. If I had focus and a clear idea of what I wanted to write about, the writing was okay. Insert, “good”, “fine”, or whatever word seemed strong enough a word to keep my hopes just enough in the game. It was way better than, “It SUCKS!” That’s right, I just didn’t want to suck. I may have been persistent and determined, but I didn’t want to throw myself to the wolves and flat out embarrass myself.
Both times when I sent in Chapter 1, I had spent time on it. I’d been anxious I wouldn’t finish and scared it didn’t make sense, but I’d done it. I’d sent it in, and I’d survived. I’d been given enough hope by people that knew what they were doing that I thought I might actually be able to do this. But I kept asking myself, Why write the book, Dena? I still wasn’t able to bring in to focus the finished product in an actual reader’s hands; that was still blurry.
Simon Sinek, author, motivational speaker, and consultant, had a famous TED Talk that preached that people don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it. So why? Why was I writing this book? Somewhere in my heart, there was a whisper from a little girl who was scared to raise her hand. This quiet, unsure part of me did raise her hand though. And she wanted to tell me she believed there were other women like me.
That voice reminded me that I wasn’t alone. Other women longed for more fulfillment in their lives, their homes, their marriages, and their relationships. There were women who felt unsettled, who knew they had more in them to learn, apply, and contribute. That brave part of me felt small and muffled. She wasn’t puffing her chest and faking confidence, but she knew other women might benefit from reading my book.
I wanted to write this book for that part of me – the part that knew it would serve others. But as I typed words onto the page, I couldn’t deny my truth that writing this book was and most likely will always be for me, too.
Writing out my story would be a victory that I had never before put myself in the position to experience – a victory for effort, not for results. As a woman, I, like so many others, had fought for other people so often. I’d cheered my husband, my friends, and my babies on, taken pictures with trophies and teams, celebrated their wins. But I hadn’t done that for myself.
This book was going to be my first wholehearted shot at running my own race toward a finish line that only I could see. At first, the decision to write a book had been rash, driven by my need for security, but it had slowly and ever so surely come to be about proving to myself that I could do hard things. I wanted to write a book that I could be proud of—one that mattered and would contribute to the wellbeing of other women. But more than anything, I wanted to conquer this challenge for myself. I wanted to become an author.
And at that moment in time, that was enough.
So, who did I think I was writing a book when I had no business doing so, no prior experience or training, no following or group asking for me to share my story?
Well, I knew who I was.
I was a woman who wanted to prove something to herself.
I was a woman who was willing to put in the work to chase after a rash decision that turned into a challenging dream.
I was a woman who was ready to seek her own potential!
*Stay tuned for the remainder of this bonus chapter. Be on the lookout for Part 2 coming soon!*