One year ago, I found myself at an impasse. I was struggling to figure out what to do with my business that had been struggling to keep its head above water since the economy took a plunge. I had a half-written book I wanted to finish. I was toying with the idea of taking a corporate job and returning to that life, which I’d sworn I would never do. I had what felt like limitless possibilities ahead of me. But instead of greeting those possibilities with excitement, I found myself paralyzed by them.
Day after day, I wrung my hands with indecision. Do I shut down my business? Can I keep it open and hold down a 9-5 job at the same time? How do I make time for finishing my book when the things that bring income right now need to be done? The more I tried to interrogate the problem, the more “stuck” I got.
One morning, while ruminating over these questions in my kitchen, my husband peered over his coffee cup and said, “honey, it’s time to pick a horse and get on it.”
This cowboy-sounding directive was a shock coming from my IT-nerd husband. Nonetheless, he said, “I think at this point the only thing to do is pick one thing and devote yourself to it. I know you have fears about choosing the ‘wrong’ thing, failing at the thing you choose, and having regrets. But since you won’t choose one thing, you’re stretching yourself too thin among all these things. And so, you’re not moving forward on any of them.”
He was right. Maybe the only way to success was to pick one thing and commit myself to it.
That day, I withdrew the applications I had sent to potential employers. I began the process of downsizing my business into something manageable that I could do in my spare time. And, then, I got on my horse: I was going to become a published author. Step one was to finish writing my book and find a literary agent.
I learned almost right away that authors of non-fiction books like mine could be shopped around to literary agents before they are complete. So step two of riding this shiny new horse was to see if I could work on finding an agent while working on the final chapters. I poured myself into books and blogs about crafting the perfect book proposal, and got to work. I put together a list of over fifty agents who I thought would be good for my project and began sending out my proposal one by one. It was meticulous, and it took a long time. But finally, I was making progress.
I couldn’t believe my luck when my top choice of agents emailed about my proposal and asked for a phone call. On the phone, she told me she couldn’t represent the book I pitched, but that she loved my writing and the work I do on my social media platforms, and asked if I had ideas for any other books.
Sure, there was disappointment that the book I’d chosen as “my horse” wasn’t of interest to my favorite agent. But still! This was a foot in the door.
The next day, I pitched an idea for a book called Self-Care Potato Chips: How to Choose Nourishing Self-Care in an Empty Calorie Culture. She loved the idea and asked me to get a full proposal together, including the first three chapters of the book, as soon as possible. If the proposal looked good, she would sign me to her agency.
I got the proposal together, and after a few nail-biting days waiting for her to read it, she called to offer representation. I was elated!
My agent immediately set me up with marching orders. Of course, I needed to finish the book. In addition to that, I needed to get my “author brand” established. She gave me a list of things to do toward that end: clean up my social media pages, get a website with my full name as the URL (i.e., www.amberwardell.com), start blogging, begin making content that aligns closely with the book’s topic, start building a newsletter mailing list. My agent would begin shopping my book around after I got a few of those things done.
And just like that, my horse that had been trotting along took off at full gallop.
I went from wringing my hands every day, wondering what to do with myself, to feeling a brand-new sense of purpose and drive. It was sometimes overwhelming trying to tackle all of these strategic goals while also writing a book. But I would prefer that overwhelm any day over feeling sick and hopeless.
In June of that year I finished writing the book, and in September, it was purchased by a publisher.
I’d done it.
I was an author.
Of course, I began thinking of myself as an author the moment I decided to write a book. But selling a book to a publisher brought feelings of legitimacy and validation that feltso good.
Now, as I wait for my book’s launch, which is expected later this year, I’m living my life in my new identity as an author. I’m writing my second book. I’m establishing relationships with other authors, making connections with booksellers and potential readers of my book. The horse I chose has carried me to victory.
As for the other horses? Well, the act of picking one horse and entering the race helped me know what to do with the horses I didn’t pick. I am no longer interested in pursuing a corporate job because I am an author and that is a full-time job. As for my business, now that I know that I can hack it as an author, I don’t have as much anxiety about letting it go. I am scaling it down, turning it into a lifestyle business instead of something I was trying to turn into a career and a legacy. I’m figuring out how to make the business fit into my life, rather than trying to shape my life around it. Everything finally makes sense.
I love being an ambitious person. But I can’t deny that ambition can have its drawbacks. Ambitious people are constantly reaching for the next great thing, and that sometimes leads to paralysis and overwhelm. Being told to “pick a horse and get on it” helped me prioritize my goals and get un-stuck. Often, it’s the simplest advice that can be the most effective. I’m so glad I listened, and chose to just pick something and get started. If I hadn’t decided to pour all my creative energy into one thing and commit to it, I’d probably still be wallowing in indecision.
So, to my fellow ambitious folks, I leave you with the same advice:
Pick a horse.
Get on it.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.