Much of Leader by Accident is about getting out of your comfort zone, and about the life-changing things that happened to me when I did just that in 2008 and again in 2012. Towards the end of the book I ask the “Well, what have you done lately?” question that I thought a reader might be wondering. And of course one of the answers is, “I wrote a book.”
See, I thought that becoming an author, just by virtue of my never having done it before, was a step out of my comfort zone. On this I was correct … and also completely wrong.
The truth is that I write every day. Blog posts, email newsletters, correspondence, you name it. So in a way, writing a book was just more of the same. More personal, larger scope of work, certainly a bigger organizational challenge, but in hindsight I never felt uncomfortable with the process itself.
No, the real discomfort didn’t happen until a few weeks ago when I hit “Send” on the invitation to a small book launch gathering for some friends and business associates. I’m not an outwardly emotional person, but for roughly the next 24 hours I had myself a quiet little meltdown.
The sending of those invitations was the moment when it really hit me that this very personal little memoir was now headed out into the world to be read – and judged – by people who were not related to me. Up until now I had decided who would or would not have a sneak preview. Going forward, it’s out of my hands, and I don’t always deal well with not being in control. Okay, I never deal well with not being in control.
So right now feels like that top-of-the-roller-coaster moment … strapped in, gliding out of the gate and slowly but inexorably ascending that first big hill: Write the book – chk, chk, chk – find a publisher – chk, chk, chk – edit the text – chk, chk, chk – design the cover – chk, chk, chk …
Here I am about to go over the top and screaming down the track, and the rest is out of my hands. In truth, I committed to this moment way back when I first strapped in for the ride (more than three years ago), but now I can crane my neck and see just a little bit of what’s over that precipice, and it looks a little scary.
Intellectually, I know that whether Leader by Accident succeeds wildly, fails miserably or – most likely – something in between, I will be a better person for having made the effort. Emotionally, I feel like I’m sending a child out into the world before I’ve had the chance to tell her all she’ll need to know to survive.
And therein is yet another lesson: It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re taking a big step out of our comfort zone when we’re really not. How to tell? If it’s not causing us some noticeable anxiety, insomnia, heartburn or whatever, we’re probably not doing it right. But the really good things happen when we’re willing to endure that discomfort.
I’m very grateful to my wife and a couple of business colleagues who talked me through that meltdown, pointing out that the guy who wrote about leaving his comfort zone was now – duh – out of his comfort zone again.
Maybe I’d forgotten what it felt like.
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