I often joke that books are my love language. If you’ve known me for any time at all, I’ve probably sent you a book recommendation. Earlier this year, while thinking about yet another book I wanted to share with a friend, it hit me – I know a lot of book nerds enthusiasts in career development who would probably love to share some of their favourites, too! It led me to ask my network about their favourite books. This brought me on a journey of deep reflection about my all-time favourite career book.
I remember the first time I laid eyes on it. I had just given the speech of a lifetime to an empty living room in my small apartment. I imagined myself speaking to a large group of people with clarity and confidence, assuring them that, yes, they could live and work with passion. I knew in my bones that I was meant to do work that would inspire people to live boldly and work with love. But how?
Feeling enthusiastic post-speech, I took a walk to my local bookstore, and that’s where I spotted the book that would change everything: Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher.
The glossy cover shone under the shelf lamp. I picked it up and flipped to Chapter 1 – “The Care and Feeding of Human Genius.” My heart pounded. My brain buzzed. Could this be it? Is this the guide I need to help myself, to help others? It was love in an instant. Without hesitation, I handed over $21 to the cashier that I couldn’t afford to spend, then ran home and devoured the book.
I am happy to report that it has remained beside my desk – referenced, shared, and celebrated – for the past 24 years. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?
Loss – Part 1
A few years after that day in the bookstore, I was living my dream. I spent my days writing resumes, teaching job search and self-marketing skills, speaking at schools, organizations and conferences. I was on fire and felt quite sure that I would feel this way forever. So, after having my son, I decided to work for myself. I was ambitious and now experienced – certainly I could do it all without support? (Um, yeah. That’s a whole other story.)
I knew in my bones that I was meant to do work that would inspire people to live boldly and work with love. But how?
To market my business, I started a blog and used it to build a following, secure some clients and capture attention from the local media. And then … it happened. Barbara Sher reached out to me personally! She had stumbled upon a post I wrote about her work. She thanked me for my kind words, told me she loved my writing and offered to be interviewed for a series I had been posting on my wee blog. I was giddy.
We began negotiating the details of the interview, but then her words stopped me cold: “Just call my assistant and we’ll set the date!” My heart sank. I froze. My inner critic came out swinging. You’re not important enough to meet with someone who has an assistant! Who the heck are you to speak to Barbara Sher?
It still pains me to admit this, but I never called her again. I didn’t follow up with her assistant. Working in isolation, disconnected from my peers and the validation that I was still really good at this work that I loved, I had lost my confidence. Imposter syndrome swallowed me up in that moment and it haunted me for years.
Loss – Part 2
Many years later, I confessed this dark moment for the first time to a close friend. I shared that it had always bothered me and that I felt compelled to do something about it. So, I took action. Knowing that Barbara would love to be a part of someone’s redemption story, I wrote to her and told her about what had happened all those years ago. I invited her to join me in another interview so I could share this story with others who were struggling.
I was confident that she would be game, but heard nothing back. Silence. I was surprised, but just assumed that she was busy writing a new book or helping someone with a career adventure. I knew that the chance to set things right would come and I was pleased that I had set things in motion.
A few weeks later, I received an email from Barbara’s assistant. The subject line simply read, “sad news.” Barbara had passed away. The opportunity to have a deeper conversation with my career hero was gone forever. I was gutted.
I believe that valuable lessons are gained from both our wins and losses in life. Discovering this book in my youth and allowing it to ignite my passion for a career I had yet to fully articulate was a beautiful win. Likewise, missing out on the opportunity to connect with my favourite author was, although a painful loss, equally important. Ultimately, here’s what I learned:
- Look for the signs. Inspiration and guidance can come from the people and places you least expect. Who knew that one little book would affect my life in such a powerful way?
- We all need help. Careers are about the journey of work throughout our lives and these journeys are often filled with loops and waves. We need other humans and honest conversations to help us navigate the ups and downs.
- Regrets suck. Although cliché, it’s true – I’ve rarely regretted the things I’ve done, but have certainly felt the sting of regret from actions not taken. When doubt creeps in, it’s important to ask ourselves if our inner voice is acting as a wise friend or a fearful critic.
Wondering if your next read will be life-changing? Here are a few suggestions to light the spark.
To the journey, friends.