While I was constantly flooded with images of people getting engaged, married, celebrating milestones, or creating life, I was creating a book; a book from a story that was written 10 years ago. I always knew that writing was part of my soul, but I refused to acknowledge it for years. It wasn't until the call to share my words got so loud that it was impossible to ignore, and I had no choice but to work through the fear that was standing in my way. I embarked on a journey . . . not realizing that the finished product would not only be a tangible book I could hold in my hands, but the life I had wanted to live for years.
The journey began with words on a page . . .
The writing part was easy; I was inspired in a single moment and the words flowed freely. I was in my backyard in North Carolina, walking around the garden I had created to mend a broken heart, and I stopped to watch a ladybug climb up my favorite tree. It was November and all the leaves had fallen off the tree, leaving the ladybug impossible to miss. I ran inside to grab some Guest Check paper out of my server book and I began writing . . . completely unaware that the words I wrote would one day change my life.
North Carolina was the place that started my awakening. It was the place that allowed me to start over; the place where I began building the life I wanted instead of the one I told myself to live. I relocated there after living in Miami for 6 years. Miami was where I "learned" how to be an adult without constant parental supervision. For the first time in 18 years, my life was in my own hands, and it was up to me to navigate its course. I attended the University of Miami and spent 4 years striving to achieve a degree in psychology, not realizing that I was also receiving an education in life. UM was where I learned how to deal with stress . . . where I recognized how quickly "friendships" can change from one day to the next . . . where I concluded that "blood is not thicker than water" in the metaphorical sense, and where I formed my own belief system instead of the one that was forced down my throat. It was the place that opened my mind to thinking "outside of the box" and caused me to question the significance of the required classes toward actually achieving success in life. It was where I began realizing the power that fear had over my life, but most importantly, that I was the one who allowed it.
I graduated with that degree in psychology because I really believed that helping children through therapy was how I wanted to leave my mark on the world. Instead of leaving after graduation, I stayed and worked for the Psychology Department for 2 years in order to build up my resume. I was surrounded by aspiring Ph.D candidates and it deluded me into believing that I wanted one too. I applied to Clinical Ph.D programs, but upon receipt of the 6th rejection letter, I reevaluated and decided that psychology was no longer the path I wanted to travel down permanently. I had allowed my ego to guide my path rather than my heart and it left me feeling unfilled, worthless and frustrated. My heart knew that my time in Miami had expired years ago, but my head was afraid of leaving and starting over. It was finally time to tackle that fear.
My best friend from high school had recently moved to North Carolina with her husband and was living in a town called Winston-Salem. I didn't know much about North Carolina except for visiting Cary a few times, but I decided to give it a try. I moved there in January of 2008 after 3 months of volunteering in Thailand (which I did because I regretted not going abroad while in college) and began creating a new life. I tried new jobs. I met new friends. I expressed myself creatively and slowly became acquainted with parts of myself that I had forgotten. Inspiration struck me on a more regular basis and I often found myself scrambling to get the ideas down on paper. Writing ended up being the main instrument for my awakening, and though I didn't do it as much as I would have liked, the pieces I wrote were catalysts for change in my own life.
"The Great Tree and the Ladybug" was a story about overcoming fear. It was originally titled, "The Mimosa and the Ladybug" since it was inspired by the mimosa tree that my dad and I planted together after we grew it from a small seed, but I changed the name when I decided to have it published. I was inspired by that little ladybug for 10 years before I had the courage to share his story with the world.
Sometimes you have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down. - Kobi Yamada
Most of my life was lived in fear . . .
I was afraid of so many things: the unknown, failing, being embarrassed, made fun of or rejected . . . and those fears kept me from moving forward. I envied that little ladybug who overcame his fear and took the leap because I desperately wanted it to be me. But I wasn't ready to let go and trust myself. There were times when I embraced change because I was tired of being unhappy, but I did it to run away, not to conquer my own fear. It took me years until I could distinguish the difference.
I left NC after 6 years because it was no longer the place I wanted to be. I had a hard time letting go of my house and my garden and the wonderful friends that had kept my sanity, but I knew it wasn't in my best interest to stay. I went back to my roots on Long Island and started over . . . again. It didn't happen overnight, but the longer I was there, the more I began to step out of my comfort zone and trust in the universe even though I wasn't yet ready to trust in myself. For the next 6 years I faced my fears by trying new things; I experimented with new jobs and participated in new activities. I turned to faith when I was forced from one than more apartment and believed I had what I needed to land on my feet. North Carolina brought on my awakening; New York gave me the tools I needed to use that awakening and create the life I yearned to live by following my heart and listening to my soul.
I allowed fear to control my life for years, but little by little, I took back that control. In 2019, I was given the opportunity to face my biggest fear- putting my words out in the world- and I decided to go for it. I had always been afraid of sharing my writing with the world because I wasn't sure how it would be received; I didn't believe I was strong enough to handle the criticism and judgment. I didn't want "the haters" to shatter the self-esteem that had taken years to build up. But I believed in my story . . . and the message was too important not to share . . . so I began putting the pieces in motion and was amazed as they fell into place.
My yoga teacher was the catalyst for the entire project. She encouraged me to get in touch with a fellow yogi from the studio who had studied painting for years. We decided to get together and I shared "The Great Tree" with her. She had never illustrated before, but was touched by the story and wanted to give it a try. I told her my vision for the story and her creative expression with watercolors brought it to life.
It was the first time I had images to go with my words and I was deeply moved. Her art teacher, who had years of graphic design experience, agreed to design the book. The collaboration with these two amazing women brought my book into existence. If it weren't for them, my words will still be scribbles on those pieces of paper. I am indebted to them- not only did they help to bring my words to life, but they helped me to get out of my own way. Without their patience, encouragement, support and suggestions helping to guide me forward, I would have succumbed to the inner fear which was screaming at me to stop and give up.
But I chose to keep going. The Covid quarantine helped tremendously because it gave me the gift of time . . . uninterrupted time, which I used to tackle my inner demons without outside distractions. I used the time to build a platform and create a brand. I resonated in the life I could be living if I followed the path of my heart's desire rather than the path of fear. I was given the chance to not only finish the book I had spent over a year working on, but was also presented with the opportunity to truly live its words. I didn't want to be a hypocrite and preach to young kids about overcoming fear when I still immersed in my own. It was time for me to take my leap . . . and I did it by leaving New York . . . walking away from the restaurant industry . . . and putting all of my energy into my book and my writing. I moved to Delaware and began living my truth.
I finished the book and was ready to hold it in my hands! I knew that I wanted to pay for my own print run, so I spent a lot of time researching printing companies. I decided on Bookbaby because they were based in the US and offered distribution in addition to their printing services. I received my final proof from them in mid October of this year and it far exceeded my expectations! Waiting for the proof was extremely nerve-racking because I wasn't familiar with their quality. I prayed that I wouldn't be disappointed because I didn't want to have to find another company after having my manuscript tailored to meet their specifications. I recognized the expense that came with paying for my own print run, so I wanted to make sure I had a quality product. To say that I was "ecstatic" when the book arrived is an understatement. I knew that I made the right decision and I could move forward with ordering my own run. There was one page that needed tweaking---I got in touch with my book designer; she fixed it and I swallowed the last bit of my fear as I clicked "Complete Order."
Do the thing we fear, and death of fear is certain. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
It was an agonizing few weeks as I waited for the books to arrive, so I took pre-orders in the meantime. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from family and friends. People with whom I hadn't spoken in years were reaching out in support of the book. I felt truly blessed and still do to this day. The day the books arrived is one I will remember for the rest of my life; for someone who values words as much as I do, this was a day in which words fell short.
Since that day, many books have been sold and each book that leaves my hands for someone else's, warms my heart in more ways than one. I wrote this story to help myself to overcome my own fear. I created this book to encourage others to do the same. I wanted to make a difference . . . never expecting that the journey I took to create this book would end up making the ultimate difference to me and my life.
I pray that 2021 provides you with opportunities to overcome fear, embrace change and become aware of your limitless potential!
That risk you are afraid to take could change your life. - Toby Mac