👎 Mutually Assured Rejection, Part One
Big bets to fund a new direction in 2021. Would any pan out? Would I be making the right choice if they did?
It’s March 2021, and we all have chronic Zoom fatigue.
But something about this particular four-square amalgamation of afternoon faces is so dreadful, so draining, so soporific, that I feel my life force leaving my body even while I strain to sustain my song-and-dance for the participants.
I had come in with nervous anticipation: heart beating, pulse-quickening, hopes flying.
Meanwhile, the other four people stacked in a grid on my laptop screen look like they would rather be napping. Some of them almost are with their eyes open.
This is the most important call I have had in over a year.
I am bringing my best energy—pitching my next big idea—and I want them to want me. I don’t even know if I want to work with them yet, but the name of the game today is approval. I want theirs.
Pick me! Validate me! Vote for ME!
By all objective measures, my previous book Pivot did remarkably well. The Publisher had long since earned their money back, even though the book hadn’t catapulted to the top of any bestseller lists. It was a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race book, like me.
While it still hadn’t earned out the $150,000 advance (yet), it won awards and sold over 60,000 copies across multiple formats and foreign markets, putting it in the top 1% of book sales, given that fewer than one percent sell more than 5,000 copies. Pivot was featured on sites like The New York Times, Fast Company and Oprah.com.
It is the textbook for a Stanford Graduate School of Business course, Strategic Pivoting, with the syllabus based on the book, taught for the fifth year in a row by guest lecturer and former Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.
In the seven years after the book launched, it earned two million dollars in licensing and speaking fees. Those earnings then bought the roof over my head in New York City—itself a lifelong dream.
Most of all, it validated a hunch I had that this book was missing from the market. My mantra when writing it was, “If change is the only constant, let’s get better at it.”
It had come a long way since my agent reviewed the first draft, circling the words, “You sound unhinged” in pencil atop the first version of the proposal in 2013—while I was admittedly still mid-pivot myself.
When the pandemic hit, the verb pivot became so ubiquitous as to induce eye-rolls when invoked. When I sold the proposal to a pinch-me Big Five publisher in 2014, hardly anyone was referring to career changes (or mid-life crises for that matter) as pivoting. Now, everyone seemed to be.
I felt happy, redeemed, and yes—validated—knowing my hunch was right. I felt like momentum was on my side, even though the tides had rolled out tsunami-style on my speaking income.
It still hasn’t returned.
I sought to sell three things at the start of 2021:
The Pivot side of my business (corporate licensing, podcast, coaching programs)
My next book proposal, and/or
My one-bedroom condo in Silicon Valley
Of the three, one worked out.
Two resulted in rather swift rejection.
I was ready to launch in a new direction, while also experiencing the intense pressure of being financially pinched on two sides: losing my steadiest income from keynote speeches when the pandemic hit, just after complexifying my life by getting married, becoming the breadwinner, and buying a house in 2018-2019.
I lost $135,000 in contracts and scheduled income during the two weeks that lockdown started, and the corporate revenue carnage was only just getting started.
So these three big bets were also out of necessity: I needed the money.
And yes, I am getting as tired of writing that as you probably are reading it.
While I had achieved a peak of external measures of success in 2019, my best year in business, I did not—still do not—have a handle on running a creative business that also abundantly supports a family of three, while in a pseudo-recession-that-no-one-will-call-a-recession.
At the start of 2021, I was ready to try again, to take some risks. I wanted—needed—to find a new way forward, financially and energetically. For me, for my business, and for my family.
Call me thick-headed that it’s three years later, and I am still crawling my way to the top of the financial well I fell into after the pandemic hit.
Or call me stubborn. I didn’t just fall. I declined to take the ladder back up that would have given me the safe way out while selling myself out. I am stubborn as hell when it comes to persevering on what I know I am meant to be doing in this world.