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The Rungs of Learning: Insights From Writing My First Book

My new book, From Barista to Boardroom, is now available to preorder and will be released one week from today on June 1.

I never set out to be an author. Just like I never set out to be an entrepreneur or a marathoner. But my natural goal orientation and learning mindset have always been a driver for taking on new challenges so why not see if I can actually write a decent paragraph and not just bullet points?

In this month's Rungs of Learning blog, I decided to turn the tables on myself and share insights and reflections on my journey to being a published author. This self-interview is guided by questions I've been asked along the way.

Enjoy this month's Rungs of Learning with yours truly!

Why did you decide to write a book?

The idea was sparked on a long run about six years ago. The thought had never crossed my mind previously but one of my running buddies, Subbu, thought I had a great story to tell. He was intrigued by the fact I started at Starbucks as a barista and was, at the time we chatted, a vice president.

Initially I thought his suggestion was preposterous. I never considered myself a writer and certainly didn't think I had a story that was all that different from others I knew. But Subbu kept nudging me and even proposed a title for the unwritten book - From Barista to Boardroom [I told him he should give up his day job as an Amazon engineer and go into marketing :)].

The idea was wedged in the back of my brain for a year or two and I decided to give it a shot when two reasons why I should do this became clear to me: 1) it would a great growth and learning opportunity and challenge me in ways I hadn't been challenged before, and 2), if I could help one person by sharing my story, than I will have moved toward my higher purpose in life of serving others.

What did you enjoy most about the writing process? What was the most difficult?

Getting started was HARD. I never was a great student in school and I struggled with creating an outline which is what is most often suggested as the way to get going on a book. Eventually I tossed the outline because it just didn't work for me and I just started putting pen to paper to get things out of my head.

What I enjoyed most was the continuous practice of getting better and learning from my developmental editor, Andrea at Allegory Editing. She gave me excellent coaching and feedback and challenged me to try different approaches. She has this really unique set of skills of being compassionate and supportive and direct and useful all at the same time. I also discovered that, when I was really passionate or had an extreme emotional experience I was writing about, it flowed so easily and those were my most fun writing periods.

How did you build your writing skills? Did you take any writing classes? Or did anyone help you?

Before I started working with Andrea, I hired a book coach who provided guidance on tone, structure and pacing. I started practicing this by writing articles on LinkedIn and seeing what resonated with people and I experimented with different writing styles and this helped tremendously.

When I started working with Andrea, her coaching took me to a whole other level. She brought me back to high school English with basic grammar and sentence structure but she also spent a lot of time guiding me on how to develop characters, create a setting and express my emotion.

Other than that, I never took any writing classes. I just didn't have the patience for it although I'm sure it would have helped.

What was your structure or routine for writing your book (if you had one)?

I mentioned that I struggled at the beginning with creating an outline. Ugh. It felt so forced.

Then I had coffee with Howard Behar, a mentor of mine who is also an author, and he gave me some great advice: spend the next year collecting content and ideas and, at the end of the year, sort them into piles and themes will naturally emerge.

And you know what? He was right.

That first year I kept notes on my computer, phone and in physical paper files. They included stories that kept coming back to me, quotes, photos and articles I had written that were particularly powerful and resonant with others. At the end of a year, I laid them all out and the themes just popped.

After that, I dedicated thirty minutes a day to writing and I did it first thing in the morning after I worked out and before work. Even if I wasn't into it, I just pushed through. Sometimes it was a slog and other times I would write easily for ninety minutes.

What did you learn about your own story that you didn’t know when you began the project?

I knew I'd persevered through a lot of difficult times in my life but it wasn't until other people previewed my book and sent me notes acknowledging my resilience and courage that I realized that perhaps I've carried a heavier life load than some.

I just never looked at myself that way - I just do what I do to move forward. I rarely (if ever) get into the "why me" or pity party mode and usually look to find a way out and what I can learn from it. It doesn't mean I'm stress free all the time by any means but I really had no idea how strong I was until I wrote this book and others played that back to me.

What did you learn through your writing that you might never have learned through another format?

How to express my emotions. I've always been fairly reserved, having grown up in a family where things weren't talked about. I was raised by a single dad which taught me to be fiercely independent and that evolved into a sense of seriousness in my personality.

Andrea coached me to not just talk about what I'm feeling but show it. This caused me to dig deep to find the words and how the emotions manifested themselves in my mind and physical body. I've been in and out of therapy my whole life (no stigma there - mental health is an important part of self care) but I think writing the book fast tracked this growth area of mine.

I also learned that, when I can be me and express myself fully and authentically, I'm at my best. My book became a relief valve for years of all the "holding it all in" as a woman, family member and leader. I learned that people will love me and I can love myself when I can just be myself.

What’s the most insightful thing you learned about yourself while writing this book?

How much I enjoy writing! Writing narrative was a whole new experience for me and I was scared of it in the beginning. My writing had been limited emails and Powerpoint presentations. The more I got into it, I discovered it was fun adding descriptive elements to the story, learning how and why to pull out content that didn't add anything and using writing as a way to express myself and process my feelings.

Why would someone want to read this book?

I'm a real person with real story people can relate to and be inspired by, especially working moms, navigating all the things in life. I've also done a lot of unconventional moves as I've risen in my career while staying anchored to my core values and not being afraid to take time to reset when needed. Lastly, very few people worked for Starbucks as long as I did so I have a unique take on the evolution of the company during my tenure there, not to mention some aspects of Starbucks history that most people won't know about.

Check out my new website From Barista to Boardroom for all things book related including upcoming events.

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