As the year comes to an end, we’re all in the habit of looking back and thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s amazing how fleeting a year feels and yet so much can happen. In the spirit of being honest and sharing our journey with our readers along the way, we’re taking stock of our ups and downs and what we’re looking forward to in 2019.
Lesson #1: You’ll fail first.
This time last year, we were closing out 2017 and Niki and I were eagerly waiting on our first print run of the books. Although Other Life Lessons was a company at that point, barely anyone knew. I’m talking only our immediate families and maybe one or two friends. When I think about it, I have no idea why we were so secretive but I think it has a lot to with insecurity. What if it didn’t work out? What if we failed miserably? After all, we had decided to publish our own books and I’m not talking self-publishing through a large print-on-demand service like Amazon. Oh no, because we are obsessive about quality and the feel of books, we decided to do it all from scratch (pulp?). Niki would fuss over paper thicknesses and finishes (I, ahem, couldn’t really tell the difference, but she knows her sh*t) and we built a book prototype then waited eagerly. Our plan was to launch on December 27. We were determined. Nothing would stop us. Then on December 26, I got a text, then five, then Niki phoned. The books, she said, weren’t good enough. I was pretty calm, knowing that her standards for printing, etc. might be unusually high. I headed over to her house. The boxes upon boxes upon boxes of books were opened and she had an assembly line going on in the dining area.
I walked over, listening to her list of concerns about the book.
Then I opened one.
A large crack spread through the binding.
F*ck, I thought.
So, I opened another one. And another one.
In the end the entire print run wasn’t usable. Neither was the second one. The binding wasn’t holding and the cover stock was too thick. The successful prototype didn’t work in actuality. But we didn’t quit. Instead we worked with our printer and production-savvy people. We did a digital run we liked a lot, then a lithograph run we LOVED (we are now 100% litho). I’m so glad we were tenacious enough to not let go when the going got rough.
Lesson #2: You can’t please everyone. And you shouldn’t want to.
After our successful February 2018 launch, we were on a high. We had worked hard and it had paid off. The books were beautiful and we already had fans. Then, about two weeks in, we got an email. Then another. Within the space of 24 hours, we had a handful of, well, hate mail. And these didn’t appear to be from random trolls. They were real people who thought our books were…anti-feminist. Wait? What? We were actually confused. We created Why Mommy Works to empower moms that were struggling to return to work. We wanted them to feel good about their choice to work outside the home. At two weeks in, it was disheartening. Worst of all, not one of these people had ever actually read the book. Our concern then was that it was going to be an influx of people creating a negative social media storm over…a children’s book about mom going to work (the book also includes a section to moms who work inside the home as well). Luckily, it proved to be a 24-hour thing. In fact, we sometimes wonder if it wasn’t one person trying to create some drama. Either way, it was a reminder to always think things through and look carefully at the messages we are sending. Since that day, the response to Other Life Lessons has been enormously positive. They aren’t for everyone. Some people only want the fluffy books about sunshine and rainbows. And that’s okay. We’ve found our people, and wouldn’t trade them for anything. We’d rather have a meaningful connection with our readers than water down our message and just try to please everyone. The reaction we’ve received from parents, teachers, therapists and children has reassured us that these books are more than wanted they are needed. Turns out that while you may not be able to please everyone, you shouldn’t want to.
Lesson #3: You have to get uncomfortable if you want to grow.
Niki and I have an advertising background. We present, we create and pitch our work, so we have been forcing down our nerves for years. And yet, when it’s your passion project, it’s different. We’d never done a radio interview, we had never been interviewed for an article, we had never had a business meeting where we didn’t have an account person to step in and guide the conversation. To say the least, starting a business has a big learning curve (more like a mountain than a curve). But we’ve committed ourselves to love being uncomfortable, to accepting that we will f*ck up (oh yes, we will). But we will always find the lesson in it. We have become born-again students obsessed with learning. Hello libraries, Linda.com, networking events, coffees with new connections and going outside our comfort zone. In 2019, we will continue to learn and grow as we make our first on-camera appearances (terrifying) and promote our next series of books (yay!).
Lesson #4: Do what you love and it will still be work.
Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, they say.
Um, not true. Do what you love and it is still work.
Like A LOT of work.
Sometimes it’s midnight emails and sometimes it’s standing on your feet for 12-hour events talking to people all day long or hand delivering packages yourself when the postal service goes on strike. Either way, it still feels like work. But somehow, your tolerance level is so high and the benefits are so great, you don’t mind. We still get exhausted and we still stress over things, but we’ve never doubted that it’s all worth it. One email from a happy customer or one tag on social media and we are BEAMING. Running a business and creating books may be work, but it’s fulfilling. Like I’m talking something-shifts-inside-of-you fulfilling. The core of your values and your beliefs change or grow, and while it is still work, you love it and you love who it makes you. So if there is something deep down you want to do…do it. It’s that simple (and that incredibly complex too).
Lesson #5: Give what you can.
It’s cliché, I know.
What you do comes back to you. Good karma. What goes around comes around.
All these phrases are drilled into us and become more of an eye-roll than an inspiration. But, they’re true. Like freakishly true. If you help people, if you’re kind, if you’re open and willing to learn, good things happen. There is something to learn from every person you meet. And if you help people when you can, if you have good intentions and act on them, somehow somewhere the good comes back to you. And the more you act that way, the more it becomes second nature. The more you rally around your peers, the more they rally around you. So if you want something in your life, go and give it to someone else. Be a good human. Donate. Smile. Bit by bit, the good trickles back to you.
Lesson #6: Be honest.
Nothing in this word resonates like authenticity. We love doing our events because it gives us a chance to connect with people face to face but it also puts us right (like a foot away) from a reader judging our work. And when we are creating something that is honest and such a reflection of what we believe, it leaves us feeling a little nervous and raw. When someone walks over, picks up a book and starts reading, it’s like you’re showing them your insides (hey, look my heart is riiiiight there). Judging by the reaction our books are receiving, there is a very real need for tools that help parents start honest conversations with their kids. There have been a lot of tears and hugs. It’s amazing how someone visiting our booth can go from quiet and hesitant to suddenly telling you all about their story and struggles. If our books were about cute puppies or just brushing your teeth, I’m not sure we would have such a connection with our readers. They trust us, they ask us questions, and instead of just a transaction, we end up having real conversations. In a handful of little ways, it’s been life-changing. It turns out that being honest has a ripple effect. It grows and spreads and finds the places it’s needed the most.
I could go on and on about the lessons we learned this year. Every day there is something new to experience and learn. But instead we’d like to say thank you to everyone who has joined us on this journey. We will continue to share the real story with you along the way.
All the best,
Meaghan & Niki