Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Steve Jobs, A Dead Cat and a Kidnapped Peacemaker

I know, I know. It sounds like the beginning of a joke. They should walk into a bar. But instead they walked into my life, inspiring and transforming it.

I'll start with the cat. Six months ago, my beloved Eleuthera died. As I've written about here, I had created a wicked persona for that cat, complete with cat swearing and wildness. When she died, I missed her but I realized I also missed the opportunity she offered me to be creative and witty, playful and slightly irreverent. And then, one day it occurred to me that I didn't have to stop. I didn't have to fit myself into a mould that I only approximately fit.

I had been agonizing about what I was going to be when I grew up (if I grew up) for a good eighteen months. My poor husband. I had talked with consultants, clients, colleagues, friends, postal workers. OK, I exaggerate, but only slightly.

The penny dropped for me one night after the cat died. I had had my epiphany and I was reading a careers-at-midlife book. The book asked the question: if you could do anything, whether they paid you or not, what would you do?

I thought immediately of a book I had reviewed, written by James Loney, one of the Christian Peacemaker Team members who was kidnapped and held in Iraq for months. I don't get paid for my book reviews for the local paper, but I still say it's my best gig -- because I get free books from the arrangement! A couple of weeks after I reviewed Loney's compelling book, he spoke at a local high school where a good friend teaches. She asked him in passing about the experience of having his book out in the world, and the reactions to it. He expressed disappointment that few reviewers "got" what he was trying to say. "In fact," he said, not knowing that my friend was my friend, and she, not knowing that I had written the local review. "Only one reviewer really got it -- and it was the one in your local paper." As a writer myself, I know deeply the importance of someone understanding and receiving what you write. The communication process isn't just one-way: it's not really done until it has been heard/read/received.

So, that night, reading my career book, I knew that what I wanted to do was exactly that: to help people tell their stories well so that they could be received well.

Initially, I did not know precisely what this would look like, but the miracle was this: in an instant, I stopped fretting and started pondering.

It's taken six months of pondering and gestating this baby, and even then, it was almost stillborn. Not long ago, a different opportunity presented itself. There were reasons to say yes to the other opportunity, even after my months of dreaming, finding a name, doing market research, working on a logo and a website, talking with potential associates, and -- good grief -- even meeting with an accountant!

And that's when Steve Jobs stepped in. I was waffling last week - setting up a bank account for my new company and at the same time considering this other opportunity. (Let me note, as an aside, that waffles are far tastier than waffling.) Stay hungry, stay foolish, the man said. Look in the mirror and ask yourself: if this were my last day, is this what I would choose to do? Don't live someone else's life.

I let go of the other opportunity and heaved a sigh of relief. Then I rolled up my sleeves and got to work -- on my work.

And so, the big reveal. I'd like to introduce you to my soon-to-be-fledged company: Storywell.

The purpose of this company is to help individuals and organizations tell their stories well. Whether that means working with someone writing their memoirs, helping them polish, shape and find the right words; or whether it means offering an editorial review (a pre-published book review) to a fiction writer; or helping a not-for-profit create a teachers' guide or a newsletter -- I'd like to help you. I am in the process of pulling together a team of associates who will work with clients, but what I am most excited about is connecting people together and helping them become better at expressing themselves and their stories.

My official launch will be January 1 and I'm planning a fun networking event later in January (because goodness, January needs some fun!) but it's already starting -- the website will be up soon at -- and I wanted to let you know what I'm up to.


  1. Proud of you, Susan! Blessings on you as you venture out!

  2. Exciting. What helped get me going was a line from Gordon Lightfoot's "Race among the Ruins": "If you're going to face tomorrow, do it soon."

    I think there's a tremendous value in this, and I wish you well in the new venture.