As a fresh post-grad trying to launch two completely different careers simultaneously, I have a tendency to overload myself and get incredibly frustrated when I don’t see instant results. This inspires a pretty serious lack of motivation, starting with a mini-identity crisis and ending with a pile of self-help books and a graveyard of Starbucks cups littering my desk.
This time around, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This by the fabulous Kate White was my book of choice, and it did much more than simply pull me out of my slump.
There are an infinite number of “Self-Help” books on the market these days, and I’ve sampled my own little infinity of them. From “What Color Is Your Parachute?” to “The Artist’s Way,” they’ve all been helpful in their own right, but many of them leave me cold hallway through. “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This” is not so much a guide to getting your life together or figuring yourself out (though there is a bit of that), but rather it’s a step by step handbook to kicking ass. Who can pass that up in a bookstore?
What really struck me was that White had built a fabulous career for herself – you may know her as the former Editor-In-Chief of Cosmopolitan – while managing to make her ‘Back-Pocket Dream’ come true, writing murder mysteries. On top of this fabulousness, she’s also maintained a happy marriage and raised two happy kids, and rocks a fantastic red lipstick on the cover. As I was reading the laundry list of her accomplishments, all told with witty copy and relate-able jargon, I couldn’t help but think, to quote Ms. White herself, “Damn, I want some of that!”
While her career is a result of a decades-long commitment to success, I find this fact more hopeful than disheartening: It is possible to achieve your goals – all of them – if you are precise, passionate and persistent.
A few of the important lessons I’ve learned from ISBTYT:
- Sweet Time:
In the midst of the pursuit of fabulousness (or simply the pursuit of putting food on the table after a long day of work), it can be easy to get overwhelmed and find yourself fantasizing about hiding away in solitary confinement with a glass of wine. Realistically, it may be years before that opportunity presents itself. “So think small,” White writes. “Look for the hour – or even thirty minutes – you can make pleasurable and all yours. If you schedule plenty of sweet time into your life, you won’t feel in desperate need of it.”
- Slice the Salami:
Quoting Edwin Bliss, White states that “We often fail to tackle important tasks not because we aren’t capable of doing them but because they seem too big and unappealing – like a huge chunk of salami.” In this section, she is referring to her back pocket endeavor of writing murder mysteries with a full time job – you can see why I absolutely devoured this section. Writing a book is an intimidating thought; in school, ten thousand words on a research paper is taken as a death sentence. The average novel, according to my research, is around a wide range of eighty to one hundred thousand words. That’s nothing to sneeze at! Bliss recommends that you “‘slice the salami,’ meaning that you must slice a big project into thin, appetizing amounts so that you won’t be put off.”
- Networking. Yes, it’s important.
Much to my introverted little heart’s disappointment, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the working world, it’s this: It’s not what you know, but who you know. That’s not to say that your skills aren’t valuable, but rather that you’re much more likely to get ahead if you have the right connections. This applies to every field, from the creative to the technical. If the word “Networking” makes you want to lock yourself in a closet with a book and a night light, I feel you. But take heart; as a part of my office job, I’ve gone to quite a few networking events. After a few panic attacks I learned how to play the game, and actually met some really great, interesting people. So get out of your box! Just remember this; people love to talk about themselves. Ask and listen, without motive. Connect with people.
- Drain the Swamp as you Slay The Alligators
This phrase is best explained by Ms. White herself: “‘When you’re up to your ass in gnats and alligators, it’s easy to forget that the initial objective was to drain the swamp.’ It means that you’re working toward a long term goal (draining the swamp), your time and energy can be eaten up by urgent, daily tasks (slaying alligators) that don’t necessarily aid you in achieving more important future objectives.”
To really kick ass, you have to do both. And if you say you don’t have the time, White warns (I had to include this, because I was so struck by it when I was reading that I underlined it emphatically in my book): “Book the time. Because if you don’t, the big-picture stuff will slip away from you. And in the end you will be swallowed up by alligators.”
Clearly, I loved this book. Not only because I found the author’s career inspiring and her writing well-versed, but that it was chock-full of innovative tips and strategies to help anyone in their career and their life. Regardless of your back pocket dream, I definitely recommend giving this book a read, because acting in defense of the creative life means learning to balance both roots and wings.
What’s your back-pocket dream?