A colleague, Annette Bond, shared a book title with me. It’s The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. In an early chapter the author points out how people near and dear to us may be the best source for helping us clarify our strengths and recognize our talents.
I remembered how that exact thing happened to me. I was in my forties and I had an urge to write. I would daydream about writing articles that would explain fashion in an accessible, entertaining way while still being educational.
My attempts to actually sit down and write were feeble. I was a single mom running my image consulting business. I had no time. But the desire to write wouldn’t go away. It was like a mosquito buzzing around my head at night. It kept me up.
So I called someone in the 701 area code who had known me for quite a while and asked for his advice.
“Dad,” I said. “I have this nagging interest in writing. I’m doing well in my business but if I want to write I’ll have to take a day out of my work week to practice writing. And I won’t get paid for it. I don’t want to be foolish or reckless. I’m a single mom raising three kids. What should I do?”
There was no hesitation. “You have to write,” he said.
Shocked might best describe my reaction.
“But I don’t know anything about it! It would be so hard!” I protested.
“Brenda, you’ve been writing all your life,” he said. “Remember when you used to write for your high school newspaper? Well, I still carry around one of your articles in my wallet.”
What? Really? You’re kidding!
I continued to resist. “But Dad, nobody gets paid to write. I’ll have nothing to show for it. It could be a total waste of time,” I said.
“Listen, I’ve seen you in action,” he said. “You make your work look easy but I know how much you put into it. It will be that way with your writing. It’ll take a lot of work to make it look easy. You’ll have to work hard to get any recognition but then, over time, it will turn around and people will start calling you.”
It seemed like such a risk, but with Dad’s encouragement, I was willing to take the first scary step: I rearranged my schedule.
Step 1: Making it look easy
Wednesdays became writing days. In the morning I’d come up with a topic. I’d go to a coffee shop and start a practice fashion article using pen and paper. Then I’d go home and transfer my rough draft to the computer. I’d use the afternoon to edit. At 4:30 I’d meet with my writing buddy and we’d read our writing to each other and offer critiques.
Over the next several months I got some pieces together. Writing was hard, really hard, but when I shaped words into something that entertained my writing buddy and me, it made me happy. Here are some of those early article titles:
Your Clothes Have Expired
The “M” Word
Organize Your Closet and Have More Time for Sex
Sales Will Getcha
Clothes are Like Boyfriends
A Scarf is a Very Useful Thing
Fit, Fat, or Fake It
Dressing for Your High School Reunion
Dressing for Divorce
When the idea came to write a book for women over forty, these practice pieces gave me confidence. By the time a publisher read my book proposal and looked at my work, I’d made it look easy. I signed a book contract with a small Berkeley publisher. I was about to become a first-time author!
Step 2: Getting recognition
My publisher called me one day to give me an update. My book was getting printed in Canada. We’d be looking at the finished product in a couple of months. It had taken about a year to get to this juncture. I was so eager to see it!
Then she told me something else: The publicist they’d hired to market my book (a well-known and respected woman in her field) had informed my publisher that this book would be a marketing problem, not a marketing opportunity.
“But why?” I asked.
“Because no one is interested in women over forty and especially a book about fashion for women over forty,” was the answer from the media expert.
In one sentence, my whole audience had been dissed!
My book came out in April. In August the Chicago Tribune newspaper did a full page article featuring the chapter The “M” Word from my book. Hmm, I thought, Oprah lives in Chicago. I wonder if anyone from her show will notice?
Three weeks later I got a phone call, that phone call! My business line rang but I let it go to voicemail. I was heading out to see my daughter Caitlin’s hip-hop performance at her high school pep rally. I didn’t want to be late. But I had enough time to listen to the message.
Step 3: “People will start calling”
It started out with, “This is The Oprah Winfrey Show calling and we’re interested in having you on our show.” They left a call back number and wanted me to get back to them as soon as possible.
So I picked up the phone and called my father. I was half crying and half screaming when he answered. “Dad!!! The Oprah Winfrey Show called and they want me on their show!!!” I blubbered.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“Well, nothing. I haven’t talked to them yet. What do I do?”
“Brenda, call them back,” he said in levelheaded tone.
Simple advice, but I didn’t take it right away. I had my daughter’s performance to go to and that was the most important thing right then.
I stayed until the rally was over and met Caitlin at the center of the gym where she was still with her friends. “You guys did such a great job!” I told them. I let several minutes pass before I said, “Caitlin, something big might have happened.”
“What?” she said.
“The Oprah Winfrey Show called. They want me on their show.” I told her.
“What did you say?” she said.
“Well, I haven’t said anything. I came to your performance. I’ll call them when I get home,” I assured her.
“Caitlin,” her friend Christina said, “You’re…more…important…than…Oprah!”
The following month I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show and all the members of the audience went home with a copy of my book. The segments were shot out here in California and pieced into a show about fall fashion with Tyra Banks and Oprah.
It’s wonderful to be able to say, “I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show” and to see how much my father’s advice played into making that happen.
Who can point out your strengths and talents?
I don’t know what would have happened to me in my career had I not had that heart-to-heart phone call with my Dad so many years ago. He was right about everything. I did have to work hard to make it look easy. After a few years when 40 Over 40: Forty Things Every Woman Over Forty Needs to Know About Getting Dressed got published, my daydream was finally real. I had written about fashion in an entertaining and educational way. People noticed and appreciated it. And those practice articles I wrote leading up to getting a publisher? They’re all chapters in that book. And then there was Oprah. It hardly gets any better than that.
Except that it does! My daughter knows she’s more important than Oprah. And that’s the best!
What seemed so risky—taking a day off every week to work on my writing—actually paid off. I couldn’t have done it without encouragement from that special someone who’d been there all along: my dad.
Is there a dream inside of you? Does it keep buzzing around you like a mosquito in the night? Is it time to share that dream with someone?
Go for it. Listen to people closest to you, people who know and love you. They may be able to spot the obvious and point out what’s been hiding in your blind spot.