It’s Chasing the Bright Side’s first birthday! One year ago, I was on a press tour, sharing about how I’d poured so much into this book, and thinking about all of the potential lives this book could impact.
What a year it has been! In today’s episode, I’m sharing a quick teaser of chapter one! Listen in!
Review the Transcript
What’s up everybody? It is Jess Ekstrom, and welcome to Business on the Bright Side, the podcast where you can learn how to make a living and make a difference at the same time. Life is short and so is my attention span, so let’s get started. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me. Okay, actually, it’s not really my birthday. My birthday’s in June. But it is Chasing the Bright Side’s birthday. Chasing the Bright Side came out one year ago and I can’t believe it. I literally remember waking up, I was in the Crown Plaza in Times Square doing a press tour. And I know it sounds so fancy. People Magazine did a story, Inside Edition did a story on Chasing the Bright Side. It was literally like a dream come true waking up a year ago today. My team sent me Melissa’s Cupcakes to my hotel and it was just absolutely incredible.
What a year it has been to have this book out in the universe and almost 100,000 copies sold, which is absolutely nuts. It seems like just yesterday I was posted up in my Airstream or in a coffee shop just writing my heart out. And sometimes you just forget that people are actually going to read it, and it’s a little nerve wracking, but also a really cool feeling for so many people all over the world to know some of the deepest parts of your story. So, today I’m going to give you guys a teaser of Chasing the Bright Side audio book, which I recorded in Nashville and Music Row. And fun fact, when I was recording the audio book, Chris Stapleton was also in that studio and recording music, and I got a picture with him and I’m obsessed. He’s one of my favorite artists. So that was really cool.
But to celebrate the one year birthday of Chasing the Bright Side we are doing something super fun. We have created Chasing the Bright Side mask and book bundle. So if you want to mask up but do it with optimism, I would love for you to head to businessonthebrightside.com, head to the show notes and you can see some really cute masks that we have that are Chasing the Bright Side themed. And so you get a pack of three masks, I love the yellow tie-dye one, and you get a copy of the book. And we’re doing something super fun this week. If you purchase the book bundle with the mask, you also get a deleted chapter from Chasing the Bright Side. So I gave my editor a lot of content to pick from, and she didn’t pick all of it for Chasing the Bright Side, we’re saving some for the next book. But I thought it would be fun for anyone who purchases the book with the mask bundle, you get a little sneak peek on some deleted scenes from the book. So head to businessonthebrightside.com.
And now let’s get a little sneak preview of the audio book. Chapter one. Maybe she’s born with it. She refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring. Zelda Fitzgerald. In middle school, you could probably detect my braces from outer space. I was the kid who opened her mouth in the chair at the orthodontist and they had to call for backup. Every tooth had a lever or chain attached to the other tooth and they were all in this together. My teeth were all like, hang in there, Jess, we’ve got this. Just don’t eat popcorn. Braces were awkward and painful, but I was so thrilled when my mom told me I was getting them, because number one, I got to pick the band color and I had been working up color schemes for a while, number two, I was one step closer to a beautiful, straight toothed smile. I was not naive about my desperate need for braces. Every day I looked in the mirror and could see I needed a dental intervention.
Even though I knew braces would be uncomfortable and I might look a little funny for a few years, I honestly didn’t care. Braces meant I was working towards something better. Braces meant progress towards a beautiful smile and I was ready for change. Braces where my optimism. As kids we’re just four feet of optimism walking into everything we do like we’re going to win, because sometimes we haven’t experienced enough to tell us that we might lose. And sometimes as kids our optimism is so strong that we skillfully find the good, even in the not so great moments. My optimism really lit up when I took on the official role of matchmaker. During recess I would play basketball with the boys while all the girls hung out on the swing set. Before recess I’d talked to the girls and see which boys they were interested in so I could go on the basketball court and get the scoop.
Claire, can you ask Harrolson if he wants to be partners in the language arts project? Lindsey, I know Timmy asked Rebecca to the dance, but we brushed elbows in social studies so I feel like he definitely likes me now. Can you find out? It was like taking orders before I went to Taco Bell. Okay. Who likes who? Who wants what? You want it hot, medium or mild? This was my way of creating my place in the social hierarchy. I’d play matchmaker so I had some social role to offer the girls group. Then I’d skip off to the basketball court and extract the information I needed from the boys. Hey Timmy, are you emotionally available right now? My favorite part was after recess when we all lined up to go back into school, because that’s when all the girls would run up to me and I could report my findings. You know, making myself useful.
I would rattle off today’s digs. Jess, Timmy’s hamster just died. He’s still coping. Kendrick would like to ask Sarah or Rebecca to the dance. Either one is fine, he said. Ryan is looking for someone who can help with his Spanish homework. And for just a brief moment all eyes were on me. For some reason I never really made the connection that none of the boys were asking me out. I wasn’t girly enough to be in the girl groups or boyish enough to be in the boy group, so I was the medium in between. I was a matchmaker. I created my own value and purpose, and that was good enough for me. Childlike optimism. When we are kids, we have this innate optimism within ourselves about what could be. We’re this blank slate of possibility that has yet to be told there’s anything we can’t do.
You want to go to the moon? Sit under the stars and plan your route. You want to be a dolphin trainer? Here’s your whistle. You want to start a restaurant that only serves jello? Buy hundreds of those tiny boxes and get to mixing. Nothing is off limits because we haven’t experienced limits yet. We haven’t been told what’s impossible. We haven’t acquainted our scraped knees to our self-worth. We haven’t been told our chances are low. We haven’t danced with the thought of failure. As kids we’re purely moving as we are because we haven’t been told what to be. And when we’re in that head space, we move, we take risks, we jump and we leap because the consequences of it not working out are not in our vocabulary yet. Imagine what you would do right now if the chance of failure didn’t cross your mind.
For me in middle school, that meant chasing this other dream of mine. When I got confident enough in my matchmaking abilities, I decided to experiment with another personal passion, writing. More specifically, writing something to be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Maybe the goals of most sixth grade girls are going out with a boy, making a sports team or trying not to make their Viola squeak. For me, I was in the friend zone with the boys basically until college, and I couldn’t try out for sports teams until seventh grade. So Chicken Soup for the Soul seemed like a natural fit in terms of lifelong dreams. It all started when the popular girls would get copies of the book and sit in a circle during recess and discuss the stories, like a modern day book club, minus the wine and cheese or any sort of real life experience to draw from.
I’d overhear them saying lines like, I couldn’t believe he went back for his pony after so much time had passed, or, I felt the struggle was really what made her find her strength, or, after all those years her twin sister was just right around the corner, who knew? I would run over from the basketball court, hot, and sweaty and ignorant of the concept of body odor, and plopped down at the edge of their circle desperate to be in the conversation. Luckily I was usually wearing a skort, so it was functional for basketball and book club. Side note, all in favor of skorts making a comeback? Me. I realized that in order for me to stand a chance in the popular group I had to read Chicken Soup for the Soul. So after school I told my mom I wanted to run by the bookstore and grab a copy. This was a surprise, because typically my afterschool requests centered around ice cream or any other kind of food.
That night I started reading the book and I had a revelation. These are real people in this book. Real people submit their stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul. I’m a real person, which means I can be in this book. I felt kind of like Elle Woods deciding that she was going to go to Harvard. Imagine what the popular girls would think of me if I didn’t just read the book, I was in the book. The thought of me arriving in the carpool line via limousine with all the kids begging me to autograph their books flashed in my head. My driver would hand me my lunch, which would be chicken fingers and waffle fries, and give me a nod in the rear view mirror before I stepped out into an overwhelming sea of middle-schoolers begging for my attention. I found the submission address in the back of the book and immediately got to writing.
Every day I felt like I was JK Rowling writing what happens next in Harry Potter. I borrowed envelopes and stamps from my dad and he taught me where the stamp and the return label go on a letter. I probably submitted close to 100 writing submissions, no exaggeration. During lunch I’d write poems. My English teacher, Mrs. Strickland, would look over them. Did my writing carry enough emotional weight for a 12 year old? This was honestly my biggest concern, bigger than the concern that I would actually make it in the book. If I just kept submitting work, no matter how long it took, I knew I’d make it in there because that’s how the story goes. You try, try and try again, and then you eventually make it. That’s the formula. So I kept writing.
One day I came home from school and my mom told me I got a letter. She handed me the envelope and three things went through my mind. One, I never get mail. This is awesome. Two, what kind of snack should I eat as I open this? Three, oh my gosh, it’s from Chicken Soup for the Soul. I opened up the envelope as my mom sat there grinning from ear to ear. The best thing about my mom is no matter what you do, she acts like you were just called onstage at the Oscars for winning Best Actor. Her reactions when I made it on the Today Show versus winning a scratch off lottery card for $10 were actually quite similar, both ecstatic. My eyes skimmed the opening paragraph. Congratulations, your work has been chosen to be in Chicken Soup for the Soul? Teenage Edition. Enclosed is your check for $75 for your winning submission.
Now here’s what was going through my mind. One, I did it. Two, just wait until the popular girls hear about this. Three, teenage? I’m only 12. I am so ahead of my time. Four, $75 should cover my college tuition, right? My mom and I jumped up and down in the kitchen, holding the letter above my head and screaming like we were at an NSYNC concert. This was it. After nearly 100 failed attempts I had hit the dart board. To celebrate, my mom and I went to the local American Eagle so I could buy a new outfit to wear to school the next day. I wanted to make sure I looked like Heidi Klum walking down those hallways with all the attention I was going to get. I remember the outfit we picked out like it was yesterday. Cargo bell bottom pants with snap pockets on the side. The real kicker was that it came with a colorful sash for the belt that hung off the side, like an Avril Lavigne Skater Boy video. Then we got a lime green, long sleeve top to match the hue in the sash. I know, I was killing it.
My mom dropped me off at school and I busted through those double doors like a lawyer walking into court with evidence that will win the case. I gripped my acceptance letter in my left hand and rolled my roller backpack with my right. The first thing I did was show Mrs. Strickland the letter. She was thrilled and walked me up to the principal’s office so I could be on the morning announcements and share my fame with all of Davidson Middle School. I felt like I was appearing on MTV announcing my latest album, dropping now. After the morning announcements and classes started to change I walked down that hall with the confidence of a poker player with a Royal flush, my side sash swaying in the wind.
I imagined the people staring at me saying, “Look, it’s the girl who’s in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teenage Edition.” That afternoon at recess I grabbed my letter, now wrinkled, and brought it to show the girls in book club. I moved my sash onto my lap so it didn’t get grass stains. I held my letter up to the group and said, “Well ladies, grab the newest Chicken Soup and flip to page 231 because you’ll find me.” I waited for the eruption of applause, or the high fives, or the invitations to sleepovers, but they never came. “That’s nice, but we’ve moved on to Judy Bloom,” one of them said. This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that I was devastated and felt like I did all that work for nothing. But to be honest, I don’t remember feeling that. Despite the reactions, I was still soaring knowing I did something that I set my mind to.
Their reaction didn’t stop me from taking a trip to Barnes and Noble and manually moving the book to the Bestsellers table, having my mom take a picture of me beside it and putting that as my MySpace profile picture. Their reaction didn’t stop me from autographing copies and putting it in the locker of any boy I had a crush on. Their reaction didn’t stop me from doing my own book tour around my neighborhood cul-de-sac. Their reaction didn’t stop me from reaching out to our local newspaper to tell them that they should do a story on my young success, which they did. Their reaction didn’t stop me from being proud of myself for accomplishing what I worked so hard to accomplish. I was in control of that, and so are you.
Throwing darts. Despite the reaction of the popular girls, who I was never accepted by, thank goodness, I had shattered my own glass ceiling. I realized the formula for getting what you want. It doesn’t matter how many times you miss, you just have to make it once. I could just keep throwing darts until I finally hit something. And that’s the beauty of childlike optimism. We have this fearless approach to pursuing the good and a never ending list of what’s possible. Having a childlike and optimistic mindset is like a table with Legos dumped on it. We can focus on the mess and the disorder, or we can focus on what we can build and the fun of creating something new. Most of us have a blind optimism when we’re younger. Our pros and cons list are only pros because we don’t know the cons. We’re floating through life waiting for our braces to come off. We don’t think too long or hard about what might go wrong, we just walk through what life throws at us. We simply go for it and see what happens.
But then something happens that pops our balloon. It usually happens when we’re a bit older. Something makes us become aware of our limits, and our humanness scares us into thinking we cannot do what we actually can. We become aware of the watching world around us, and we become self-conscious about feeling in front of it. Suddenly every poem that didn’t get accepted to Chicken Soup is a reflection on us, or we wonder what it would look like if we tried out for the basketball team and didn’t make it. We start watering the weeds instead of the flowers. We feel fear. Our confidence is rattled and we slowly stop believing. Maybe it’s studying really hard for a test and someone who cheated gets a better grade than you, or maybe it’s a boy who breaks your heart, or maybe it’s not getting into your dream college.
The more things that don’t go your way, the more you question the template you’ve been told is supposed to work in life. Work hard, get paid, be nice, make friends, study, get good grades, eat your veggies, be skinny. Something makes you realize your life equations don’t add up like they used to. Something makes it hard to remember who you were before you were told what to be. This disruption can happen on a different timeline for everyone. The kink in the hose, the snag in the sweater, the skip in the record. Something makes us question if there is good in the world. For me, this disruption was senior year of high school. Take it or leave it. Think about a time when you were focused only on the pros instead of the cons. What could go right? Was it when you were a kid or have you felt that recently? When was a time in your life that you were persistent? What was it about what you wanted that kept you going?
Thanks for listening to Business on the Bright Side. I’m your host, Jess Ekstrom. For all the show notes head to businessonthebrightside.com, and be sure to tell me what you thought of this episode on Instagram. And if you’re picking up what I’m putting down, subscribe and write a review wherever you consume podcasts. See you next time and keep chasing the bright side.