I wrote my first version of Indispensable nearly ten years ago, over the early part of 2008. Later that year, as the publishing industry struggled with the birth of eBooks, the economy collapsed, and my life moved forward, the goal of publishing it shifted into the background. I largely put the manuscript down and didn’t touch it for years.
Now, it’s ten years later and my book is due to be published on June 26th. The process of resurrecting, revisiting, and revising the book has been insightful. More than anything else, the manuscript has served as a point of reflection of who I was then and who I am now. As I set to work on revisions, I found myself having visceral reactions to the content. The tone of some sections made me cringe. How could I be so rude, so flippant, or so ignorant? On the other hand, some sections felt like old friends briefly forgotten. How wise I used to be! If I had only remembered that advice and applied it myself since writing it! Over the past decade, I’ve learned and grown. And the world has evolved around me. My manuscript – from its previous incarnation and its current revisions – has been a lens through which to see all that change more clearly.
On the whole, I’ve noticed two major dimensions along which I’ve changed the most. First, my understanding of diversity, inclusion, and privilege has expanded significantly. In the revisions, I rotate the gender of the managers and employees chapter by chapter. Similarly, I intentionally included a wide variety of names to be ethnically-inclusive; it’s no longer just a book about Bobs and Rachels. But, perhaps most notably, I rewrote the entire segment on dressing at work to be comprehensive of a more fluid range of gender expressions – and to acknowledge how precious physical expression can be to people. The passages that used to read as “just quiet down and wear whatever you need to wear to fit in” have a more nuanced tone, one suggesting that you make a conscious choice about what you wear and own the repercussions of how others may interpret that as reflective of your professional competence.
That brings me to the second shift in my approach; not just in the realm of physical presentation, but more broadly, my overarching approach became much less proscriptive and more fungible. I wrote the initial book as the essential advice you need to succeed in your first job and beyond. The tone conveyed that this this advice was important and that the reader should carefully listen, learn, and apply each suggestion. I positioned it as a universal formula for success. Now, I’ve softened that approach. I’m wise enough to know that even if some abstracted advice is broadly useful, people and situations are different. I present the book as full of useful strategies, but ones which should be considered, adapted, and applied with judgment. I focus more on the journey, the learning, and the development into your authentic self at work. Ultimately, I put the reader more in the position of power and conscious choice over their path rather than in the position of receiving wisdom from on high.
Now, Indispensable is in the final rounds of copy editing and proofreading. From a content perspective, this book, which was ten years in the making, is suddenly out of my hands. And I find myself looking both backwards and forwards. Looking forward, if I am living well, won’t I learn as much over the next decade as I did over the last? It is scary to think that the manuscript is fixed and I won’t be able to evolve it over time – as I and the world evolve in parallel. I have to believe that I’ll look back on Indispensable in another ten years and think “Wow, I missed so much.”
And so, I’m publishing something which feels not like a universal decree, but instead, a stake in the ground. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe, since this version of the book will be fixed, it will provide a similar view into my psychology today – and I’ll be able to see the differences between now and then – and the growth that has occurred – all the more clearly.