"Do your parents own a laundry or a grocery store?" I got that a lot from non-Asian kids, growing up in the Bronx. If I was feeling sensitive about the stereotype I'd retort "I'm Chinese. We own restaurants. Koreans own grocery stores. Don't you know anything?" Actually, we weren't business-owning Chinese immigrants at all. We were scholarship-seeking Chinese immigrants, hoping for job security, health benefits, and a clear ladder to climb til retirement.
Perhaps that's why I am particularly awed by stories of entrepreneurial enterprises, undertaken by women who could have stayed on a secure career path. When I see a bookstore, I could imagine working my way up from clerk to president, but I could never imagine creating a bookstore out of an abandoned pub. The way Roxanne Coady, at age 39, created the signature independent bookstore, R.J. Julia Booksellers, in Madison, CT. And now, 20 years later, she’s still innovating, having recently launched the new online gift service Just The Right Book.
Her story blows me away! It makes me look at empty buildings with fresh eyes, at the next phase of my life with a new sense of possibility. Read and share, and let us know – if you could start something new, what would it be? What help would you need to get started?
By the time I was 39, I had a lot of the things many people view as proof of success. I was a partner and the first female national tax director at the accounting firm of BDO Seidman in New York. I was happily married. I had been living for the last twenty years this exciting, fact-paced, big-city life with all of the perks and luxuries that come with it. But despite all of that, I felt a longing to try something else. And I knew that that something else would involve books. I'd always turned to books to keep me anchored, awake and alert to the world around me when everything else seemed to be spinning at top speed.
When a beautiful old abandoned pub came up for sale in Madison, CT, near our weekend house in Branford, I knew it was a moment to leap. It was the home for the bookstore of my dreams. We moved full time to Connecticut, bought the old building and poured our energy and time into renovations and into restructuring our lives in major ways.
Was it scary? Did our friends and family doubt us? Did we doubt ourselves? Sure. I'm a pretty sturdy person, but I'm not immune to fear. I think when something is truly important to you, you can sacrifice a lot of stability and the fear takes a back seat. You can kind of run on the confidence you feel about that thing you've chosen to pursue. That's how I felt about books. And it's why - even though there are four articles a day predicting the demise of publishing - I've become even more bold over time about my work. We've grown so much since those early days and we're still growing and staying ahead of the curve - and I'm buoyed by the knowledge that the main point of my work is not to make tons of money....it's to keep people reading. I know how important books have always been to me. I know how important they are to my customers. I know how much we're all craving ways to connect and share and find things that really matter. Books help us do all that.
So facing forty for me meant really identifying what mattered most and committing to it, despite the risks involved. When I look back on having done this, I realize that the good parts are even better than I thought they'd be, the bad parts are even worse, but that on balance, most days, I'm focused on the good. And what's especially exciting is that we aren't limited to experiencing the thrill of change and adventure like that only once in our lives. Once you make one big change, you tend to want to try more new things. At sixty, I'm proud to say I've launched a successful start-up called Just the Right Book! an online literary subscription service (including fun and free, seasonal FictionFinder quizzes) that showcases the talent of our pool of incredible booksellers - these people are experts at matching readers with books they'll love, and now readers across the country can benefit. It's a thrill to be able to meet that need.
So what am I urging you to do? A few things. First, trust yourself. Don't let what seem like obvious obstacles (I'm too old, I don't have the money, etc) discourage you. You have to start by assuming that your dream is within reach. Next, articulate what it is you want - get it down on paper. That will help to focus and motivate you. And finally, take that first step. Action leads to more action. And the more you’re moving forward, the more confidence you’ll gain. Naysayers, tight budget, uncertainty about the future? Trust me: you’ll encounter all of this at some point no matter what you do, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to face those fears when you’re doing what you love.
P.S. If you want a distraction from the fabulous whirlwind you’re about to throw yourself into, read a book or two. And if you need help finding the right one, now you know where to go.
Roxanne Coady is founder of R.J. Julia Booksellers as well as the critically-acclaimed Just the Right Book! gift service. I set up a subscription for my husband, answering a questionnaire about his interests, and he cannot wait to see what they select for him! Try their Fall FictionFinder quiz for free and discover your next favorite book.
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