Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cooking Up a New Career

The secret to happiness, it seems, lies in finding your passion. But sometimes, if you're lucky, your passion finds you.

I'd like to say there was a certain air of expectation hovering over the boardroom table that day in 1998, but I'd be painting the past with false colours. As the fund-raising committee geared up for another year of activities, I had no way of knowing that one of those activities would trigger a major change in my career aspirations.

At that point I'd been working for the same employer for more than thirteen years and had contributed my efforts to raising money for one of the company's preferred charities, the local children's hospital. That usually meant selling fifty-fifty tickets and co-ordinating weekly jean days. The cause was worthwhile, but the activities were starting to lose their appeal--at least for me. But I stayed because I'd been a patient at that same hospital in my youth and felt I owed them something in return.

Volunteering also helped break the monotony of what had become an unsatisfying work life. I spent my days sending form letters in response to unsolicited job applications and managing internal transfer lists. My nights were devoted to pursuing a university degree in English and Creative Writing. Of course I dreamed of getting published someday, but I had no illusions about earning a living that way.

"Most people spend their lives working at jobs they don't enjoy," my mother once said. "What makes you think you deserve better?"

I wanted to scream, "Because I know what else I want to do!" But that would have been rude, I suppose. And I was never one to be rude. I didn't stand up for myself or cut in line or ask for seconds. I always waited to see what might be offered or left over after everyone else had a turn.

Foods That Make You Go
That day in 1998, after all the usual moneymaking ideas had been discussed and assigned, something wonderful and unexpected happened. Two of the committee members pitched the notion of publishing an employee cookbook.

I don't remember much of what was said after that. I do, however, remember that I fairly flew across the boardroom table to offer my services. Finally, someone had come up with a fund-raising idea about which I could get excited. Not that I could have expressed my reasons then. I'd never really considered publishing as a career option. But there was just something about the words "publish a cookbook" that made my brain ignite like a Canada Day fireworks display. "This is what I want to do," I told a friend right after the meeting. "I'm going to be a publisher."

Tastes of the Tantramar
That humble little cookbook--complete with clipart graphics and sorely lacking an ISBN--led to another, somewhat more refined cookbook later that year. Buoyed by those early experiences, I started my own publishing company. And I waited. And I learned. And, little by little, I worked. I worked for experience. I worked for exposure. I even worked for varying degrees of money! I tackled anything that might lend itself to making me a better publisher.

Now I have a few books in my company catalogue, with many more planned for the future. I'm still writing, of course, and my own work has appeared in a handful of books from other publishers. They each hold a place of pride in my personal library alongside my own publications. First and most prized among them will always be that unexpected little cookbook that brought my passion to me.

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