I spent last week in Asheville, soaking in my first-ever booksellers conference. Jordan and I went together; the event had been on my calendar for months, and I was desperate not only to be surrounded by fellow "book people," but to spend some alone time with Jordan, to talk and dream and think together.
Wouldn't you know, then, that I woke up Sunday morning with a head so congested and heavy I thought it might fall right off? I spent the entire conference sneezing like a madwoman, soggy Kleenex stuffed in my pockets, fellow booksellers avoiding me as if I had the plague.
It was less than ideal.
The week was supposed to be, in my estimation, magical. (I am what you would call a "high expectations" person.) I was surrounded by mountains and experienced booksellers. I came home with 40 new advanced reader copies to tackle. John Green gave us all a pep talk! But with chills and a runny nose, work becomes just work, and the conference just another conference.
My life as a bookseller and entrepreneur is complicated. I am living my dream, but most days, I just feel tired. It's a shame, because if I ever take a moment to think about it, what I'm doing is pretty cool. Unfortunately, those moments for reflection are few and far between when bills need to be paid and a fraudster uses stolen credit cards to spend $5,000 at your tiny bookstore.
Last week, I entered a hotel ballroom filled with 500 other bookstore owners and booksellers, and I was just as intimidated by these fellow "book people" as I was by the attorneys I met at the legal conferences I used to attend. At first glance, I was the youngest person in the room by decades. In some classes, I was the most conservative; in others, the newest. Independent bookstores, I am pleased to tell you, run the gamut, and because each store has its own unique personality, so do the people who own them.
I am learning, then, that life is mostly about figuring out who you are and then being that person. The "good for you, not for me," mantra Amy Poehler gave us all last fall resonates in the business world, too. What's good for someone else's store might not be good for mine. (Or it might be, who knows?) I might fit in with the other booksellers I meet; I might not. What's important, I think, is to keep my head down and do the work.
Winter Institute wasn't a waste. I came home with new books to read and new tricks to try. I'm armed with knowledge I didn't have before, and I've got some fun events up my sleeve after being inspired by other bookstores across the country. I learned a great deal about how to run my business, and in a world that can feel small, I was reminded I'm one of many trying desperately to bring books to the masses.
Life is what we make it, and it doesn't always feel very magical in the moment. My work conference was like a lot of other work conferences I've been to, but on the other hand? It wasn't dull. And I took notes I knew I'd actually use. I met a couple of people who -- given time -- I think I could really connect with over this whole bookselling thing. I visited a new city, and I was reminded I'm really pretty lucky, even when the bank account is low and snot is running down my nose.
Work, it is always important to note, feels like work. It is work. But if I could just keep loving this thing I do 60 hours a week? Maybe it will be magical after all.