The first time I sang a solo in front of an audience was at the John Mills School Talent Show. I was seven. The song was “Roller Coaster,” by my then-favorites, the Partridge Family. I know now that they didn’t really sing their own songs, except for David Cassidy and Shirley Jones, but try telling that to a fan-crazed kid.

Little did I know that song title would become such an important metaphor for my life. So much so that when a few good things happen coincidentally around the same time, although I might be celebrating, I’m still looking over my shoulder, waiting for the inevitable guillotine blade to drop.

Last week, after the successful second-edition releases of the Bibliophiles stories, I was on a roll. My younger son’s lacrosse injury had healed, and he was finally off crutches. My oldest came home from college. The bliss of summer had finally swept into the Berner household.

Then I lost my freelance contract, the gig I had laughingly referred to as “the work that funds my fiction addiction.” My safety net was gone.

The company’s intellectual property was stolen, and court costs would have run too high for this tiny, independent firm. They opted to close up shop. Another American small business finished.

After the shock had worn off, my first instinct was to brainstorm other possible income streams — bring in some editing clients, pitch a few articles to some magazines — but freelancing is a difficult thing, and there are definitely no guarantees. How would I ever find something that would be as flexible and understanding about my other projects and pay as well too?

Fear crept in, with its butterflies-in-the-stomach, punched-in-the-solar-plexus anxiety. How would I have enough time to solicit articles, take on new clients, write the next Bibliophiles book, research another idea I have been playing around with, finish my short story and flash fiction submissions, and pay for the marketing and advertising necessary to keep the Bibliophiles afloat? Fear was now a tidal wave swelling, ready to douse.

Saturday, my family and I attended the commencement ceremony at my son’s school, Knox College. A very good friend of his was graduating, and Ed Helms was going to deliver the commencement address. Ed Helms! Andy Bernard from The Office! You remember how much I love that show, right? (I wrote about it twice this year, here and here.) This was huge for me. Once I found out he was going to be the speaker, I spent many hours trying to figure out how to crash graduation, but then I had a meeting on a nonrelated issue with one of the people in the Parent Relations department, and she scored some tickets for my family. Woot!

Although Helms was speaking to the graduating class, his words were ones I needed to hear as well. “But simply asking ourselves what we want is easy. Another far more powerful question that can be much harder to explore, but has the potential to bring you breathtaking clarity, is simply: What do I fear?” My ears perked up as he related the tale of quitting his film editing job to become a stand-up comedian without his own safety net.

Truth be told, I had been trying to find more time to write fiction, but was too scared to do it without a lucrative freelance account backing me up.

“Don't be afraid of fear,” Helms said. “Because it sharpens you, it challenges you, it makes you stronger; and when you run away from fear, you also run away from the opportunity to be your best possible self.”

He continued. “Because you can't shake it off. When you fail at the thing you love, it isn't on the outside of you like dirt or spilled mayonnaise — it's inside of you. It's in your molecules.” I knew all too well what he meant.

Okay, Ed Helms. Today, I embrace my fear and begin my first week as a full-time fiction writer. I still have butterflies in my stomach, but my solar plexus is feeling much better. I know there will be days when it with grow from fear with a small “f” to full-blown FEAR, but I will take a deep breath and get on with it.

Because I can’t shake off writing. Like Ed Helms said, it’s in my molecules.


Beverly Diehl said…
Nice speech - and clearly, it came at the perfect moment for you.

I've been laid off several times - scary, but it has ALWAYS turned out better for me. The last time, I decided to take my savings and unemployment and JUST WRITE for what turned out to be seven months (with a couple temp assignments here and there). I didn't sell that book; I eventually had to get a "real" job, but I will never regret taking that time.

Wishing you all the best as you try out your wings.

BooksAndPals said…
Best of luck, Karen. And I'm sure when my eyes were locked on Susan Dey that she was singing. Wasn't she? :/
Thanks for your encouragement, Beverly. We shall see, won't we?

LOL, Al. I totally wanted to be her!
Kelly Hashway said…
It's in my molecules.<-- Love that!
I know, Kelly. It really was a great line. Well done, Ed Helms!
Rena J. Traxel said…
Well put. I'm sorry to hear about the job. But I'm glad that you are moving forward.
Thanks, Rena. I appreciate you stopping by.
Ruth Schiffmann said…
Wow, great post, Karen. Love that you heard this message right when you needed it most. Wishing you all the best with your full-time fiction writing!!
Thanks so much, Ruth. :)

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