31: What’s Your Story?

31: What’s Your Story?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

What’s Your Story?

Storytelling is a very old human skill that gives us an evolutionary advantage.

~Margaret Atwood

When my daughter joined her brother at college the year I turned fifty, I was finally an empty nester. My husband and I had been working from home — he on investments and various business ventures, and I on investments and several corporate board memberships. So this should have been our time to scale back our workloads, travel, exercise, and enjoy ourselves.

But no. Crazy us. We had learned earlier that year that Chicken Soup for the Soul was for sale by its founders, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and his ex-wife Patty Hansen. We loved the brand and thought that we could take the company to the next level, bringing the books back to their old level of popularity and relevance, and expanding into new areas where we could add value to people’s lives.

The second half of 2007 and the first few months of 2008 were devoted to due diligence, and in April 2008 we and our business partners became the proud new owners of Chicken Soup for the Soul. We kept a couple of key people from the editorial staff in Southern California and opened our new headquarters in Cos Cob, Connecticut, in a tiny office over a CVS drugstore.

I had read 100 of the old Chicken Soup for the Soul books in preparation for the acquisition, and somehow I thought I knew, really knew, exactly what to do when we took over. It was like Chicken Soup for the Soul had been inside me all along waiting to come out. I hit the ground running as publisher, editor-in-chief, and author of the books, with a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish and how I wanted to tell positive, uplifting stories to our readers.

Thus, at ages fifty-five and fifty, respectively, my husband and I returned to the world of full-time work, just when we should have been planning our exit strategy! It has been non-stop excitement ever since. The first “excitement” was that we managed to time our purchase perfectly for the start of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, one that led to Borders shutting down, independent bookstores closing, and consumers scaling back on discretionary purchases. But we survived that, managing to redesign our books and increase our sales and have a number of bestsellers among the 100+ new titles that we have published. We’ve also updated our popular pet food products, launched a new line of delicious food for people, created a new website, started a television production business, and signed to have a major motion picture made by a big Hollywood studio, using our stories as inspiration. And we’ve grown a lot, taking over more and more space in our little office building and creating a large staff of passionate, talented, friendly people who work as hard as we do.

The first thirty years of my career were all about business and finance. I was a Wall Street analyst, a hedge fund manager, a corporate executive at a high-flying public telecommunications company, and a director of several publicly traded technology companies. I must admit I was the “writer” in all those positions, writing the annual reports and press releases for my companies, writing voluminous persuasive investment recommendations, even doing whatever writing was required on my corporate boards. After all, everything in business is really about telling stories, whether it’s explaining a company’s mission, or leading an investor through recent results, or describing a new technology or product in a way that is understandable.

I wrote a lot of great stories in business and finance, as I made the complex understandable and passionately explained the reasoning behind my buy and sell recommendations. But it seemed like the two main emotions I dealt with in the world of public companies were the classic stock market ones: fear and greed.

Now, at Chicken Soup for the Soul, I get to deal with the whole panoply of human emotions, and it is a real treat. And reading and editing the stories submitted for our books has also made a difference in my own life. I’ve learned how to have better personal relationships, how to focus on what’s important, how to stay fit, how to look for the positive in every situation, and how to put in perspective the daily ups and downs of life.

There is a saying that in order to be happy you should return to what you loved doing when you were ten years old. When I was ten I loved to walk in the acres of woods behind our house, wrote stories just for fun, and read books. And now I have a job where I read and write every day, I go for long walks in the nature preserve near my house, and I occasionally get to read books that I did not have to edit. So despite the fact that I am working seven days a week and am constantly in crisis mode, I am truly doing what I have always loved doing.

When I started at Chicken Soup for the Soul, it took me a little while to realize that I had actually done this before while in college! During my junior and senior years of college, I researched and wrote a thesis about popular, spoken-word poetry in Brazil, which involved living in Brazil for several months, traveling throughout its impoverished northeast region, and meeting with poets and writers to collect their stories. These stories were about every aspect of their lives, usually told in the form of chanted poetry, and were printed up as pamphlets and sold at marketplaces. These folhetos were the “literature” of the masses in Brazil. I’m delighted to have come full circle in my writing career — from collecting poetry “from the people” in Brazil as a twenty-year-old to, three decades later, collecting stories and poems “from the people” for Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Maybe “rebooting” our lives is not just about starting something entirely new. Maybe it’s about returning to our core passions, to what makes us tick, to what we have always valued. My “reboot” feels a lot like coming home.

~Amy Newmark

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