“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Bilbo Baggins
I’ve never been much of a risk-taker. I’m the “play-it-safe” kind of girl, falling in line with the rules and pre-determined expectations… never having the courage to step beyond my comfort zone or do something unexpected.
But then the pandemic hit, and my orderly life took a nose-dive.
COVID-19 has impacted the globe in more ways than words can define. I live in Illinois and our state was effectively shut down from about mid-March to mid-June 2020. Like many, I was asked to work remotely – which meant quickly learning how to adapt to teach and advise college students online. The learning curve was tough, but seemingly doable.
But here’s what made it impossible.
Daycare closed and I was left with a one-year-old, a two-year-old, and a three-year-old to care for at home… while simultaneously moving my full-time job entirely online. This situation isn’t unique to me. In fact, I would dare to bet that many of you reading this are nodding your head, returning to the moment in time you were asked to do something similar.
I struggled – a lot. But from that struggle, I found a new part of myself – a piece of my heart that I hadn’t tapped into. And after months of tears and pent-up frustration, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to give myself permission…
I gave myself permission to step away from the expectations. I gave myself permission to prioritize my needs – my desires. And most importantly, I gave myself permission to take a risk.
I discovered an outlet to channel my anger, displacing my this isn’t fair attitude into something meaningful. I found storytelling. So, in the middle of lockdown, I took a risk on myself and laid my heart bare to the blank pages in front of me. Every night, I plotted and planned – created and developed characters – and told their story. I’ve never been so bold in my life, trying something new and putting myself out into the world in a new capacity. And within about ten months I found that I had written a 70,000-word contemporary romance novel, signed a contract with Inkspell Publishing, and won an award for my debut novel, I Loved You Yesterday. In August 2022, my book will be available to the world.
I share this story, not to brag. I’m humbled by the success and most days still sit stunned in disbelief. I share this story because of what I learned. As women, we put pressure on ourselves to meet expectations – both personally and professionally. We absorb pressure from others to complete tasks. And we rarely put ourselves first.
So, if there’s three things that this experience has taught me, it’s this:
Put Yourself Out There. We grow when we step beyond our comfort zone. In fact, I’ve heard it argued that true learning can only take place when we’re in a state of discomfort. My entire education and professional experience have been rooted in public relations and higher education. And while I had a strong writing skill set, I knew little about telling a fictional story, the publishing world, and how to market and sell a book. I challenged myself in a positive way – allowing myself the opportunity to absorb the knowledge of a new industry. The journey brought a sense of clarity I didn’t know I needed.
Try Something New. I smile more now. I wake with a sense of new accomplishment every day knowing that my labor of love will soon meet the world. I gave myself permission to test my skills in a new arena – to learn and practice a new craft. Branching out and finding the freedom to explore has allowed me to find a purpose I didn’t know I was missing. It also helped me understand that I had the capacity to balance parenthood, professional commitments, and my passion. The journey started with fiction writing, but now it’s snowballed into so much more. I now have an online author platform, teach courses in publishing at the local community college, and am on the brink of launching my YouTube channel, Just Write Julie.
Take a Risk. It’s true – I get weird looks and sideways glances when others learn I write contemporary romance novels. I work in a male-dominated industry, many of which surpass me in age. And while I’m learning to own my accomplishments, I do still feel the pit of anxiety in my stomach when I see the subtle smirk. As a thirty-five-year-old female, I’m still finding my place in the world, uncovering pieces of my soul I didn’t know existed – none of which would have come to light had it not been for the dark – and for that first bit of courage to cross my heart.
We’re all on a journey of self-discovery, trekking daily over hills and mountains to find our truth. COVID-19 lockdown pushed me up the tallest mountain in my lifetime, but today I welcome the adventure instead of shying away from it.
Take the risk. I’m sure glad I did.