Experiments are the fuel of innovation. Creative risk is the path of reinvention. Writing a novel is just weird.
This week my first novel, This is Rage, is being released to the public by my wonderful publisher, The Story Plant. I have to admit, it’s a little eerie. Over the years I’ve had the amazing good fortune to chase many unconventional pursuits, but this one feels different. It has taken three years for me to find the courage to refer to myself as an author — now the more germane question is whether my reading audience sees me as an author good, bad, emerging, or the subject of split opinion. There’s no chic pub where I can go and wait for the reviews to come in; I just sit behind an LCD and watch the sales numbers amass (or not) in Author Central. Like I said, it’s eerie.
Why did I leave a corner-office gig to do this? I guess I sort of had to — there was a calling, a need to tell a story, the need to tell this story. It was a significant risk, not with a lot of financial upside, but a challenge to be true to myself, to my ideals, and to the characters I would create. It was also a test of my spirit, self-discipline, and marathon commitment to a period of reclusiveness. I wanted to see if I could translate real acts of business into pretend acts of spectacle. I wanted to temper tough subjects with humor, but leave their implication open to interpretation. I wanted to bring what was forever offstage into the light of the mind’s proscenium, with a touch of cliff-hanging and a flash of razzmatazz. It was an ambitious agenda, getting so many connected words on the page, then smoothing them out, then sharing them with you. This I feel good about, because it is no longer something I talk about doing at cocktail parties; it’s something I did and will likely do again.
A few months ago, one of the participants in a webinar I was leading asked me the following question live and on the spot:
What’s scarier, to risk public embarrassment by putting forward an opinion in the open, or maintaining silence and taking shelter safely below the radar?
He was asking my opinion on whether he should begin posting comments on LinkedIn. I suggested he push himself several steps — one at a time — beyond his comfort zone and see what came of it. What’s the worst that could happen, a few catty low-lifes would heckle him behind his back? Entirely their problem. Gossip is poison, not the elixir of ingenuity.
On the heels of my publication date, the unexpressed irony in my own advice was not lost on me.
Make no mistake, exposing yourself before your peers and an otherwise distracted collection of global strangers is terrifying, even to people who do it all the time. It is also necessary to bring forth change. Even when you blow it completely, the test is more gratifying than punitive.
Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I cannot imagine anything scarier than not finding out whether an idea within you could have any impact beyond your own contemplation. The consequence of exposure might be painful, but muting one’s own expression is the very definition of dead on arrival. To accept the potential downside is to open the door to the potent upside. Anything less is a door still closed.
Why am I telling you this? Because every day we all have the opportunity to risk what only appears to be nothing and stay silent, or risk the tiniest bit of clown stumble and potentially change the lives of those around us. Authorship is not just for authors, it begins when anyone has the courage to speak up, when he or she sees the world differently and musters the power of conviction. You can Say or Not Say. Presuming you have thought it through — and I trust you have — I am advocating a bias toward the expressive, knowing you might trip over your own floppy shoes, worrying about that a lot less than letting self-imposed restriction define your fate.
When I’m mentoring an executive, I tell them to put it out there. Now I’m taking my own advice.
I look forward to your feedback on This is Rage, to the start of a great dialogue, and to many more stories to come. I want to hear yours as well.
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Ken, you’re an inspirational guy. Thanks.
Great thoughts, Ken. I’ve never (edit: rarely) regretted being courageous. I have regretted safe choices many times.
The book is great, by the way. Just finished.
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