Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Being pulled in many directions

It’s a remarkable thing, what’s happened to me in the past year. I listened to my brother, my kid, and everyone else, and I sat down and wrote a book. Then I sank into depression and assumed no one would ever want to read it, let alone publish it.

But I was wrong. Everyone wanted to publish Look Me in the Eye, and the accolades poured in from all the editors who read the book. I was stunned – it was all completely unexpected. With the sale of my book to Crown, it seemed like I was off to a fresh start, and a new career.

Even still, I felt hesitant. I described my ideas for a second book to my editor, and she said, “I’d love to do that book too!” My own self doubts aside, all the indications are that I can write more books, and publishers will want to print them.

Of course, we’re still waiting for the final proof – will the public want to buy them? But the indications sure seem positive. I sure am anxious for that September 25 on-sale date. This year, fall can’t come soon enough!

But meanwhile, the old career is still with me, and it’s tough to do both.

Before I wrote about Asperger’s, I wrote about Land Rovers, Rolls Royces, and other high end cars. I answered tech questions for people from all over the world. I wrote articles for the club and enthusiast magazines. And I wrote all the material on my own web site, which became one of the most popular service sites for those makes online.

But writing was a sideline to actually fixing cars. I’ve spent twenty years building Robison Service into one of the most successful independent service centers in New England. We’ve increased our capabilities and grown every year.

All that time, I was the manager. I was the one everyone went to. But last fall, as finishing my book took more and more of my time, I realized I could not do both things. So I hired a manager. You’d think my problem was solved, but it wasn’t.

Now, I find myself with a full time job as an author. I have a second book to write, a blog to maintain, twenty to fifty emails a day to answer, and I have to plan appearances and work to finish and promote Look Me in the Eye.

I love doing all that, but I also have a second job.

Back at Robison Service, the car owners still ask for me, and I take phone calls all day. I answer another pile of emails with technical questions. I still write the car articles, and I still maintain the Robison Service web site.

Having a manager has reduced the demands on my time, but other issues have arisen, and they take time to address. What will I do with the company? Will we still service the cars? People seek reassurance in the face of change. Customers and employees worry.

What should I do?
I am thrilled to find that my writing can actually help people. The response to the words in my book and on my blog is just remarkable. I am filled with pride and joy at this heretofore unknown ability of mine. It’s like a dream come true.

But at the same time, I don’t want to abandon cars. I’ve tinkered with them since I was a child. I just want to find a balance, where the manager runs the company, and the staff does the work. And I act as a figurehead, talking to customers, and bringing in work. It’s proving difficult to accomplish that, but I hope I succeed.

For the last four or five years, I have been telling people I want to do something to benefit society, and I’d like to get out of commerce. I’ve also had a strong desire to do creative work, like I did when I was younger. My new career as an author seems to offer the promise of both. That’s exciting, but change is scary for me, too.

It’s tough, juggling being an author, overseeing the car business, and doing all the other things I do – the real estate management, the photography, our car events, and maintaining a family and home.

It’s not like quitting a job, where you walk away from one thing and start another. I don’t want to quit cars. I just want to find a balance. But it’s hard, especially on days like today. Yesterday, I left work at noon to meet people back home. I came in this morning, and everything is in disarray. It’s frustrating. I hope I can work it all out, so that I’m an author, a business owner (but not the day-to-day manager), and I can do everything else people expect of me.

24 comments:

Kanani said...

Hi John,
I see your tinkering w/ cars, the building of your company as a very creative process. You ou made it grow... it's validation of your skills and vision. That you run a business that is responsible for the livelihood of your employees says a lot about the strength of those shoulders. Believe me. I understand the pressures. I have a business, too, and employees, and contracts to negotiate, payroll to post.

Similarly, writing is an offshoot of that creativity. And you're right... it's hard to do it all. So you've done the right thing --found a competent manager.

Can you find a website manager for Robison? How about those 50 emails? Is there a way to come up with an FAQ page for people to look at instead of answering emails (both on your writing and Robison sites?).

What part of the car business do you like the most and where will you be the most effective?

Seems to me, that you can let the tech writing go. There's always someone else somewhere else that can do that. Your real value (in terms of the car biz) is as its leader. And it seems to me that you like going in there and having the sociable bit, being able to tinker with the cars.

And here's the other question: is your manager the right person to fill in for you? Is he or she charismatic enough to handle all questions, to ensure the Robison quality continues --even in your absence?

Make sure you have communicated clearly to your manager about your changing role. Don't leave employees to question things or often, they'll come up with the worst cas scenario.

As for the blog. Post 2-3 times a week. Write all your articles ahead of time. Save them as drafts. Publish later.

Desiree said...

I am really looking forward to your book! Congrats and best wishes for success. I do hope juggling all you have to do will be easier in time... doesn't everything we take on seem to get easier with time?

David L. McAfee said...

John,

I don't know if this is relevent or not, but didn't you have the same constraints while actually writing the book? The only reason I ask is because I find I have little enough time for writing as it is, although I squeeze it in somehow, and I wonder if your workload (as far as writing goes)has increased or decreased since Crown bought your book.

As to the actual post, well, I certainly hope you are able to balance everything. It seems like you have a lot on your plate. But judging by your past history, I am confident you'll find success in that measure as well. Best of luck to you.

The Writers' Group said...

John, if you want to do it, you'll find a way to make it happen. One thing is certain: people will buy your book. This is one I've been looking forward to since I read the deal on PubMarket.

Amy

Trish Ryan said...

Whenever I get overwhelmed, I try to remember the wise words of a friend from law school who was so calm, he watched PGA tournaments and took long naps while the rest of us crammed for finals. His GPA and mine came out within a tenth of a point of each other, convincing me he was on to something.

His motto? "Things tend to get done."

It's the stuff of long-term life decisions, but it sure does help me breath easier during a longish day.

John Elder Robison said...

Thank you for all your thoughs and support.

Kanani, you have some good suggestions.

I do have a web site manager - my mate does that. I just write the articles.

As to dropping the tech writing . . . it's something I've been known for (expert on high end cars) for half my life or more. So it's not so easy to just drop. I do think I will cut back some. I have already started doing that.

It's hard to communicate my changing role, when I don't even understand it myself.

It's my opinion that Robison Service will see a flood of business as a result of the book publicity. But it's hard for the staff to imagine that.

And they all wonder what I'll do. Time will tell.


Desiree, I suppose it does get easier with time. Most things do.


David, I did not have the same constraints, because the book writing was just something I did in a corner at work. No one paid it any attention.

Now, people call and stop by all the time. I get invited places. I get emails. All these things that didn't happen before.

Don't get me wrong - life is better for all that - but it does take more time.

Amy, I'm glad to hear you're excited about the book and I look forward to your reaction when you read it.

Trish, things do tend to get done. I have to try and keep that in mind. There is a whole little army supporting me now. I'm lucky in that regard.

Holly Kennedy said...

I feel for you as I know how hard it is to balance a writing career and a family without having to juggle a thriving business too.

Hopefully, it'll sort itself out and you'll be able to comfortably shift your roles around as LOOK ME IN THE EYE bursts onto the scene this fall :)

appletini said...

Well John, I am definately going to look for you book. I work with children with autism and aspergers.
As for the balancing part, this is a struggle that we all have. I guess we just need to focus on setting appropriate boundaries for ourselves, and of course, find stress releivers to decrease our levels of stress :)

Kanani said...

Yes and no.
You might get more people coming through, but it might not add up to more regular business. Your world is expanding, however, the world of your employees stays the same.

Perhaps what they want is to be reassured that your priority is their livelihood. That's pretty much the most meaningful thing to them, especially if they see you pulling back.

On the other hand, you have spent 20 years getting Robison Svcs. to where it is. It is natural that almost any boss would want to find other directions. Since you probably trained and picked almost all of them, no doubt you have confidence in their abilities. Just make sure that they know it. (I know this seems bizarre, but as a boss myself... I make sure I tell them whenever I can).

Just keep talking. You'll be fine.
I think everyone here feels that way at some point or another.

Kanani said...

And John...
I sure wish you worked on Volvos.

ORION said...

You know John I am going through the exact same thing. Do I abandon my PhD work? Let it all go to waste? Not finish my doctorate?
It is a difficult choice. I am enrolled for fall 07 but will have to make a decision.
Deep down inside I want writing to be my life.

Matty said...

Oh for Pete's sake quit your whining!! ;) If there has been one thing I have learned in my life t is that change brings only a new set of circumstances and decisions. To assume that it will get easier or better is asking fr trouble. Some of the worst things that have ever happened to me turned out to be some of the very best catalysts to a new and better permutation of my life. The reverse has been true as well.

My advice, although not solicited, is to keep doing the 'work' you enjoy, help people when you can, leave the world a better place where you have been and just accept the goods things as they come. 'Damage control' and putting out fires are just a fact of life. Sometimes there are more and others less. Accept them as the opportunities they represent and plod along.

I know you 'in person' so I see what is happening. (Hell, you couldn't meet me for lunch bcuase you had an Asberger's meeting to attend! And I think it was you turn to buy!!)Spend less time worrying and more time doing and enjoying...

and Kanani ALWAYS has great comments..;)

LeiselB said...

Oh fantastic! Congratulations! Have you read Augusten Burroughs book chapter on his older brother with Asbergers? Tender yet hilarious. I can't wait to read your book. Good luck juggling everything...

Kanani said...

OHHHHH...
So I see, Matty!
Cancelled lunches, massive numbers of emails.
Your friend here is grappling with the early stages of celebrity.
Well, this is good.
Paris Hilton is going to be in the slammer for 45 days, maybe John can fill in.
Gosh... John will look smashing carrying a little white dog!

Matty said...

LeiselB.....This IS Augusten Burroughs older brother's site! John is the one you read about and he has now written his own book. Intersting that you got here and hadn't put the two together yet. Trust me when I say the chapter about John in Auguston's book is nothing like the awesome story John creates reflecting back on his lfe.

Anonymous said...

I just hope he avoids all the controversy that his brother had with his book.

It's actually a good thing that the two have different last names. It's probably better for John if he approaches this on his own. Strong, smart, and as he is.

LeiselB said...

Ha ha...Yeah so John clued me in on that-- thanks Matty. ;-)

John - Wow- I THOUGHT it was odd that you and the brother in Burroughs book both tinkered with cars....

I have a dear friend with Asbergers so this will certainly be a fun read.

Desiree said...

Leisel: You're funny. That's why I told you to come to his blog! ;)

mcewen said...

Well hello there! Balance is essential. You had it before, and you'll acquire it again [after the dust settles]
Best wishes
p.s. I cannot tell you how reassured and hopeful you made me feel.

Susan said...

So many people are excited about this book, including me. Thank you for writing it, enjoy all that it will bring you.

Manic Mom said...

Wow. You sound like a Stay-At-Home Mom!

Hee hee!

BTW, all this car talk, and I know you're in the East Coast. Any chance at all you know the Sysak family of Washington Crossing, PA? Small world, even smaller car world...

Michelle O'Neil said...

Just remember this is YOUR life. Do what feels good for you. Not what everyone else expects of you.

Be easy about it all. You are on a great adventure and you are doing just fine.

Jess said...

Sounds like a really exciting time for you, if overwhelming. I really appreciate your writing about this, and on the rest of this blog. The openness is great. And I definitely look forward to your book.

You seem to have a lot of great input here already, so I don't think I can add anything, but yeah, seems to be all about balance, and boundaries. Things I could sure learn a thing or two about, so let me know when you figure it all out!

Amonly said...

John,

Finally had time to check your site and posts. You know I have been with you all this way. Trying to maintain and find balance in my own life has left little time to be constantly following yours.

However I have been so happy - yes and zippy- lately (and there is a story in that label for me/us to write).

Thrilled to see these changes in your life and be part of the support system behind you. You have truly been a support to me through many rough and tumble times.

It is fascinating to see you propelled from the status of great, fuzzy, friendly, smart and somewhat strange guy into a media personality.

What is wonderful is that you remain the absolutely genuine person I have known you to be and needed you to be.

Your steadiness has provided me strength and helped me fight some fears.

Our mutual encouragement has helped me regain trust in friendship.

Your success may help me continue to reach for mine.

We have shared struggles together, kid stuff, family issues, yard work, work, and illness. (oh rides in your fun fancy cars and on your boats too!)

I have managed to make you smile and laugh, and you saw me through the times when I could not - back to me being zippy.

Discovering more about your past and being part of your present has been a privilege.

There are many now who will be drawn to you. Much more to negotiate. Hopefully you will be able to determine who can be genuine friends and what is a good deal.

Kanani has good advice - and I have great faith you will be able to ride this car- the media route -quite well.

Smiling today (and writing)

Alison