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Director’s Desk: Guided by Why

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by Angela Bole, CEO, Independent Book Publishers Association

Angela Bole

I’ve been thinking about how we make decisions.

Do you take a chance on a new business partner? Do you move across country for a new job? If you’ve only been self-publishing, is now the time to start taking on books by others?

If we believe Jeff Bezos, and in at least this I do, “What’s dangerous is not to evolve.” So we make decisions—big and little—all the time about taking on new challenges. We hope we’re making good decisions, but how can we be sure?

Over the years, I’ve lived in several parts of the country. First, with the ink still wet on my B.A. in literature from Indiana University, I moved to the base of Wyoming’s Teton Mountains. I was sure I wanted to be an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. It didn’t take long to realize that sleeping on the ground night after night wasn’t as romantic as Outdoor magazine made it out to be. And besides: I was having much more fun as the buyer for one of the independent bookstores in Jackson, WY.

So after four years, I moved from Wyoming to New York City to study publishing at NYU and find a job in the book business. It worked. I came to love standards and research through my job with the Book Industry Study Group. I appreciated working with book industry data and getting a full understanding of how our industry operates.

Then, of course, there was my latest move: the trek from NYC to California a little over a year ago to start my work in IBPA’s Manhattan Beach offices.

Each decision to move contributed something to my personal and professional growth, and I’m grateful for the opportunities. This doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel like a fish out of water. As you get older, it doesn’t get easier to make friends in new places. And building work relationships from the ground up takes time and effort as well. Still, I made the moves anyway. Why?

Effective Aligning

Recently, I was struggling with another big decision. As I often do in situations like this, I reached out to some friends for advice. My friend Trey wrote to me about “why power,” a philosophy that’s prevalent in fitness circles:

Most of us like to give in to the idea that willpower will be the force that can compel us to achieve any goal, but to heck with that. Willpower alone will let you down, whereas the real hero, Why Power, will in fact push you to greatness. Your choices are only meaningful when they align with your desires and dreams. The wisest and most motivating choices are the ones which you identify with your purpose. If you want something, you have to know WHY you want it or else it’s all too easy to lose steam as you work to achieve it.

I like that very much.

And, when I think about it, what I know about myself is that I’m 100% committed to helping people find and share their voices. Twenty years ago I was deeply affected by my first reading of Audre Lorde’s Sisterhood and Survival. In it, she wrote:

I have been teaching the poems of Angelina Weld Grimke recently, another black lesbian poet of the Harlem Renaissance. Thanks to the work of women like Gloria Hull, Barbara Smith, Pat Bell-Scott, Erlene Stenson, and others, her work is once more becoming available to us. But it has been lost for many years to me. And I often think of her, dying alone in an apartment in New York City in 1958, while I was a young black lesbian, in isolation not too far away, and I think of what it could have meant in terms of sisterhood and survival for each one of us to have known of the other’s existence, for me to have had her words, and for her to have known I needed them. That we are not alone.

Indeed, we are not alone. Stories unite us. What could be more powerful than that?

So whether I’m in Indiana, Wyoming, New York, or California—whether I’m a literature student, a bookstore employee, a standards nerd, or the executive director of IBPA—as long as I’m helping connect people through stories, I know I’ve made decisions that have kept me on the right path. Helping people share their voice is my why power.

This month, I wonder if you’ll take some time to explore your personal why power. What connects you to the work you do in a basic and authentic way? Perhaps you’d like to share your thoughts on the IBPA blog? If so, please e-mail me at angela@ibpa-online.org. I’d be happy to have them.

Just before Angela Bole became IBPA’s Executive Director, she was Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG), which fosters conversation and consensus across all sectors of the book business. Before that, Angela served for two years as BISG’s Associate Director and two years as its Marketing and Communications Manager. Angela also serves as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of IDPF, the International Digital Publishing Forum.

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