What I Learned In The Ten Years It Took To Publish My First Book

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.

Meredith
For more on the book, go www.indispensablebook.com or buy on Amazon.

ten years graphic

Reflections on the Wedding

This weekend, I attended the fourth wedding since my own nuptials in August. With nearly three months of perspective and so many more weddings under my belt, I’m finally ready to reflect back on what I learned through the entire wedding process.
arch
Starting with the planning, I’m grateful that we invested in what we cared about. In the months leading up to the wedding, it horrified me to find out just how much work this whole affair can be. So, I’m glad we picked our battles. Since I cared a lot about the ceremony, we wrote every word of it ourselves (I’m sharing the text in my next post if you’re interested).  Since Liz cared about the music, she picked every song by hand. The flowers that we didn’t care about were perfectly serviceable and lovely accents to the event. I’m glad we reserved our energy and didn’t worry about what mattered less to us.

My first realization during wedding week was that we needed every moment available. In addition to our wedding day, we held an entire week’s worth of events:  drinks at our favorite dive bar, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, wine tasting in Sonoma, breakfasting with our families, picnicking with everyone in the Presidio, and celebrating our rehearsal at the restaurant where we had our first date.  About 24 hours into our 100+ hour celebration, I saw how much I needed all the remaining time to connect with people and spend solid time with all of them (as well as Liz!). Call me an extrovert, but I couldn’t soak up enough.  I’m grateful we had the luxury of time with so many guests.

In arranging the last-minute details for the wedding, I was touched by how people made themselves ‘of service’ in a beautiful way. In addition to our families and our wedding parties (who all played wonderfully supportive roles), there were unexpected guests who jumped in to help. It was the uncles who carried all the snacks for the wine bus. It was the classmates who helped transport all the alcohol after the picnic. It was the friend who diligently held my drink while I danced. None of them had formal roles, and yet all were so enthusiastically helpful. We will pay this support forward at every wedding we attend.

prep
As the night progressed, I found the old adage to be true – something will go wrong, and you need to let it go. For us, the one thing that went wrong at our wedding was the coffee cups; they were paper cups instead of proper mugs. (Oh the horror!)  Did our guests notice?  No. Did we notice?  Yes. Did our guests care? No. Did we care?  Less than we would have thought, but more than we should have. Let it go and enjoy all that is right.

Looking at the wedding as a whole, my favorite moments were completely unscripted:  the drive to the venue with my parents and bridesmaid, peering out the window as guests arrived, my instinctual reaction when I first saw Liz, the champagne pop, the end of my father’s speech, the first song the DJ played, the last song the DJ played, and the plate of grilled cheese someone gave me. And perhaps more than anything else, I loved the quiet of Liz and I taking the dog for a walk in the full moon well after the wedding was over. I’m glad there was room to savor the little moments.

In my post immediately upon returning from honeymoon, I struggled to wrap my head around the whole event. However, since reflecting more, I’ve realized that every part of a wedding is a public affair. Not only do you celebrate your wedding in public, you process it in public. Typically, I work through life events independently, journaling on my experiences. This approach didn’t resonate for the wedding. It was only when I started to talk to people about the wedding – to hear about their experiences and share my own – that I started to see the meaning of the whole event more clearly. For all the relationship moments that are lived privately, a wedding is public. Meaning is created between people – between Liz and me, between us and our guests – and not in my head alone. Once I understood this, the debrief conversations with guests and my wife took on a new importance. Liz and I jumped into co-authoring a journal of our collective wedding week events to capture everything from a full perspective. We experienced it together, so we needed to process it together as well.

So, to conclude, thank you for digesting this with me and bringing yet another level to the public commitment Liz and I made in August. I’m grateful that you’re all bearing witness to the journey.

Onwards and upwards,
Meredith

P.S.  Congratulations to all the couples whose nuptials we’ve witnessed since our own:  Andrew and Christine, Justin and Pascal, Marla and Jamie, and Jenny and Fico! We’ve loved your lemonade stands, dessert bars, choreographed dances, drag queens, gazing circles, and Texan barbecue. It has been an honor to celebrate with you!

ceremony

So That Happened

As many of you know, I spent the last three weeks getting married to Liz, celebrating with friends and family, and running off to Bora Bora on my honeymoon. I can think of few other periods in my life as dense with experience, emotion, and meaning as these. Typically, when life feels full like this, I depend upon writing. Through writing, I process emotions, document events, and envision the future. However, uncharacteristically, I feel blocked from writing about the past few weeks. I’ve opened and closed my journal a dozen times. I’ve beat myself up about not writing. I’ve avoided it entirely. And yet, when it’s hard to begin processing, I suppose you have to start somewhere:

ceremony

Wedding week kicked off with dinner at French Laundry, the obligatory City Hall visit, beers and tacos on the waterfront, wine tasting in Sonoma, sitting around the Inn fire pit, open mic toasts at the rehearsal, and thirty people who rarely ride bikes pedaling over the Golden Gate Bridge. There was the ceremony we wrote ourselves, Reese’s best behavior as he came up the aisle, the reflections of our officiants, the surprise first dance starring our fathers, and the encouragement to “Live Long and Prosper.” There was the mist in the Presidio, the clear view of the Golden Gate, the sanctity of the space, the smell of eucalyptus, and the mountains of petits fours. There were bottles of champagne sabered by knives (more or less successfully), family-style platters passed around the table, a chance to wear my mother’s veil, a second wedding dress, and abounding grilled cheese. There was biking the approach to Sausalito with my uncle, calculating last-minute vendor tips with my bridesmaid Eleanore, the dance with my dad, and the last picture of the night with my mom. There was the note Liz sent me our wedding morning, my gasp at first seeing her, and walking Reese together under the full moon after the whole reception finished. And all this was before the honeymoon. It was before bottles of champagne on arrival, tropical flowers from my wife surprising me in our room, and fresh coconuts opened by the gardener. It was before Liz tackled the trails on our ATV, we choreographed team jumps off our overwater bungalow, and I fell face-first off a stand-up paddleboard. In each of these experiences, there were dense emotions as well: the joy of seeing friends and family, the pressure of coordination, the annoyance of detail-orientation, the hope that all would go well, the confidence that this was so right, the overwhelming love of everyone in attendance, and the gratitude for everyone and for each other. Coming out of these few weeks, there’s a distinct happy/sad feeling, just like the happy/sad tears I cried at the toasts, on the dance floor, and when the wedding was all thankfully, impossibly, heart-breakingly over.

Why is it so hard to write about the wedding? First, it’s too big, too dense, and too meaningful. I find it impossible to select a vignette that’s representative of the whole or condense the entirety down into something comprehensive. Thus, instead of presenting a thoughtful deconstruction of a focused experience (as is often my approach on The Intentional), I can only come up with the incomplete litany of impressions above.

Second, it’s hard to reflect upon the wedding/honeymoon period because it’s not yet over; we’re still in the ‘liminal’ period. Liminality is a concept in anthropology and ritual studies; it describes the disorienting in-between-ness that happens after you leave one role (e.g., engaged person) and before you take on your new role (e.g., married person). You’re no longer this, but not yet that. Because we start back to work tomorrow, Liz and I have not yet re-emerged into the world as married folk. Life is still filled with wedding logistics, honeymoon-worthy candlelit dinners, and a distinct separation from everyday life. Perhaps, in addition to the sheer volume of experiences, I’m also struggling with reflecting upon this experience as I’m still in the midst of it.

Looking forward, I suspect it will take time to integrate the events of the last few weeks; as days and weeks pass, I’ll be better able to digest the great volume of experiences and benefit from the perspective of being back in the flow of life. Self-growth often takes conscious processing, and there are certainly more wedding posts to come. What form my continued reflection takes, there’s also a refreshing finality in closing this in-between period. It means that, on the most important level, the change is complete. I re-enter the world tomorrow fundamentally and delightfully different from who I’ve been: I’m now married to Liz.

With love to all those who read this, all those who celebrated with us, and, above all, my lovely wife,
Meredith Whipple Callahan

(More to come!)

first dance

On Tattooing

At Yale, my favorite class was my senior seminar with all the other Religious Studies majors. We read canonical works on the definition of religion and ritual theory, supported each other on our senior theses, and frequently caught up over kosher meals at the on-campus Hillel. We celebrated turning in our final papers by nailing the front pages, Luther-like, to the front door of the department. We even nicknamed ourselves “RelStuds” – which, while an apt shortening of our major, perhaps belied how cool we were.

One of the things I most valued about that group was the diversity of perspectives we brought to the table. We each had a distinctly different touch point with religion – some of us aspiring to be priests or rabbis, some of us fascinated by ritual and meaning-making, some of us investigating the intersections of church and state.

I remember being particularly struck by one classmate whose senior thesis focused on Christian tattooing. She looked at the interpretation and theories of tribal tattooing and applied these to modern-day biker tats. This topic completely bent my brain. First, I found it such a paradox that tattooing (which, at the time, seemed radical and edgy to me) could carry the message of Christianity (which seemed conservative and traditional to me). Further, her whole approach reframed tattooing from the artistic to the spiritual, from the arbitrary to the meaningful, from the ephemeral to the enduring. Instead of being an impetuous act of youth, a tattoo could be a lasting, unyielding reminder of a core value or purpose. Instead of being something which one might regret, a tattoo could be an essential reminder in the future. I feel in love with the idea of tattooing as an act of inscribing life lessons onto one’s body in a way that could never be lost or forgotten.

I first thought about getting a tattoo immediately after I graduated, but it took a full five years for that first tattoo to come to fruition. I’ve learned, after a few sessions under the needle that coming to the right tattoo takes time. Each of my tattoos represents an insight, experience, or value, inscribed upon my body with thought and consideration. Because of this tie to my life and my development, I can’t plan ahead from them. Instead, as life progresses, I sometimes get the feeling that a tattoo is coming (almost of its own volition), and, over time, the reason and design unfold before me. I have to let them happen instead of declaring that “It’s now time to wrap up that life lesson and write it down!” As you probably know, that’s not how being a human being works. Instead, I surrender to the tattoo.

Since that first tattoo in 2008, I’ve had three more, each at an utterly unpredicted and completely perfect moment in time. This past weekend was my most recent addition. After dropping Liz off at the Denver airport, I knew what I had to do. I drove to Boulder, found a tattoo shop on Yelp, and was soon sitting down with my new friend Sam. Being a bit squeamish, I always need to find the stronger person inside of me to make it through the tattooing process, but I once again proved that I can be braver than expected when it’s really needed.

Now, the ‘charm bracelet’ on my left wrist is one step closer to encircling it, with a newly drawn dot and flourish trailing off to the left. Perhaps someday we’ll talk about all the meanings. But, in the short-term, it’s another step in life, never to be forgotten.

With love,
Meredith

The dark ink is the new tattoo, adding onto the line of the old piece, which you can see to the top left.

The dark ink is the new tattoo, adding onto the line of the old piece, which you can see to the top left.

Work and Fulfillment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role the work plays in our fulfillment as human beings.  What are we pursuing in life?  What are we pursuing in work?  Where are those objectives are aligned or out of sync?  And further, what do we do with all that?

Since I’m quite happy in both work and life these days, I’m lucky to approach this topic from a positive perspective.  I sat back to think:  How does work contribute to my fulfillment?

There are two ways that work helps me follow my broader purpose in life:

First, my work is aligned with my mission and sense of purpose.  I believe that my work – in and of itself – allows me to accomplish part of what I would like to do in my short human life.  Because of this, I deeply care that it’s successful.  I see myself in the process and the outcomes.  Further, I learn things that matter to me, and I improve skills that are important to me.  Work itself is meaningful and purposeful.  That fundamental passion for my work contributes strongly to my sense of fulfillment.

Second, not only am I fulfilled by work, but work leaves room for me to find fulfillment in other ways.  True, I work hard.  Sometimes I devote entire days to work and work alone, starting conference calls early and finishing slides late.  But I find that over the long run, there’s time and space for all parts of me to be fulfilled.  In addition to work, there’s room for family, friends, community, exercise, hobbies, life administration, fun, travel, sleep, recovery, and beingness.  Perhaps every day does not have every element, but the balance works out over a not-insignificant period of time.  The impact is that not only is work fulfilling when I’m doing it, but work allows me to find fulfillment outside of the office as well.  This ability to lead a full life is the second connection between my work and my fulfillment.

And so I leave you with another nerdy framework to ponder all this.  Does work contribute to your fulfillment?  Where do you find yourself in the view below?

Meredith

work fulfillment

Are You Reacting To Life or Creating Your Life?

This week someone posed the question “Are you reacting to life or creating your life?”  I liked the formulation and decided it was my key reflection point for the week.  But instead of writing about it, I’m mixing it up and putting my dubious drawing skills to the test.  Thus, please enjoy:

title

reaction

creation
With love,
Meredith

 

Self-Reflection Has a Short Shelf-Life

San Francisco, CA

I was chatting with a minister-friend of mine the other day about one of the universal truths of self-reflection:  Self-reflection has a short shelf-life.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in self-development workshops that I’ve both attended and run myself.  You spend a few hours navel-gazing or journaling or in a coaching conversation and come up with the most brilliant insights.  “Who knew that my fear of spiders was what’s holding me back from volunteering in the Amazon!” or “Wow, fear and love are opposites!  I never thought of it that way!” The insights are always that:  insightful.  You see things you didn’t previously see.  You feel a burst of energy for attacking the world with your new understanding.  And, with a bit of accountability, you use the power of your insight to push forward into a new way of being or acting.  It’s the core of self-reflection, and it’s all pretty fulfilling.

But the problem is that yesterday’s insight is today’s yawn-worthy platitude.  Insights are so quickly absorbed into our current state of thinking that they’re frankly no longer insightful.

I notice this same phenomenon when I share my personal insights with others.  As others rarely have the same obstacles obscuring their sight, sharing a powerful realization is often met with “Yeah, you just realized that now?”  It’s not that the insight is silly or simple, but instead that it doesn’t have the same resonance for someone else.

While insights seem quite generic or obvious, what makes them powerful is their situational relevance.  Insights are exactly what you need to realize – at this point in time, in this situation, for you and you alone.  They’re hard to share.  Sometimes they’re hard to remember.  And even if you did remember them, there is something else you’re going to have to realize in just another day or week or month.

All this leads to my conclusion:  Self-reflection has a short shelf-life.

The famous line from Plato’s Apology claims that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  To some, that’s an easy statement to agree with.  But putting this together, the real annoyance is not the need to examine your life – it’s the frequency with which you need to do it.

With love,
Meredith

self reflection