By Ari Weinzweig
When Bill at Crazy Wisdom published the interview Deborah Bayer did with me about the new book in the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading series, I agreed to contribute an additional small bit of an article every three months as a follow up. Bill left the subject matter very loose. Really whatever I wanted to say that had to do with the book, with journaling, or with managing ourselves would work, which, of course, is a pretty darned broad palette to pick from. Seemed like anything other than physics formulas, political prognostications, or forecasts of professional football games would probably fit.
Of course, with such an open field of focus, I found myself starting to stress about what to write. But after a couple of days of worrying, I realized I should just take the advice I share in the book and write . . . whatever came to mind. After all, it’s not about getting it right — it’s about writing. If Bill was up for anything that was at all relevant, and if a lot of what’s in A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves is about journaling, and if visioning is just about putting down whatever’s in one’s head and heart in the moment without a huge amount of intellectual filtering, then . . . why not do the same here? So. . . . what to say? I figured I’d just write about what was on my mind (other than trying to figure out what to write for this essay), the same way I do when I journal. Which, in this case, was what it felt like to have a new book out for sale.
Depending on how you count, this is about the eighth book I've put out. You’d think the release process would be pretty much routine for me by now. But the truth is I still get anxious every time a new one comes back from the printer. The only thing that’s different about it eight books down the road, I guess, is that the anxiety neither surprises me nor overwhelms me any more. In fact, the post-book release feelings are so routine now that I actually plan for them. Like winter storms, I don’t really like them. But having lived my whole life really in the Midwest I’m mostly used to them and hardly surprised when they happen. Same goes for my post-book release blues. Blues is really the wrong word, but I like alliteration, and it’ll work. It’s more that feeling of having taken a big leap of faith off a cliff where you’re not really that sure you’re going to make it over the abyss and actually land on the other side. You try to enjoy the thrill, but at the same time, well . . . it’d really suck not to make it safely over. The two or three months after the book comes out are a lot like that.
I think one of the hardest things in managing myself is that I find my feelings so often go against the feelings that “everyone” else seems to think I “should” have. Where most people get all excited about going to parties, I get anxious. Most folks I know love being around large groups of friends and family. But in big gatherings like that, I usually feel alone. Most people are proud to be honored by their peers or industry, but I’d really far rather bus tables than go to an awards ceremony.
Similarly, most people are sure that it’s got to be really exciting for me to release a new book. “You must be relieved! Congratulations! What a great accomplishment!” are pretty common reactions. But the truth is, again, that what I feel and what the world expects that I’m experiencing are almost dead opposites. While intellectually I know that getting a new book back from the printer is a big deal, the truth is that the day it goes out to the public, I mostly feel an increase in anxiety. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the book is out. At least part of me is is glad it’s “done.” It’s clearly an achievement that I feel good about and represents a whole lot of work by a whole bunch of good people who helped make it happen. But those first few months are more a time of holding my emotional breath than they are of any sort of celebrating.
The other part of me actually wants to just keep working on it for a while. As long as I’m working on the book — redrafting and recrafting — it’s pretty safely ensconced within the seeming safety of my own mind and the relatively close circle of people — editors, friends, colleagues, good customers — to whom I send drafts to read. It’s true that by the time the book comes out, much of it has been published in “draft” form in our newsletter, in trade publications, and so on, so others will have seen it. But there’s still something very scary for me about it coming out in book form.
Compared to the act of writing, book publication for me feels very final. When people are holding what I wrote in their hand, when they read what I put down on real paper . . . I get worried. My mind starts to work over time. What if none of it makes sense? What if they think it’s silly or superfluous or stupid or sloppy or any other negative “S” word you can think of? What if people hate it? The fact that I've gotten such good response on all the other books I've written really only helps a little. Mostly it makes the anxiety even bigger — all those people who loved the other books might hate this one! And it’ll be all the worse because they expected such good things! But . . . the good news is this feeling isn't new. It’s been pretty much just like this every time I've put out a book. The anxiety comes, followed by positive feedback, and the anxiety gradually passes peacefully, and things work out just fine.
And now, a month out, the same seems to be happening here. In the last week I’ve heard stuff like: “Just finished book three in The Guide to Good Leading Series this morning and can't wait until book four! You have hit another grand slam with this book as I have highlighted and dog-eared numerous pages of stuff that has tremendous relevance for me and/or the (people) with whom I am privileged to work.”
Or, “I can't tell you how much I appreciate you sharing your experiences with people like me. Your openness and vulnerability has been very encouraging to me and has helped me feel more confident in my own life experiences. Thank you again for all you do for those of us trying to lead and lead happy lives.”
Or, “I swear [your visioning approach] has turned around the way I work on everything. (Literally, even the way I approach my day. I get up and think, How do I want to feel at the end of this day? What do I want it to look like? And then, how do I make that happen? What do I focus on to make that true? In essence, I [as you say] choose to be happy!).” Or, “My wife's father has been in the ICU since the 23rd and needs a heart transplant. So a lot of our time and energy has gone to that. But the good news is he is on the mend and hopeful to get a new heart. I think Managing Ourselves came at the right time. There have been a few passages in there that have really helped me deal with the situation and keep my mind on being supportive to the family. Thank you for that.”
A comment from someone I know has read all my other books helped reduce my anxiety further: “Wanted to say thanks for the work you put in to Managing Ourselves. It's an amazing book. I'm only about a fourth of the way into it, and it is really resonating with me. In my opinion, this is your best work.”
Of course, I haven’t totally relaxed yet. It’s still early. And even writing this makes me a bit anxious that I’m setting myself up for something. . . .
I should add though that about five minutes after I set my first draft of this post aside to move on to something else, a deli staffer who gave the book to her mother for Christmas walked by and said, "My mother loves your new book!” I'd only half heard what she’d said, and I started to respond automatically with a, “Hi, Chelsea!” since she’d just started her shift. But while the words were coming out of my mouth, I realized that she’d said something that I’d only partially heard. I caught her attention with a polite, “Wait, what did you say?” She smiled and said, “My mother really loves your new book! She stopped reading everything else she was reading when I gave it to her a few weeks and she loves it. And she's been telling her friends all about it and now they all want it too!"
When I get responses like that, then . . . I know that as imperfect as the new book of course is, it’s still working. That it’s helping to change the way people work with themselves and making a difference in the world, then I know that it was all worthwhile . . . and then I start on the next book! Of course, all these really positive responses do start to raise my anxiety about working on the next volume. But of course, I can only smile at my own silliness. And I guess if I really get stuck, I can just go back and read through Part 3 where I actually addressed all of this work on managing myself in the first place!