One of the more inspirational books I’ve read this summer is Blake Mycoskie’s book, Start Something That Matters. The book essentially tells Blake’s story of traveling to Argentina, where he saw many shoe-less children. In a moment of compassion and true insight, Blake decided to start his own shoe company. It was based on the philosophy that for every shoe that someone bought from his company, Toms, he would donate a shoe to another person or child in need. Tom’s motto is “one for one.” Although Blake was filled with uncertainty about making this shoe-string shoe company work, he produced some prototypes, held an informal consumer panel made up of female friend shoe aficionados, and hired some dedicated interns to pretend there were multiple departments of the company while passing the phone around. Within a year, he had an account at Nordstrom’s and simple word of mouth rocketed Toms into a success story. I have to say, I felt pretty good buying a pair for myself recently, knowing that behind the shoe was a philanthropic cause. So many other companies have taken a cue from Toms. For instance, Jef Holm, of Bachelorette fame, is part of a company called People Water that donates the same amount of clean water for every water product bought–their motto: drop for drop.
While not every new company always has such lofty goals, I think the story behind these inspirations is that you should start something, anything, as long as it matters to you. As writers, that sometimes means overcoming your fear of writing and just doing it. Or ‘finishing your manuscript.’ Or having others read your work despite fears of rejection or criticism. No matter how afraid you are, just take the first step, which is sometimes the hardest. And don’t give up. It is hard but as I have heard on many occasions from editors, agents and writers alike, that those writers that ultimately succeed are those who persevere and believe in themselves.
Due to rapid changes in technology, the playing field is a bit more event and new authors may be able to take advantage of channels that were previously closed to them, such as self-publishing. As my friend Jamey Stegmaier’s stated in his excellent blog post: “The only gatekeeper left is YOU. That may seem like a good thing–it is–but it’s also a lot of pressure. Now there is literally nothing holding you back from living your dream except yourself.” I completely agree. Jamey’s blog post was in part inspired by Nathan Bransford’s post on there being no more gatekeepers but rather ‘influencers’ in the world.
In college, I once started a club with a friend to raise cultural awareness of Asian Pacific American issues but also larger racial issues within the campus and St. Louis community. We had an amazing turn-out at an event discussing affirmative action, but after that, our events completely bombed. There was free pizza! Why didn’t anyone come? Although the club didn’t take off I don’t count is as a failure but rather a learning experience, one of the lessons being ‘know your audience.’
When I started my literary agency this past spring, I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. The older you get the more you might feel more risk-averse. But I also realized that if I didn’t try, I was going to regret it. A wise person once told me that his goal in life was to live with as little regrets as possible. Most people regret things they didn’t do rather than things they did. So even though I was nervous and I acknowledged this self-doubt, ultimately my excitement spurred me on. I haven’t looked back and I haven’t regretted a bit. Plus, I enjoy a challenge and this is certainly a challenging market full of opportunities!
Life is truly too short to sit around and wonder ‘what if.’ So start something, anything, as long as it matters to you and it’s something you truly want from deep down inside.