The Story Economy Blog

Am I Ready to Truly Leave a Trail?


I just came off working the corporate show I write every summer. It’s a project that takes all of my resources for the month of July, including being onsite for the week of the event. Though it means long days where emotions sometimes run high, it’s a nice change of pace from my solitary days.

Another member of the production crew snapped this picture while I was working with the client to rehearse some of the content I’d written. I’m the one sitting on the stage. (I look like a blob, but I’ve been assured that wide-angle lenses distort. Hmmm.)

Last year, I wrote about how this recurring project helped me learn to love being part of a team. This year, as I worked the event, I couldn’t help but think about trails. And not hiking trails (as if we ever leave the convention center to hike)! I mean the trails we leave behind as we move about in the world. The pieces of digital and paper detritus that say, “I was here.”

This notion first came up as a joke. On day one of script review, the team was all sitting around a table and we needed to print some scripts. The printer was right near me, and my colleague, David, asked me for the name of the printer. Without looking up, I said something like, “I don’t know, it’s just the one you don’t recognize,” since my computer’s memory only has about four printers on the drop-down list. He laughed, at which point I glanced over at his machine and said, “Holy shit!”

See for yourself.

He had 114 printers in his computer’s memory! That equals 114 different places he has been where he has connected his laptop to a printer.

My first thought when I compared my four printers to his 114 was, “My life is small, and I don’t go anywhere.”

I knew right away this was a bullshit thought, because, in addition to traveling for this show, I’ve been to two writers’ conferences this year (one in Phoenix and one in New York City), I have a trip planned to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend my friend’s wedding in October, and a week booked at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Arkansas that same month. Not to mention the beach vacation we took to Michigan in June, and a reporting trip to the Detroit area I took shortly after that. Oh, and our spring break jaunt to Pittsburgh in March.

This rumination about whether I’m living large or living small is about something else altogether—something that doesn’t have anything to do with airline miles. Or printers, for that matter.

It’s about influence, and my deep desire to have some. I’m starting to see what that might look like, and it fuels me. But it also really freaks me out.

For example, a few weeks ago, I wrote this piece for The New York Times about how I felt like I lost my intuition, especially when it came to my marriage, and how I was working to get it back. (In truth, I wrote the piece last year, but it took a while to run.)

In the last couple of years, I’ve published about 25 personal essays in large-circulation publications, not to mention writing this blog for the past seven years. While I’ve had some pieces generate a lot of comments and debate (like when I wrote about navigating Instagram with my 9-year-old son), I’ve never had as many people email me directly about an essay.

I got the most genuine messages from people around this idea of intuition. I’m talking dozens of emails from people, telling me stories about their own lives. Sometimes the stories were heartbreaking, and sometimes they were happy. Many left me humbled, like the story of a 9/11 survivor who credited intuition for helping him escape the 84th floor of the South Tower of the WTC, when many of his co-workers didn’t.

Those wonderful messages reinforce my belief that I have worthwhile ideas to share. My writing has influence. This motivates and pleases me quite a bit. It’s especially pertinent now because I’m working on my honesty book (more details to come). I keep thinking, “I just want everyone to read this!” But then, the minute I have that thought, another thought hacks in and tells me that is extremely egotistical, and who do I really think I am that people would want to read it?

It’s not a self-esteem issue. I like myself and respect myself and know what I’m good at. It’s more that I don’t yet fully understand my relationship with influence.

I want to carve a broad trail in the world, so that my ideas show up in people’s caches everywhere. It’s terrifying to have such a big-ass goal, because not everyone is going to like what I have to say.

Am I ready for it?

In truth, I don’t know! I’m working on it though. Of course, my most important job right now is simply to write, without being attached to any outcome. And now that I’m back at home, safely sequestered in my office (where there is only one printer to choose from) that’s exactly what I’m doing.

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