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Director’s Desk: Playing Big

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I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort zones lately.

When I began as IBPA’s executive director nearly a year ago, I was living in New York City near friends and neighbors I’d known for over a decade. I walked really fast and had a $15 a day Starbucks habit. Maybe I walked really fast because I had a $15 a day Starbucks habit. I love coffee.

My work with IBPA meant a move from NYC to the California beaches. I’ve been a full- time resident of Manhattan Beach, California, for four months. I still drink a lot of coffee, but now I also ride my bicycle to work and wear sandals to formal occasions. It’s a whole new world.

Recently I read a newsletter post written by newly appointed IBPA board member Brooke Warner called “How to Play Big and All the Way Out There”. There is so much to love about what Brooke wrote in this piece. My favorite part, however, is this:

“You hear a lot about ‘playing big,’ and there’s a lot of pressure to do so. But playing big is not about impressing others, or necessarily about making money or getting famous (though in book publishing these things can be the result of playing big). It’s actually about honoring yourself to live into your full potential. Playing big is the opposite of keeping yourself small because you’re afraid of failure.”

I thought about this idea of playing big in relation to IBPA members. What I find most interesting is the incredible diversity. Overall, whether they publish funny stories to promote laughter or manifestos to provoke inquiry, whether they release one book or hundreds of books, IBPA members come at the business of publishing from more viewpoints than can be counted.

Even within this great variety, however, I’ve found that IBPA members have a singularity of purpose that is more important than any particular difference. By this I mean that every IBPA member I’ve communicated with in person, on the phone, or over email has let me know at one point or another that they don’t just want to publish; they want to publish well. In other words, many, if not all, IBPA members join this association because they want to play big.

Of course, a key point—one that Brooke makes in her piece—is that you can play big only if you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone. Everyone has the potential to bring about positive change in their work. All that’s required is clear purpose and the courage to ignore your fears of failure and keep moving into places that might not be all that comfortable.

Further in her post, Brooke goes on to ask, “Is it really enough that you are publishing, or do you want to commit to more? And by more I mean working on your platform, growing your social media, hiring people to help you grow, having a marketing plan, hiring a publicist when the time comes.”

Again, I thought about this in relation to IBPA members. And, again, my experience tells me that IBPA members want to commit to more. In our Code of Ethics, for example, IBPA members pledge to uphold “the highest standards of our industry, to create works of lasting financial and/or cultural value, and to pursue editorial, design, and production excellence.” This certainly seems to fall into the “more” category to me.

Comfort Zone Cases in Point

If we think about it, we can all point to watershed moments in our lives. These are the times when we stepped outside our comfort zones and expected more of ourselves. Brooke writes about one such moment in her recent professional life. For my part, I go back to 1998.

When I was 21 years old, I was hired as an assistant school- teacher at a residential treatment center for at-risk boys. For reasons that seem truly naïve today, I thought I was uniquely qualified for the work. I was wrong. In fact, I was ready to quit after only six months.

Before jumping ship, however, I decided to talk to one of the more seasoned teachers about my discomfort. I thought he’d commiserate and give me grownup advice on how to quit a job after only six months. He didn’t. Instead, he sat me down and asked me what kind of person I truly wanted to be. Did I want to be the kind who cut and ran when things got difficult? Or did I want to expect more from myself, and would I show this by honoring the commitment I made to the boys in the program when I took on the role of their teacher?

To say the least, deciding not to quit this job was a true turning point for me.

What about you? Would you be willing to share an example of when you stepped outside your comfort zone either professionally or personally? Email me at angela@ibpa-online.org and I’ll include your story in a future IBPA blog post.

Comfort zones. Everyone has them. But, of course, as Alice Sebold said: “Heaven is comfort, but it’s still not living.”

About the Author:

Bole,Angela(HeadShot1)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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