- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleOut of the Chorus Line...Into the Spotlight, Solo
(This e-nnouncement essay originally appeared on Barnes & Noble.com in March 1999)
When I was an editor/publisher, I always looked for the core sentence in a manuscript to pull out as the line that could become the book's foundation or even its title. "The Fifth Discipline," I know (I was the editor), was buried in Peter Senge's messy manuscript. "You're looking for 'the phrase that pays,'" an advertising executive said. "No, I'm looking for the chord, the one sentence which, when you strike it, lets you hear the whole book in a single sound." A Buddhist friend said, "Ah, you mean the Jain chord. The Jainists believe that if you combine the first phrase of a book and the last phrase, together they tell the entire theme or story -- as if every word of the book hung between these two points, like a line of fresh wash by one long thread."
That was it. Ten years into editing, my job seemed a bit small. I wanted a new adventure. So I wrote a book, The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women, and throughout the process, I looked high and low for the chord. Near the end of the writing, something started ringing in my ears. The Princessa contains more than 200 pages of advice for women on how to take power in their lives, strategically. But it all comes down to a single line: "Ask for everything."
Deceptively simple, but try it. Spend two weeks asking people for everything, and your life will change. Ask for everything, of yourself, others, the world. People love to be asked for big favors; it ennobles them; it reminds them that they are capable of delivering on something important. Too often our organizations ask us for so little that we become deflated. Lovers ask us for so little -- bring home a pizza or come with me to a party -- when we could ask for, and get, a big favor like: Teach me to be independent and strong. If we don't ask for everything, we shrink down to the smallest doll in the large nest of dolls that we are. As soon as I heard that chord, the sound got louder...
Eighteen months, three days, and fourteen hours ago, it shattered glass. I asked Doubleday for permission to break free, to leave my job to go solo. I didn't want to start a new company; I wanted to restart my life. This was asking for everything. I walked out of a job friends said was the best in publishing. A job that made authors like Intel's Andy Grove or business guru Peter Senge or futurist Faith Popcorn stop what they were doing and listen to me! Suddenly that job seemed like asking for very little. I wanted to see if I could do for myself what I had done for countless authors: guide them to a new understanding of their gifts.
Working solo is great and terrible, and some days I can't tell one state of existence from the other. I keep in mind Thoreau's recipe for happiness. I had come to publishing because I always believed that books would change the world. Thoreau left his miserable civil service job and lit out for Walden Pond on July 4, 1845 (Independence Day!), with one mission in mind: "I want to be sure the world doesn't change me."
People with jobs inevitably cut themselves down to fit a corporate culture, and we lose ourselves in the process. Soloing: Reaching Your Life's Ambition talks about how to -- as an anonymous poet wrote -- work as if you don't need the money, dance as if nobody's watching, and love as if you've never been hurt. That's the kind of strong self-belief soloing brings out in a person. The book grows out of a series of diary entries that I kept for Inc. magazine. Inc.'s editor in chief tells me these articles generated more response than anything he's published in 25 years.
What's the Jain chord in going solo? I haven't found it yet, but as I write, I'm looking.