March 29, 2016, the publication date for my first cookbook, Tasting Rome, was the culmination of a six-year effort. It was the birth of a book I had nurtured from conception to delivery and which took what seemed like forever to come alive.
Upon publication, everything was overwhelming about having finally reached my goal. There was an immediate euphoria I felt when holding the book in my hands and seeing the book “in the wild” and in online and print reviews. My visibility of reaching my goal ended there while it all sank in. Six months on, however, I’ve been able to look back on the rewarding experience of designing and reaching an important goal. I’ve identified a few lessons I learned that I would share with anyone who is embarking on a personal goal or is already en route to the finish line. —Kristina
Embrace the tremendous value of “No.” Learn how to maximize all that “no” has to offer. Analyze it, research it, pick it apart, then find answers for every aspect of it. Sometimes a “no” is a “no,” but most of the time “no” is an opportunity to turn whatever it is into a resounding “yes.” When a publisher finally bought the proposal for Tasting Rome, I went to my inbox to send an email thanking the first agent who had told me “no,” and noticed that the date of her “no” was four years prior to the day. I wrote to thank her because she had taken the time, by phone and not in a dismissive email, to explain her “no” to me. I took copious notes on our call, and then went to do my homework. Approaching her “no” as the key to getting to “yes” made all the difference.
Stay focused on WHY you have embarked on your goal/project. Always have a reason for starting your journey. You don’t necessarily have to share your reason with anyone, unless that’s important or motivating for you. Ideally your journey will be 100% lovely and fun. Realistically, you will end up with a few scrapes and bruises, and maybe even a broken bone along the way, but never forget why you chose to embark. It may help to write it down in the beginning, and to come back and revisit it often so that you don’t lose your way. The poem A Mother to Son by Langston Hughes came to me every time I had a setback while working on Tasting Rome. Reflecting on the poem’s lesson helped me focus on my reason — I was determined to produce something tangible to show for the years I have spent in Rome and what parts of myself I have cultivated during that time. I was going to produce a cookbook which was beautiful and useful, with my recipes and photography in it regardless of the obstacles I encountered or how long it took to make.
Maintain an unwavering belief in yourself. All of your ideas and abilities are inside of you just waiting to be developed. Squash the doubts. Many people have reached out following my book presentations or other interviews to ask me how to go about embarking on their own book writing or photography project, how to turn a passion into a career, or how to just identify a passion. An unwavering belief in your aptitude is the foundation of achieving your goals. Sometimes you may need help to further develop the necessary skill set to succeed, but you must always believe that you can reach your goal.
Own your success. Don’t downplay your success once you reach your goal. Don’t wait for something bigger to come along to celebrate. Don’t shy away from it because others don’t acknowledge your success in the same terms that you acknowledge your success. Tasting Rome, as with all cookbooks, was a multi-member team effort. I am immensely proud of the role I played on the team and of all of the hard work that went into my contribution. I am equally proud of having achieved it in the context of today’s publishing industry. Black women still form a small percentage of total cookbook authors and an even smaller part of photographers photographing cookbooks. I am now a proud member of both of those teams as well. Finally, though Tasting Rome didn’t make the New York Times Bestseller list (yet, the eternal optimist in me adds!) it did appear in the New York Times Book Review cookbook review. One out of two ain’t bad, and that one definitely counts as success in my own book.
Become a resource. Remember that icon/your idol you reached out to who didn’t know you but who took time to break it down to you and helped you turn a corner? The person who was on your same journey in your same field who opened their door to you and gave you a seat at their table? The person who saw your potential and gave you a chance? Become all of those people. When you achieve a goal (no matter how big or small it is for you), you will become a role model for someone, whether you realize it or not. That someone may be a family member, a friend, or a complete stranger. They will want to learn from you, so find a way to give back. Your platform may be a blog or a podcast, it may be participating in a mentoring program or founding a network. It may be as simple as a one-on-one chat with those who reach out to you. Whatever it is, make it known that you are happy to help, and be sincere when you help.