April 28, 2008 -- Author Joan Anderson found success with her first book, "A Year by the Sea," but with the bestselling title's success came an increased demand for her. Anderson went on tours and gave advice to women about how to find their true selves. All the while, she worked on a new book, took care of her husband, children, grandchildren and mother. She unknowingly had stretched herself too thin and, ironically, she was in a position where she needed to listen to the advice she doled out to others.
A serious intervention from friends and family finally awakened Anderson. Her latest book, "The Second Journey: The Road Back to Yourself," chronicles her quest to restore her own equilibrium and uncover her true self again.
Read an excerpt of "The Second Journey" below.
The actual arrival at a goal always creates a turmoil unconnected to any previous imaginings.
It is a glittering September morning, and I am sitting on a deck at the edge of a salt marsh, coffee cup in hand, feet up on the railing, relaxed and more than ready for a morning of catch-up with Ro and Susan, two of my closest friends on Cape Cod. I take a deep breath, gaze out at the marsh grass, now turning burnt orange as the sun climbs higher, and remember why I love the Cape so much—especially this particular spot, where if the wind is blowing just right, I can hear the roar of the Atlantic in the distance. Here, in a moment such as this, I feel an abiding sense of harmony. Everything is right with the world.
"You've written three books and delivered countless inspirational talks urging women to rid themselves of the deference to other people's expectations, yet here you are, dancing furiously to a tune of others," Susan adds. "It's kind of weird—don't you think?"
She's right. I've been fitting in my personal life and needs around my work ever since A Year by the Sea became a best-seller—on top of which I've had five grandchildren arrive, a husband retire, and my mother go through a series of eye and stomach surgeries. There is never enough of me to go around. So while I would prefer to laugh their comments away, I can't. Instead I bite my tongue and turn back toward the marsh, where a mother osprey is coaxing her babies to fly, and feel the peace I seek whenever I am in the presence of something wild and natural. "Don't go passive on us," Ro says, picking up on my subtle withdrawal. "I'm not. I'm just concentrating on what you're saying. It's kind of profound for early morning." The high spirits I brought to the porch are beginning to plummet. I've been up and down a lot lately, relaxed and expansive, like I felt a minute ago, and falling precipitously into exhaustion and gloom. I know that this moodiness is just one more by-product of a cluttered calendar, but I am truly at a loss for what to change. When I wrote my first book, I had no idea success would be so busy. At one point, I naïvely thought it would mean more freedom, but I've learned that I am only as good as my latest sales figures. The trouble is, I like what I do. Sure I spend more time talking on the phone, returning e mails, meeting with fans and business associates, and whatever else it takes to promote my work than I do actually writing, but I'm glad to feel so productive and fulfilled. "Look, I'm doing the best I can," I answer defensively. Besides, it's easy for them to point their fingers; they are both retired, with comfortable financial packages and lots of free time on their hands. My husband retired on the early side, and his educator's pension doesn't always reach far enough. "We just want you to get your priorities straight," Susan continues, sounding a tad patronizing. "Remember, we've been there. Both of us let our work suck the life out of us, and we just want to help you before it's too late. Whatever I was chasing at my job was always a hair out of reach." "My job was just the same," Ro chimes in. "Before I retired, my life was like a Dilbert cartoon with irritable bowel syndrome. I never had a chance to recharge. We would no sooner finish one marketing campaign than the next would begin. Everything was about the deadline—never my personal deadlines, mind you, but the deadlines set by the marketplace. I tried for a while to justify all the imbalance with illusions about the good service my company provided for people. But those excuses all disappeared when the personal products company I worked for bought Ben and Jerry's ice cream and Slim-Fast on the same day. My first reaction was, I gave my forties and fifties for that? Joan, neither of us wants you to repeat our mistakes." "So, it is time to ask yourself just what is driving you: the money or the message?" Susan pushes on. "You toss around amazing nuggets of wisdom, but are you living your message? Ro is right—you look haggard and tired." "Well, thanks for the compliment," I say, dumbfounded by her frankness and at a loss as to how to reply. Like most good friends, they have been in on too many of my secrets, but I'm not ready to declare defeat. There are so many differences between their corporate work experiences and the life I am living, and there is still so much I want to do. I just have to become more organized and gain a little more control over my schedule. I reach for another croissant. I am curious, though, about why they are suddenly so riled up. I remember hearing a sitcom star say at the close of her long-running show that she hoped to get back all of the friendships she hadn't had time for when she was working. Is that what is going on right now? "Do you guys feel as though I've left you out somehow?" I ask. "No," Ro says too quickly for my liking. "We feel that you are cutting yourself out of your life—giving it away and taking none of the goodies for yourself. It's got to be damn lonely being you—best-seller aside. You are chained to your computer, and when you do go away, it's to an empty hotel room." "Yes, we do miss you," Susan adds. "We don't care about your competency, or your Amazon numbers—what happened to plain old Joan—the loosey-goosey woman who parties hard, skinny-dips in the moonlight, and drinks too much wine?" I remember that woman, too, and the memory makes me smile. Still, this morning's mood has turned, and now I feel awkward. I want to remain aloof and pretend, somehow, that they are talking about someone else, not me. Ro must sense my discomfort, because she quickly switches from pointing out the problem to proposing a solution. "So here's the deal. I'm making you sign back up for the gym," she insists, passing me the registration card she just happens to have tucked in her back pocket.
"And I'm going to drag you to tai chi," Susan adds.
I look at both of them aghast. I am willing to admit that I need to slow down and make some time for myself. But I have to clean up my desk and plan this new book, not add exercise lessons to the docket. It is true that life, as I am living it, has lost its luster. But today, all I wanted was a beautiful sunrise, the quiet company of good friends, and a chance to catch my breath. I make my way to the door, give them each a hug, and thank them for their suggestions. On the drive home I'm overwhelmed by unpleasant thoughts, not the least of which is a recurrent dream I have been having recently. In the dream, I am standing in the basement of our home—which, because of its age, has a dirt foundation. I am convinced I've murdered someone—and buried her in the corner. I visit the grave each day, praying that the body will decompose quickly so that my crime will go undiscovered. But there is never any change. When I wake up, I am always anxious, and I feel certain that I've committed the crime. Could it be that the person I have killed is myself? Truth, like anything else, can be picked up or left alone depending upon your frame of mind. Right now I am willing to hear what my friends are saying, but I don't have the strength for prolonged self-scrutiny. Besides, there must be some small adjustments I can make that won't require a complete rethinking of my life. Any more radical overhauls will have to wait until I've finished this manuscript and gotten through the next few months of booked retreats. Still, deep down I know that the measure of my continuing identity must come from refusing to be swallowed by my goals. Having chosen my own set of complications, I have no one to blame but myself. The light turns red and I come to a stop. I promise myself I'll analyze my calendar and begin to eliminate anything that seems superfluous—lunches that are purely social, meetings where I have no leadership responsibilities, parties that aren't appealing. I'll clear my desk of would-be writers' unsolicited manuscripts, refrain from answering the phone until the afternoon, and attempt to get help for my mother. The simple act of coming up with a few immediate, manageable solutions gives me comfort. When the light turns green, I push the gas pedal a little harder than is necessary. Everything will be fine. TWO WEEKS LATER I finally make it to my internist, only because she won't renew a prescription unless I make an appointment. I've never enjoyed going to the doctor, and sitting here half naked in a cold, sterile examining room, waiting has me half crazed. Doctors seem to be in the business of trying to find things wrong with their patients, and since everyone has been pointing a finger at my lifestyle, I am more than certain the doctor, too, will find something to pick on. I hear the doorknob turn and brace myself. I chose Dr. Pressman because she is a woman, recommends yoga rather than tranquilizers, is intelligent yet sensitive, and most of all, because she seems mortal. One of the things I like most about her is that she always seems to have enough time to talk a bit; her gentle, genuine questions and the fact that she remembers details about my life I forgot I even shared always settle me down. This time is no different, and as we babble for a few minutes, I start to relax. But then she slides back on track and gets to the real business at hand...my blood pressure. It had been elevated some months back and she had put me on a mild diuretic, told me to do more aerobic exercise, cut back on the wine, and lose ten pounds. Aside from the exercise, I didn't much heed her instructions. "My God, Joan, what have you been up to?" she says, as the blood pressure cup releases its air. "Your pressure is higher than last time."
I try to sound nonchalant, although I can see her eyes register alarm.
From "The Second Journey," by Joan Anderson. Copyright (c) 2008. To be published in April 2008 by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.