Saying Goodbye to My Corporate Career and Hello to My Calling: Fighting My Fear
What the hell was I thinking?
Well, I was thinking I could write a book. My wife, Lyn, encouraged me, but she was very clear about one thing. She felt very strongly that if I started, I should finish—even if I never published the book. She made this comment several times. I wondered why at the time. Looking back, I believe I know why.
Throughout my roughly thirty-year professional career, I have done a lot of different things. After two years as a lawyer, I worked for my father manufacturing building materials. I learned a great deal, but wanted to go my own way. In 1995, I partnered with a very bright man with a head full of novel ideas about how to do just about everything. We started a business together and were partners through 2004, at which point we had a very ugly breakup. Along the way, we developed products that protected network server racks from earthquakes and improved the performance of microscopes, metrology tools, and precision manufacturing equipment by attenuating the transmission of disruptive vibrations caused by HVAC equipment, freight elevators, and foot traffic.
After our business partner dissolution, I sold off part of the business and kept the rest going for another five years before selling it. Instead of taking time off, I immediately jumped right into a completely new business—private real estate lending. I partnered with a young man that understood real estate valuation. He found the borrowers, and I found the money. The year was 2009, and real estate prices had fallen over 50% in some parts of the country. We lent into a rising market and were on a dead sprint for the next five years. As this market run concluded, I was exhausted. Nevertheless, I kept looking for the next thing.
In fact, from the time I grew disillusioned with a legal career, I had been looking for the next thing. Even while running those other businesses, I was always looking for the next thing. I spent countless hours and too much money investigating and dabbling in other side businesses.
My wife recognized that I grew bored very quickly and was too easily attracted to the next shiny object. "Paul," she said, "if you’re going to write a book, finish it.”
So, after a week of sitting in the library and barely a word to show for it, I was truly discouraged. What if I can’t do this? What if I get halfway done and run out of steam? What if I hate writing a book? What if I finish it and it’s terrible? What will my wife think? I hadn’t told anyone else yet that I was writing a book, so my embarrassment would be limited but real and painful just the same. And what’s the point of writing a book if I don't publish it? What if I publish it and only family and friends buy it? And what will they think of me if the book is terrible? And then what? Do I go back to consulting? Do I try to find a job? Start another business? It seemed as if I had backed myself into a corner with no good options. The only acceptable option was to write a good book.
I pray a lot. Praying calms my soul, and I believe God answers prayers. Lyn and I were still learning our way around Charleston and were always happy to meet new people. Our son-in-law's family introduced us to a couple, Wanda and Drake, that had retired to the area after a life in California. We met for dinner and thoroughly enjoyed our time together. At one point, Drake asked what I was doing and whether I had retired. I internally flinched, not sure how to answer the question. But for some reason, I felt I was in a safe place, probably because we knew no one in common beyond our in-laws. I could speak without fear. “Well,” I said, “I’m taking a break from my business career and trying to write a book.”
“That’s wonderful,” he replied. “Tell me, what is your book about.”
I was speechless. I said I had no idea and that I was struggling. I explained the barest thread of a story I was working on and spoke very honestly that I had no clue what I was doing. Drake had retired from a career as a film editor and knew a thing or two about storytelling. He gave me the single best advice I have ever received about writing.
“Just write,” he said. “Just write, tell stories, and figure out how to knit it all together later. It will happen. But do not try to write the story from beginning to end. Just write.”
I have no idea if this advice would work for others, but it certainly did for me. The next day I went to the library and sat down in front of my laptop, and it happened. I began writing. He was right. Once I freed myself from the burden of writing a book and focused instead on telling a story, the words flowed. After a few days, I had written ten thousand words or so, and I was on my way.
And the best part was that I loved it. I loved the writing, the process, seeing words come alive on a blank sheet. My fears receded. This chance encounter was an answer to prayer.
Paul was born and raised in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Paul and his wife, Lyn, met in college at Georgetown University and were married after Paul graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law. They moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988 where Paul embarked on a thirty-year business career before retiring so he could write fiction. Paul and Lyn raised three children together in Phoenix and now split their time between Phoenix and Charleston, South Carolina.
Blood in the Low Country is Paul Attaway’s debut novel. Writing this book, along with the move to Charleston, is a coming home of sorts, a return to the South. The history and culture of America’s South is rich, complicated, at times comical, sad, tragic, uplifting, and inspiring. Paul hopes that his novels can capture even a small bit of this tapestry. Learn more about Paul Attaway, and purchase his book, here: https://www.paulattaway.com. Find the audiobook on Audible, Amazon, or Apple Books!