This week, I’ll finish writing a book. This is what I’ve learned

This week, I will finish writing my book manuscript and send it off to the publishers.

This is something I’ve wanted to say since I was 24. I remember one sunny morning, decades ago, sitting with my Dad in his living room over coffee. It was the first time I’d dared to speak out loud my secret pipe dream.  

It came out of my mouth in a croaked whisper – apologetic, tentative.   

“I want to write and publish a book one day.” I mumbled, looking furtively at him over my shortbread, while searching his face for his reaction.

His face lit up like sunshine. “What a great idea!” he exclaimed. He was like that, all exuberant and positive. It was one of his superpowers – that overwhelming enthusiasm for all things possible, good and creative. Dad’s reaction was the tinder that turned my spark of a book dream into a glowing ember of possibility.

It didn’t happen for a long, long time. In fact, it’s taken over twenty years of children and career stuff and false starts. Truckloads of wistful wishing and lumping that dream onto the scrapheap of my ‘never did’s’. Now those glowing embers from that day decades ago have finally come to fruition.

So here I am, aged 49. And I did it; I have written a book. And I will always be girly-crush-grateful for a woman named Margaret from Penguin Random House NZ for taking a chance on me and my book-writing dream.

My journey has been beautiful. And it’s been ugly as hell.

I’ve toiled, twisted myself into knots, wondered if I could do it, and whether I should do it. I’ve fallen down, got up, fallen down again, doubted myself, and talked myself up. I’ve dug deep. And I’ve carried on – sometimes in a small, pathetic, tear-snotted shuffle.

What’s this got to do with leadership? This is a story about following your goals, even if they seem out of your reach at first. It’s about listening to that small whisper inside you that may go quiet at times, but keeps coming back – often at 2am, in my case! You know, the voice that says, “I’m still here, that thing you really want to do, but aren’t sure you can or should.”

This week’s blog is most definitely about personal leadership. It’s not one about how to rally the troops, how to do strategy well or how to become a better manager.  It’s one about you. And that journey, deep down, that you really want to take. My hope is that it’s the tinder you need to turn that spark of an idea into a journey you’ll be proud you had the courage to take. Like for me with writing a book.

Hopefully, this blog will give you the little bit of inspiration you need to follow that quiet, but immensely compelling voice inside you that urges you to act on the idea that keeps popping up in your mind. This is about finally listening – intently, maybe for the first time in your life – to that voice that wants you to do your version of my book writing dream.

You might be thinking, like I did at 24, that your dream is out of your reach. Maybe it’s the thing you would do if only you weren’t too old, too young, too inexperienced, too busy, too small, too worried about what other people might think. Maybe you’re just feeling too laden with the weight of others’ expectations.

But do you really want to go to your grave with that song unsung?

So here’s what I want to say to my 24-year-old self, and to you too, when it comes to doing that thing you really want to do, but may be holding back on:

  • You don’t have to listen to that quiet voice inside you that tells you to do ‘that thing’. You can definitely ignore it, dumb it down, and put it on that heap of regrets you’ve accumulated in your life so far. And if you decide to do that, that’s totally cool. No shame in that. Just living and surviving is enough of an accomplishment sometimes! But if it’s a deeply personal dream that just won’t go away – an idea that keeps coming back to you again and again on your commute to work, or on your run every morning, it’s worth stopping and taking note of what it’s saying to you. You might want to stop and listen to it.

  • You don’t have to reach for your goal alone. Share your dream with very few people at first. Your idea is precious and fragile. But voice it to at least one person in your life who you trust and who will believe in you. Someone who will see its possibility. Make sure that someone is also a person who will tell you the likely challenges you’ll face in realising your goal. Someone who will be real with you. I was lucky. My dad was that first person. And when he died, Wally Bock, my book writing coach, took that torch. And there are many other people in my life who have been that person, perhaps my husband most of all. He brings me equal doses of encouragement and the reality-facing advice that I need.

  • Take one tiny, miniscule step towards your goal or dream today. Maybe it’s just writing that secret goal down on a piece of paper. Maybe its googling “how to insert your thing”. Perhaps it’s taking a moment to visualise it happening when you’re stuck in traffic. It might be one phone call to a person who’s gone before you with your thing. There’s compelling evidence across centuries of human history that you need to picture something happening first, before you can create it. Don’t go all in, if that’s not wise or is too much right now. Just do one small thing today. For me, my book writing dream began to really take form when I started to write my leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. It got me writing – regularly and consistently. Writing became a habit. And it then gave me the confidence to consider that maybe, just maybe, I was capable of writing that book.

  • Make a plan, otherwise it’s just wishful thinking. Start to say “no” in tiny ways in the short term, in order to say “yes” to your long-term goal. In the last six months, since I got my publishing deal, this meant carving out two days a week for nothing other than writing. If I didn’t write more of the book on those days, that was ok. But I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything else if it wasn’t writing. As a relentless people pleaser, this was bloody hard. But it was also liberating to preserve my boundaries too.

  • Prepare yourself for setbacks, including those ways you tend to get in your own way. Be aware of these and make a plan for what you’ll do when you encounter them in order to overcome the hurdles. Forewarned is forearmed.

It’s taken me what seems like a lifetime to write my book. I would have liked to have done it sooner. But in hindsight, stuff happens in the right time, and at the right time.  The content is richer for my intervening experience. And I’m just glad that it’s happening now.

So what will you do, today, to take one small, yet life-changing step towards your quiet, yet compelling dream?

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3 Comments

  1. Monica on September 4, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    Thank you!! & congratulations on achieving your goal 🙂

  2. Jo Reynolds on September 2, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Love love LOVE you and all your amazing tips ❤️

  3. Dr Bob Stewart on September 2, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    I found your comments really inspiring – Congratulations on completion of your book – please sign me up to purchase a copy!
    Your comments were enhanced as I recalled my friendship with your Dad, and being able to attend his funeral. He and I worked together in owning the three houses for a period in Palmerston North. I also really appreciated his humor, playfulness and positive attitude. Also as you know he was my best man for my wedding to Mary, who sadly passed some considerable time ago. However I have been with Katharine now and we get married this coming year, having been together now for about 13 years.
    I have written a number of books and articles over the years, but I still have the little voice that is coaching me to write a book on resilience, which is such a wonderful characteristics. Now at 81, still in full time work with my internet publishing and property investment (but making my own hours), I feel that resilience and self reliance have been my salvation and have seen me through some challenging ups and downs over the years.
    Lovely to read your account and congratulations on your achievements in inspiring and challenging others to be all that they could be. I know that your Dad would be so proud of you!
    Warmest wishes Dr Bob Stewart

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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