There is this D.J. who is getting quite the attention lately. People clamor to see him and hear his unique mixes and signature synth-pop. He regularly performs for venues full of fans in places like New York, Miami’s South Beach and the Bahamas. He has thousands of followers, is on a record label and streams on Spotify. My boyfriend discovered him and played one of his songs for me last night and I was blown away. His goes by DJ D-Sol and here’s the thing, he’s also the President of the world's most revered investment bank, Goldman Sachs.
I did an interview with an online news station and was all prepared to talk about how I started Bloomers, my product development process and my background growing up in the country. The interviewer sat down and asked me basically one question: “How did you get your books published by a major publishing house?”
After a few moments to collect my thoughts, I gave her the answer: I built a brand first.
As any marketer will tell you, building a brand is a difficult undertaking that takes enormous amounts of time and effort and money and knowhow and luck. I thought about all the things I’ve had to do to build my brand. In some ways, that I’ve been able to accomplish what I have, has been miraculous. How did it come together?
There’s been a lot written about the 10,000 hours, first popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “Outliers.” The concept is that you have to do something for 10,000 hours to really become an expert, and common wisdom states that you have to become an expert at something to really make a go of it as a career or business. But here’s the thing I always struggled with, if I am focusing all my time on that one thing, how do I do the other things I love doing? I have actually felt guilty talking about the myriad of skills and talents and different careers I have had because I thought people would think I was a dilettante or worse, a braggart. I was also concerned that they wouldn’t take me seriously in my chosen field. I’ve wrung my hands thinking that I’m not focused enough. Then I found an article about being a polymath and I immediately knew that that is what I am. A Polymath is a person that is good at many things and more and more research is coming out that shows being a polymath can actually help you in your career.
Here’s the thing, I’ve done a lot of cool stuff and I’ve been really successful at it. My fields of study have included agriculture, sociology, economics, computer programming, music, foreign languages, animation, editing, computer design, graphic design, writing and painting. My jobs have included, door-to-door saleswoman, horse trainer, investment banker, adjunct professor (economics and statistics), product designer, real estate investor, Chief Financial Officer, financial consultant, typist, researcher, entrepreneur, artist with both group and solo art shows and installations, C.E.O. and perhaps most importantly, a mom.
Back to the D.J. I’m sure his music and his performances helped him in his job at Goldman Sachs. There is much evidence that supports the positive effects of music on one's ability to do math, a necessary skill in investment banking. And if nothing else, I’ve got to think that performing in front of thousands of screaming fans probably helped him in the boardroom.
How did all my diverse talents and skills help me in my career?
I don’t think I could have started Bloomers without all my talents, and as I mentioned, starting Bloomers first and designing and securing distribution of really cool products is how I got my publishing deal. My advice to myself is don’t hide and apologize for my diverse talents. They don’t detract from my success. They add to it.
My advice to you is, don’t hold back. If you want to paint, paint. If you want to D.J., then D.J. You never know what skill is going to come in handy when you’re starting your business or building your career. Maybe one of the skills that you love will be your career.
Bloomers Island is a brand that promotes a healthy lifestyle in children. I am in the lucky position of promoting a message that every parent can agree on. Who doesn’t want healthier kids? I’m still always careful however, as the social media marketer in my company, not to upset any group.
A friend of mine on social media recently shared a meme posted by their local Farmers’ Market condemning pollution from the oil industry and promoting clean water. Again, I think we can all agree that clean water is a good thing, but this friend and this Farmers’ Market was in a state in the heart of the oil and gas industry. I imagined that a lot of their customers were employed either directly or indirectly by oil and gas companies. The comments on my friend’s post supported this, with grousing about the tone deafness of the meme, and saying that they were not going to go to the market anymore. I’m not sure if I would have taken that General Custer’s stand that the Farmers’ Market took, but I admired their guts. It brought to mind that old saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
What am I taking a “stand” on?
When my first book came out, “Bloomers Island, The Great Garden Party,” it was turned down by a major supplier of school book fairs. I was told something to the effect that kids weren’t interested in being healthy or gardening and therefore would be less likely to buy my book at the book fairs (where the decision was mostly theirs and not their parents). I was disappointed because that meant I would miss out on a huge market segment. My CMO and I went back and forth about the notion of not bringing up the concept of gardening at all and just talking about my characters, the Bloomers.
It is understandable that some think gardening might not be particularly popular with kids who haven’t tried it or the grownups in their lives because they are intimidated by it. If I had a nickel for every time an adult says to me that everything they try to grow dies, I would be a rich woman. There is so much more to my brand anyway, like the Bloomers characters. They are adorable and struggle with the same issues that real-life children do. They live on Bloomers Island a place far away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that no boy or girl has ever seen. Evolution took a different turn on Bloomers Island and plants became the intelligent species. The Bloomers go to boarding school in a tree house! They sleep in flowerbeds, have leaves for hands and roots for feet. They are plants and flowers and trees.
My argument remained that the whole reason of my brand, its raison d’etre, was to encourage kids to garden and eat vegetables. If I was not going to put that concept front and center, what was the point? Besides, I know that kids love digging in the dirt and planting seeds and watching things grow. I’ve seen their enthusiasm over and over, working with thousands of children. I just have to keep pushing that message out there, reminding parents of this fact.
Back to my “stand.” I decided that what I am taking a stand on is to stay true to my mission even if it’s not as popular as dinosaurs or space travel or princesses. While I can certainly place an emphasis on the Bloomers characters, I cannot ignore the main mission of my brand. Otherwise, before I know it, I will be selling GMO seeds, printing my catalogs on paper that hasn’t been recycled, and I don’t know, praising the virtues of chemical fertilizers. If I don’t stand for this something, I may just fall for anything.
P.S. I found another bookseller that sells at school fairs, and they are happy to include the Bloomers Island books. Yay!
What do you stand for?
Misty Hill Farms
I watched the royal wedding this weekend of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. I had never before watched any of the royal weddings – even of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. I most appreciated the commitment that they made to each other, spoken with honor and integrity and gratitude. The festivities were beautiful and I even shed a few tears, but I felt sorry for her that her father did not walk her down the aisle. Due to family drama, neither he nor her half-siblings attended.
It got me to thinking about something I appreciate so very much – the lack of drama in my family. I have been back east staying on the family farm for the last few weeks. Part of the reason is to do events as a part of the 10,001 Book Tour here in Pennsylvania and in nearby Connecticut, Ohio, and Kentucky, and partly to help my mom organize her will and estate.
Two of my three brothers and I met with the estate planning attorney along with my mom and we went through the best options and it was just so easy. No drama. I never fight with my brothers nor my mom. Everyone in my family, including my nieces and nephews, now grown up, have an abundance of common sense, good will, and similar values and work ethic. It occurred to me that it is the farmer in all of us.
Farmers are hard workers, full of common sense and grounded in the dirt they till. When we moved into our current farmhouse, there was nary a bush or flower around the house. There were a couple trees for shade and grass that grew right up to the brick walls. This arrangement provided less work for the prior inhabitants, farmers who made their living from the dairy cows they raised. It was a husband and wife who had never had kids. It was a simple life. No frills. No nonsense. It gave them more time to milk the cows. A spare house, in a sparse field.
How lucky am I with my family? We never made a living from our farm, but it became an important part of our lives, our identity. My family worked the farm. Our fields did not sit fallow.
Back to the estate planning. We decided to keep the farm intact. Two of my brothers have already built houses here. The third is planning his house now. Two of my nephews live here. I plan on building a house one day, I dream about it actually. In the meantime, I stay with my mom. The lawyer implied to my mom that maybe she didn’t even need to worry about all this pesky estate planning stuff and that she looked great! She replied that one day she wouldn’t. We all laughed, but it wasn’t really funny.
I won’t lie to you, this farm is special. It’s special beyond the land and the rolling fields and the pastures. We are all here. We all get along. We hold similar values. The same sense of common sense. We hold dear the land. The earth. Keeping all this intact, like some rural American version of a kibbutz or commune would be special. How many places out there are like this? In the end, it is a commitment to keep it together. We agreed to do that. We’ve made a commitment with honor and integrity and gratitude. I am proud of that.
That’s the way I look at my company, Bloomers Island. I have a mission and a vision and a passion and an intention. I have a commitment to myself, my team, my investors and my customers. It is a commitment that I intend to keep.
My Grandfather, Bart Wylie, Front and Center
According to my uncle, my grandfather was so charismatic that when he walked into a crowded room, everyone quit talking, just in case he had something to say. My mom said that he was the most beloved man in town. My dad, his son, adored him. When he died at the age of 52, it was the only time in my whole life that I saw my father cry. He wailed with his head in his hands like a wounded animal and as a five-year old, I was afraid. The lines of people wanting to pay their respects spilled outside and wound completely around the funeral home.
There’s been a lot of research done on whether people are born with charisma or if they can develop it. Charisma is defined as a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. I’ve read about it and to the best of my ability, I estimate that you’re born with about a third of it and you can develop about two thirds of it.
Most of what I read centered around very achievable skill sets like being a good communicator. I read that President John F. Kennedy said that charisma comes from being an excellent listener or letting people know that they are being heard. Confidence – the state of feeling certain about the truth of something – is also a key ingredient.
I came upon a video of Conor McGregor, the UFC champion, where he was talking about an upcoming match. McGregor looked directly into the camera with an intensity that was breathtaking and without a shred of hesitation said about his opponent, “I will most certainly dismantle him also.” Dismantle. Not beat up. Not take down. Not knockout. Not win a decision against. Not probably or maybe or most-likely. Nothing mealy-mouthed. Nothing half-hearted. But simply, definitively, confidently … dismantle. (Here is the link, it is well worth watching.)
I believe that most rational people are confident. They believe what they say is true, because if they didn’t, why would they say it? The problem is their delivery. They don’t speak their truth well. Regardless of what their medium is: writing, speaking to large audiences, or even talking with a friend or small group of people, let alone radio or television.
I have a friend who was the one who got Donald Trump media-ready for the "Apprentice," where she worked at that time as a producer. So of course I asked her what she did. Her advice was simple: practice, practice, practice. Set up a camera and film yourself.
I did this and studied the results. From what angles do I look the best? How should I smile. How should I sit? What should I wear? What colors look good on me? What about my voice? Is my enunciation adequate, my tenor too high or too low? Does my passion for my mission come across well?
Would I want to listen to me?
According to Dale Carnegie in his seminal book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” (one of my all-time favs), people think actions mostly follow thoughts … I want to get a bowl of ice cream so I walk into the kitchen and get a bowl of ice cream. But actually, thoughts can follow actions, for example, if you are smiling, you naturally feel happier. If you are acting confidently, pretty soon, you will start to think confidently. And it is easier to control your body than your mind. So, pushing your body to do something is easier than forcing your mind to think something (or in many cases, to not think something).
What did I learn about myself with all my practicing and recording? Two simple things actually made a huge difference. 1. Smile all the time, even when I’m talking (tricky but possible). 2. Keep my shoulders back and stand or sit up straight no matter what. A couple other minor tips I learned – navy blue looks good as does a crisp, white-collared shirt. Be careful not to say “um” and “you know.” Memorize everything you need to say before you go on. Practice, practice, practice.
Why is this important to me? I am now on my 10,001 Book Tour. I am doing interviews with the press as well as presentations and events. I am a published, children’s book author, and I want to represent my brand appropriately and well. I want people to be drawn to my message and sometimes I imagine I will need them to be drawn to the messenger. And really, this is vitally important for everyone to advance your business, your career, your chances at landing that book deal, or television show, that coveted job or promotion. When you go in to talk to your boss, no matter how nervous or unsure you are on the inside, sit up straight and smile.
“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
~ Warren Buffet
I attended a dinner many years ago that one of my advisors hosted. I sat next to a guy who had founded a well-regarded co-working space in Santa Monica. He was asking about my background before Bloomers, and I told him that I was a co-founder of Maui Toys as well as a partner at X-Large Clothing Company. I told him that my co-founder who stayed at Maui had just sold the company. He asked how I felt about that. Besides the fact that it was my ex-husband and I was happy for him and for my children who would only benefit from it, I told him that I thought he deserved it. He had worked very hard for twenty-five years after I left the company.
The guy told me that the most troublesome trait he noticed with the young entrepreneurs that came through his co-working space was their unrealistic expectations in regards to how long it would take to succeed. It seemed all the young startup founders came in thinking it would take a couple of years, and then they would sell out to Facebook for 100 million. Cool. Like Steve McQueen. The Great Escape.
Of course those are the exceptions and not the rules. The rules are, it takes a long time, a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice and that’s just the way it is. Starting a business is not for the faint of heart.
I am a founding member of a startup founders group and I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs walk in and out the doors over several years. It has gotten to the point where I can tell if someone is going to make it after about three meetings. I won’t go into all my observations here (that’s another post), but number one is: do they show up? If you want to be successful, you have to show up. I mean that literally and figuratively. You have to show up on a consistent, regular basis. Even if you are tired and can’t seem to find your customers, and you are not booking sales, you are getting rejected and you know you probably have to pivot but you are exhausted. You keep going – putting one foot in front of the other, executing the marketing plan, calling on customers, pivoting if necessary – you just keep at it. Like Napoleon Hill said, “Keep on keeping on.” I've always loved that.
I do admire those of us who put it all on the line every day and keep going. It’s inspiring. I am now traveling around the country on my “10,001 Book Tour,” and you know what? I LOVE this. I could die and go to heaven doing this. When I’m not stressed out and scared, I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world. I have faith that what I’m doing is going to make a difference to myself, my family and the world.
My new friend and I, we decided that entrepreneurship is most definitely a long game and the rewards are enormous whether you sell, create a lasting legacy, hand it down to your children, or heck, change the world with it. If you don’t have the desire and wherewithal to embark on this journey, then don’t bother. Find a career you don’t hate.
In closing, I think we could all take a page (no pun intended) from trees. They are one of the most patient and strongest living things on earth. It takes them years and years to grow. They just hang out, bend with the wind when needed, and keep going, keep growing. Even when circumstances hand them a lousy patch of soil, they dig their roots deeper and keep going. They persevere in the face of extreme weather, snow, wind and rain. They get attacked by bugs and other foes. They stay put. They don’t complain. They know it takes a long time, but eventually they will be tall and majestic, their leaves will be broad, their branches reaching in all directions, they will throw off shade, they will drop many seeds. They will process carbon dioxide and emit oxygen that people can breathe. They will provide a home for birds and other animals. They will change the world a little bit. They will make the world better.
We entrepreneurs will make the world better. We just have to keep going.
As part of my legacy journey that I wrote about a couple weeks ago, I put together an organizational chart that was actually Dennis’ brother, A.J.’s idea. He told me that the way I am going to grow Bloomers Island on a shoestring budget is to convince all the people that work with me to buy into my dream, my mission, and the success of the Bloomers Island brand.
I’ve since become a wee bit obsessed with my Org Chart that I call my Bloomers Island Tree of Life. And since it is a Tree of Life, I decided to put it on a tree. And since I decided to put it on a tree, I thought I might as well make that tree the Mr. Banyan tree from Bloomers Island. It looks beautiful, as well as informative. (Some of the names have been blocked here.)
I never really had an organization chart, because I didn’t think I had enough employees. A.J., suggested I put together all the people I needed to help me move my dream forward … my dream of selling 10,001 Bloomers Island books. I immediately took to that idea. I expanded my chart to include selling all of the Bloomer’s products here and overseas. These people and companies are licensees, subcontractors, vendors, agents, friends, family, various and sundry contacts, and friends of friends.
I loved A.J.’s suggestion. It was brilliant and exactly the direction I needed at that time. We were in New York and meeting with my new publisher, Random House Children’s Books. We had many marketing initiatives going on, and as usual, I was losing track of what I was doing because I was trying to do too much. This Org Chart sent me and my books and products in the appropriate direction.
Part of the immediate and obvious value of setting up my org chart was that it showed me how thin I was spread and how I needed a more hierarchal structure. Even though I had made the call to prioritize selling 10,001 books, there was still so much legwork required to accomplish that. You know, just saying you want to sell 10,001 books doesn’t mean it will magically happen.
The next noticeable value of the org chart was to see how many people and companies had signed on to Bloomers. I was immediately touched by the level of support I was getting. Whole chapters in business books have been written about how to ignore the naysayers and push forward on your dream. I had the opposite. I had supporters and not naysayers. But that imposed even more pressure on me to prove them right. To show them that their support was not misplaced on me.
The most important thing though, is that I saw exactly what I needed to do and accomplish to continue to bring my dream to fruition. It became my roadmap in my legacy statement that I wrote about in my last blog post. It started with the question I had to ask everyone on that chart, everyone I met with, everyone whose help I needed, to sit down in front of them and with my shoulders back and a smile on my face ask those special people:
What can I do to make you look good?
On Wikipedia, they credit Daniel McCallum for creating the first organization chart of American business around 1854. An org chart is really a graphic example that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Some of the organization charts I found were beautiful. My favorites were the 1930 League of Nations and the Tabulating Machine Co., (precursor to IBM) from 1917 (above). I studied that one. Thomas Watson was the President of the company at that time. Putting together my Org Chart illuminated the importance of each part of my company, helped emphasize my priorities, acted as a checklist on everything I needed to do, and so much more. Yes, it is a simple concept, but with many layers of complex details. Thank you Mr. Watson. Thank you A.J.
Do you have an Organization Chart? What will you call it?
I came back to Los Angeles this week from a long trip to New York and Europe with Dennis. We were able to stay with family in nearby Rowayton, Connecticut, for which I was extremely grateful, but it was a tiring commute from there to New York City every morning and with cold and rain and snow, we were also fighting the elements. In Europe, we were again able to stay with family most of the time, which made the trip doable for us. In New York, we attended a wonderful International Toy Fair.
In Europe, we were working with our new licensee to put the final touches on the Bloomers Island line, including a stunning, wood Mr. Banyan display for the VeggiePOPS! While in the Netherlands and Belgium, we also did a lot of driving in one of their coldest winters in decades, the result of a freak Siberian cold front. After three days of not leaving the apartment due to sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds, I started going stir crazy and insisted we walk into the nearest town, Haarlem. After making it five blocks, we had to stop for hot coffee and toasted croissants and that was as far as we made it.
The good news is, our licensees in North America and Europe are on track. It looks like Australia is next. South America is limping along, but I have great faith in my licensee there. Certainly, his enthusiasm is unparalleled. My first book is out and doing well. And meetings with studios interested in the Bloomers Island show and game are moving right along. Other potential licensees are finally knocking on the door. Wow, what an arduous journey. What an exciting journey!
What is shocking to me, is that Bloomers Island is my fourth company and I thought I knew a whole lot about business. I had run four companies! I had a good education. I started in banking. I was in a Startup Founders Group. I could raise money. I had advisors. I hired a brand strategy company. I hired a digital marketing firm. I ran projections, over and over. I know my way around a business plan better than most. I did everything right.
And I did everything wrong.
As Eric Ries says in the Lean Startup, “What we need to do is not come up with more good ideas. We need to go and test as many of those good ideas as possible.”
Or as I like to say, “There are no good ideas, there is only good execution."
The problem with my execution was that I was trying to do 100 different things at once: a school gardening program, an online game, gardening products, toys, books, television show, clothing, hair and skin care products, healthy food, an amusement park, housewares, card game, board game, garden journal app, curriculum, and wait, there’s more!
I was distracted and unfocused and felt like I wasn’t executing anything well. I spent money where I shouldn’t have spent it. I couldn’t develop a good business model. I couldn’t decide or choose what was the most important thing for me to work on. There were so many things to accomplish on a day-to-day basis, that I struggled with even the most basic prioritizing.
I went to an event that a friend of mine hosted. He is a legacy coach (I highly recommend and HERE is his website). I had written a legacy statement before, but what I liked about his methodology is that he helped us choose our legacy and then develop a road map to achieve it. When I chose my legacy, all of a sudden, it became crystal clear as to what my priorities should be. And it was not just about prioritizing but focusing the greater part of my day on them, coming up with and following a road map with lists and dates and commitments. And here’s the magic, when I started focusing, everything I wanted started falling into place for me.
Back to our return from Europe. As we rode the escalator down to the baggage claim at 1:00 a.m., desperately needing some water, trying to rally for one last push of energy needed to gather up all our oversized, overweight, and over numbered suitcases and boxes and somehow drag them upstairs to area “C” where hopefully an Uber wouldn’t take too long to pick us up, we walked past a closed Starbucks. On the side of the outside wall hung a small sign which read: “The Tireless Pursuit of All Things Coffee.”
Talk about priorities. Talk about a road map. Talk about a legacy. This one statement encapsulated all at once: commitment, focus, hard work and legacy. It wasn’t just pursuit, it was tireless pursuit. It wasn’t coffee and tea and bread and cakes and cookies and sandwiches, – although Starbucks hawks all those things – but, it starts and ends with coffee. I pictured Herman Melville’s first mate character, “Starbuck” (the brand’s namesake), standing on the Pequod, salty waves crashing around him, holding a sturdy mug of steaming coffee. Coffee.
What about me? What am I in tireless pursuit of? I am in tireless pursuit of creating entertaining, fun and clever stories to inspire and educate kids to live a healthier lifestyle. I am about all things stories. My first priority in this pursuit, the first stop on my roadmap, is to make sure my books are widespread and widely read. My wish for my legacy is to be the A.A. Milne of my generation.
In furtherance of this goal, I am going to do a tour across the country. I have never driven across the country before and I am lucky enough to have my marketing guru and partner in life go with me. We have definitive plans with gaps in between. I am going to do television, radio and press interviews, school visits, library visits, and book store signings. I’m calling it “The 10,001 Book Tour” because I want to sell 10,000 books on this trip and 10,001 sounded better than 10,000.
The first stop on our trip is Denver and we can be flexible after that. Bouncing between California and Denver and New York makes me feel like Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel, “On the Road.” We’re starting tomorrow (fingers crossed). If you want me to stop at your school, library, or book store let me know. If you want to do an interview, please contact me. Our schedule is flexible, our intention is to accommodate. I would love to meet you on the tour and sign your book. If we don’t get to meet this time, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy to send your little reader a special message via the Snail Mailman.
Now I have a road map, figuratively and literally.
You can follow our progress on my website: cynthiawylie.com or on the bloomersisland.com website as well as the Bloomers Island Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. (All /bloomersisland). I will be posting dates and cities as soon as I have them.
It’s never too early or too late to decide on your legacy. What do you want yours to be?
It’s funny sometimes how we circle back to what we initially wanted to be. When I was a little girl, growing up on our family farm, I wanted to be an author. I have no idea how I came up with that career goal. It was probably because I loved books and I loved reading. I didn’t really have children’s books, but I had the school library. Also, every week my classmates and I would get the Weekly Reader, an order form filled with pictures and descriptions of books we could buy. I was allowed to purchase only one or two and this created some anxiety akin to deciding between a cookie or a piece of gum. Poring over every book’s review, I wrung my hands over which I would choose. I took the form home with me and studied it on the school bus. Finally, I checked the little boxes next to the books I wanted to order, and impatiently awaited their arrival to my classroom. My favorite children’s books were, “A Little Princess” and “Charlotte’s Web.”
Soon, I started reading my mom’s books. She belonged to the Book of the Month Club, her version of the Weekly Reader. Growing up, we didn’t have many options for television and of course, there were no computers or smartphones. I lived on a farm with three brothers and not a lot of friends nearby, so I read. I read books like “Trinity,” “Dr. Zhivago,” and “Gone with The Wind.” I loved the thick, historical sagas of James Michener. I even read some racy books like “The Graduate.” When I read these books, I was transported to pre-revolutionary Russia or the antebellum South, or 19th century Ireland.
I started writing stories. My mom saved them in her jewelry box. I kept journals that held my private thoughts, wishes and self-judgments. When I got to college and took the required, first English course, I didn’t do that well. In a humiliating moment, my English professor used my paper as an example to all her other classes as what mistakes to avoid when writing. She later apologized. I learned from her though.
I kept writing. I had forgotten that I wanted to be an author, but I wrote almost every morning for years and years – more to help me figure things out than anything else. I accumulated boxes of journals. Later, I joined a writer’s group. I was embarrassed again by one of the members of my group, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Program who criticized my blog. I stayed in the group. I was learning from him.
In the meantime, I co-founded, successfully ran and exited two companies. I got married. Got divorced. Raised four children. I read the favorite books of my children so I would know what was inspiring them, where they were being transported. I loved all the Harry Potter books, “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “The Giver,” “Holes,” and “Youth in Revolt.”
My life went on. I was creating new stories to write.
When I started my third company, Bloomers, of course I wanted to write stories. I had a mission and I knew I could reach many more parents, teachers, and children if I had a book. I wrote about my Bloomers who were based on my children so I had endless fodder for my stories. I wrote over the next six years, oh, about 120 stories featuring the Bloomers.
I tried to find a publisher or even an agent. There was a friend of my close friend, whose Mother was an important literary agent in New York. I approached him with some of my stories. He said he would have to read them first before he passed them along to his mother. Two weeks later I called him back. With a big sigh, he told me that he was dreading my call. He said that he couldn’t pass along my stories to his mother… something about it being a waste of her time. My stories and my writing wasn’t good. I wasn’t a writer. For a moment, I believed him. That was my low point.
I went into my garage and opened a box of my journals and looked inside. Neatly stacked were 9 x 12 sketchbooks bound with black leather, containing unlined, white paper with page after page of cursive writing, some entries neater than others, some accompanied by little notes and drawings in the margins, some written inside the front and back covers. I opened one book to a random page and read it. It was good.
After much contemplation and introspection, I thought, I’ve been writing my whole life. No one can tell me I’m not a writer.
To use an expression from down on the farm, there’s more than one way to shoe a horse. I kept writing to be sure, but I switched my focus to building the Bloomers brand. Then, after inventing some really cool products and getting into over 5,000 stores, being awarded patents and signing licensees, establishing credibility by working many years in schools and presenting at conferences, I was approached by a respected New York Publisher. They said they had started a children’s imprint and wanted me to write a Bloomers book for them. They said it would be perfect for their company. I negotiated a multi-book deal.
Someone recently asked me how long it took to write my first book. I said that It didn’t take me long, it wasn’t “War and Peace” after all, it was a children’s book. But that’s not true. It took me my whole life to write that book. I had already written it a thousand times in my mind, in my journals. I had written it in 120 different stories that I was able to draw upon. I wrote it when I was seven and working in our family’s garden. I wrote it when the guy from Iowa was criticizing me… when the friend of my friend told me I wasn’t a writer.
Last month after my book was released, I told my previously mentioned close friend what had happened with her friend, what he had said to me. She was appalled and had no idea. I said, “I’d like to call him now and tell him that I got my first book published.” Admittedly, it was an I told you so moment. I just wanted him to know.
She said, “He’s dead.”
I was dumbfounded. She continued to tell me that he had died a couple years ago. Unexpectedly.
I felt very small.
In the end, I realized that it doesn’t really matter what other people say. It doesn’t matter if you know what you want to be or when you know. I changed my mind ten times in between the age of seven and now: a veterinarian, an economist, an investment banker, an entrepreneur, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker. What does matter is when you figure it out, that you keep pursuing it. Don’t take no for an answer. Figure out a work around. Know that there’s no right way to accomplish something. Be creative. Keep practicing. Don’t take rejection personally. Persevere!
Now if someone asks me what I do, I say that I’m a children’s book author.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I decided to move out of my beach house of twenty years. It had become too large, messy, and unforgiving for me to live in anymore. Plus, I was in a new relationship and it just felt wrong that we should start our life there together.
As you can imagine, moving out of a home that I had lived in for twenty years (to the month!), raised four children in, haphazardly remodeled several times, used as offices and a small manufacturing facility, and rented rooms in, was challenging. And I was under a time limit.
As I sifted through the memories of my life, a profound sadness settled onto me like the salty dust and sand on the boxes in my garage, neatly labeled: Alex’s Star Wars Books, C.W. Personal, Art Supplies, Baby Clothes, Bloomers Ideas, Photographs. And it wasn’t just boxes, it was failed products that I was reluctant to throw away because, well, I had paid money for them. It was all my furniture that once upon a time I had scrimped and scraped to buy. Valuable crystal and porcelain dishes. Valuable! Perfectly fine suits in the hall closet belonging to the dead father of a friend. (How did those end up in there?) My home was a beloved, eclectic expression of my artistic self and many hours spent scouring antique shops and flea markets back before there was Ebay. And finally, there were my oil paintings, my “babies” that I had spent many hours laboring over. They were the ones left after I had sold many in group and solo shows and then foisted all I could on to my kids and their small apartment walls, some from all the way back in college. What would I do with the rest of those?
To avoid the overwhelm I developed a mantra – one cupboard at a time. If I thought about every cupboard and closet and box that I had to go through, I didn’t think I could accomplish the task. But if I just focused on the cupboard in front of me, somehow, I was able to handle the sheer physical effort of it all along with the emotional detritus, which brings me to the point of my post.
There is value in business as well as in life to looking at a difficult, overwhelming and lengthy task yawning in front of us, as cleaning one cupboard at a time. As the founder of a startup company, and at times, the only one involved in the myriad of daily tasks that need to be done, I started looking at every necessary task in small, doable pieces. Small cupboards.
People ask me how I was able to get a publishing deal with a major, well-respected New York publisher. My answer is simple. I built my brand first. Simple. But not easy. (That journey is another post.) Because I have goals related to my stories that are much bigger than just this one book – I have become obsessed with making sure it is successful. My book is called, Bloomers Island, The Great Garden Party and I want to sell 10,001 of them.
My mantra has changed. Now it is: one book at a time.
Eventually, the sadness I experienced moving out of my home gave way to excitement as I embarked on my new journey. I felt a growing sense of freedom and possibility that a small apartment afforded me in more ways than one. Now I can focus on running my business, selling my books and creating new stories – new stories for my brand as well as myself. Like the old story of the Zen master, you have to empty out the tea cup to create the room to pour in more tea.
Epilogue: Almost as a show of defiance, I threw away a painting of mine. I placed the large canvas (that I had painted all the way back in grad school) on top of the garbage cans in the back of our new apartment building. Later that afternoon, as we came home from running errands, a car was parked in front of the trash cans, blocking our parking spot. I wound down the window and asked if I could help the woman. She apologized profusely, and said that she noticed someone had thrown away “a beautiful painting” and she had stopped to get it and hoped that that was okay. I put my hand on my heart and told her that I had painted it and had thrown it away because I didn’t have the room for it anymore. She told me that it would look perfect in her house. I gave her my blessing, ecstatic that just like me, my painting had found a new, better home.