When the path chooses you

I didn't plan to be a publisher.

Ask Middle School Amanda what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she would've said, "A mom! A wife!" The tough part with that answer, I learned while attending a rather pricey private university, is those occupations are gifts, and the good version of them isn't just plopped in your lap one day after a few rounds of interviews.

For an assignment in a photography class my senior year at Baylor, we were supposed to take three photos that represented ourselves. What this picture can't tell you is that I was tensely kneeling on the floor in front of a chair where I had placed my HDL Rebel Canon (a rather clunky camera for a selfie, if you ask me). I don't remember providing any formal caption, only some commentary about how this wasn't ever the person I hoped to be.

For an assignment in a photography class my senior year at Baylor, we were supposed to take three photos that represented ourselves. What this picture can't tell you is that I was tensely kneeling on the floor in front of a chair where I had placed my HDL Rebel Canon (a rather clunky camera for a selfie, if you ask me). I don't remember providing any formal caption, only some commentary about how this wasn't ever the person I hoped to be.

My dad, referencing the Bible, said to me, "Amanda, everyone has to know how to build their own tent," which was his way of saying everyone needed to know how to pay their own bills and I was no exception.

So I traded out somewhat delusional dreams of a kitchen and an apron for a black button-up jacket. It felt as if I had to become someone else in order to pay my bills, so I did. This "professional" Amanda was foreign to the girl who had gone to college under the assumption that following a "calling" meant that God would make all her dreams come true in a nice, tidy little arrangement.

Off to work with you

My 20s were marked by 18-month stints in various writing and editing roles, and I assumed I'd just end up somewhere inconsequential, possibly in management with a neat office and a few employees. Since marriage and family, as I had understood them, had been flung off the table, I buried myself in professional achievements and chased every new role that escalated my learning, earning and growth potential. 

But I was also gravely unhappy and stressed out all the time. I searched for the "root problem" I needed to identify in order to solve this pattern of unhappiness. I decided that by the tender age of 27 I'd drifted into a professional self I couldn't imagine growing old with. So I took a leap and not only went into a new field (marketing), but I also left the good state of Texas and all my friends and family.

The new job in Colorado was brimming with opportunity. For the first time I had freedom and permission to build something from scratch. The freedom was intoxicating and intimidating all at the same time. Without realizing it, my move to Colorado was the first time I'd prioritized my own well-being as an adult, and if you know anything about the transition from Straight Jacket Autopilot to Happy Adult, the ride was more than a little bumpy.

When it's still not enough

The job in Colorado was everything I'd hoped it would be, and within six months I'd built a happy, thriving content department for a marketing agency in an industry (inbound marketing) that I was learning on the fly. But there was still something missing, and I didn't see the ingredients for the next step anywhere around me.

Because Colorado and this job were supposed to be "enough," I was extremely conflicted. I had sketched this entire scenario out in my mind: better job with better scenery should be all I need. This should be enough for you, I told myself. But it simply wasn't and I couldn't tell anyone (myself included) why. So I willingly stepped into the unknown and began planning how I'd quit my job, move back to Texas and just figure it out.

Looking back now I can see that I'd idealized this cross-country move as the beginning of a new Amanda (and in many ways it was), so perhaps it never had a chance to meet my high expectations. Nonetheless, I felt like a failure who was crawling home with her tail between her legs, and worst of all, I was choosing my very worst nightmare: unemployment.

Thankfully, on the day I went in to resign, my boss was surprisingly understanding and suggested I continue working with the agency from my remote location in Dallas. To this day they're one of my primary digital publishing clients, and I'm so, so thankful for that.

Alas, misery struck again

Back in Texas, with my people, free to do anything? I accepted every job imaginable, taking all the smarts and gumption I could muster -- and I worked for everyone. All the while, I kept one foot in inbound marketing via my virtual content department and a few friends I'd made along the way. One thing no one told me about entrepreneurship or solopreneurship or freelancerpreneurship is how terribly lonely it is out here. Once again, I was miserable with no clues as to why.

A strong case of self-judgment began to set in, and I was back at my old song and dance:

You were supposed to be happy with this. You chose it. You planned it. You executed the plan.

I had no answer for the misery. It simply was there. So I trudged forward. I slept a lot. I ate a lot. I worked when necessary, cried in between and then I slept some more. Most people would classify this as at least a mild depression.

You'll find it where you forgot to look

Buddhist meditation and teaching focuses a lot on being present. Thanks to my own meditation teacher, I'd been employing new observational skills in my life even back in Colorado. Earlier this year in one of her meditation videos, she spoke briefly about ancestors and the various ways in which Buddhists hold them in high esteem because they have something to teach us about ourselves.

While watching this video, a picture of my great-grandfather's scrapbook flashed in my mind, so I dug it out of a box in my closet. This scrapbook, which I had flipped through dozens, if not a few hundred, times in my youth suddenly came to life in a new way. My grandmother had tried telling me about how studying journalism at Baylor was returning the craft to our family, but it never really jolted me awake until this year. My great-grandfather had devoted his life to writing, teaching, publishing and newspapers. And so had his father (see inset picture). 

As a child, I was mesmerized by this photograph and even wrote a short fictional story about the staff at the newspaper. If you look closely, the window says "C.F. Mahnke," the name of my great-great grandfather. Sadly, I have no way to know which of the photographed gentlemen might be him. But if I had to guess, the short fellow with his hands on his hips feels familiar. 

As a child, I was mesmerized by this photograph and even wrote a short fictional story about the staff at the newspaper. If you look closely, the window says "C.F. Mahnke," the name of my great-great grandfather. Sadly, I have no way to know which of the photographed gentlemen might be him. But if I had to guess, the short fellow with his hands on his hips feels familiar. 

Tucked inside the pages of the scrapbook was an essay my great-grandfather had written about establishing a printing class in the local high school. He spoke so practically about designing the class: he wanted it to benefit not just the bright students but also the "loafy" ones, too. The students weren't given grades, they were given a "paycheck" from money they printed themselves in the class. It ran successfully, happily and my great-grandfather clearly took great pride in his self-sufficient, hard-working group of students over the years. At this point, another light bulb went off in my mind: I come from a family of inventive problem solvers.

When everyone tells you their story, pay attention

For whatever reason, realizing for the first time that this writing, editing, publishing, inventing stuff is in my blood really seemed to open my eyes. Maybe it was the boost in self confidence I'd been looking for or perhaps just another set of unrealistic expectations ("I can't fail if I'm doing what my ancestors were good at!"). I suppose time will tell, but since that day I've been looking at my life and talents in a completely different way. They feel like they're finally being put to good use, to their intended use.

I can't count on two hands how many people over the years have told me that they want me to be the person to tell their story. When I look back at my previous jobs, I realize that every "hop" that was viewed unfavorably by future employers was the exact, precise choice that led me to today. I have a digital and print publishing firm that's firmly supported by inbound and digital marketing. Today our first self-publishing authors told me that they've been signed to a publishing house. And tomorrow I'm talking to a non-profit camp for children with disabilities about publishing a 25th anniversary book. It's an exciting time for my growing company, and for the first time in 18 months I'm not looking for something else to be enough.

Letting the path choose you

Someone asked me 8 years ago when I was going to write a book. 

The idea was laughable to me then, so I replied, "I guess I'll write a book one day when I have something worthwhile to say."

And I think that just might be today.