How My Mother Helped Launch My Writing Career


whitney How My Mother Helped Launch My Writing Career“How did your mother teach you to dream, and how do you hope to teach your children to dream?”

For Mother’s Day, Whitney Johnson, a venture capitalist and popular Harvard Business Review blogger (pictured at left), challenged me to answer these questions. With her new book, Dare, Dream, Do, she’s out to inspire women of all ages to dream big and make those dreams a reality-especially mothers.

So I started thinking about my own mom. And I realized: it was what she didn’t say that counted most.

When I was a kid, I spent countless sunny afternoons writing stories. I called the space under the family card table my workshop, and curled up there producing “magazines” – looseleaf paper stapled together – subscriptions to which I sold to indulgent family members. My friend Michelle and I sat side by side at her bedroom table, writing plays and reading them aloud to each other. I went to the library every Friday and came home with teetering stacks of books.

Never once did my mother say: You should be outside more. You should do more regular kid stuff. You should daydream less, socialize more. Instead, she took me to my grandfather’s book-lined apartment and let me wander his library for hours. She understood that I had plenty of friends with whom I liked to play quietly – and that one of my very best friends was my very own self.

Today I know how lucky I was. Every day I hear from readers whose well-intentioned parents asked them to be more like their extroverted siblings or classmates, to spend less time with the riches inside their own head. Many of these parents were loving and well-intentioned. They worried that too quiet a childhood might lead to a future of loneliness.

My mother is a famous worrier, but somehow she never worried about this.

Thank you, Mom.

Here is Whitney Johnson’s new book, Dare, Dream, Do. You can connect with her on Twitter @johnsonwhitney and on Facebook.  

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  1. Whitney Johnson on 15.05.2012 at 11:46 (Reply)

    Susan -

    This is a beautiful post — and one I needed to read right this moment… as I have an 11 yr-old daughter who loves to read.

    Many thanks -

  2. Lisa James McKenzie on 15.05.2012 at 16:23 (Reply)

    What a wise post and a wonderful piece to share so soon after Mother’s Day. Reassuring, too, for those of us who choose a more hands-off approach with our kids, trusting their wisdom to guide their choice of activities, how they spend their time and with whom. We hands-off types dwell in the minority in our control-freak, extroverted, overachieving culture. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Betsy @ Anna Nimmity on 15.05.2012 at 21:44 (Reply)

    This is a sweet post and lovely way to honor your mother for what she didn’t say. I, too, have a wise mother who knew it was perfectly fine not to be an extrovert. By the name of my blog, you can probably tell that she gave me the confidence to own my introversion.

  4. Ray on 16.05.2012 at 02:08 (Reply)

    Such a perceptive and heartwarming post! I’m happy that you were so fortunate in your choice of moms. It’s undoubtedly part of why you were able not only to be yourself to the fullest, but later in life to excel in all the areas in which you have excelled.

    It’s testimony to the power over children that parents and teachers do have, that decades later I still remember my mother remarking, a single time, “I wish you wouldn’t be so anti-social,” and an eighth grade teacher writing on my report card, “Responds only when requested to do so.” Decades later I remember these fairly isolated things so clearly-they must have made a deep impression as to what was OK and not-OK since they still invoke that original feeling of self-devaluation.

    Fortunately parents and teachers were also supportive of my studying (which then could be done alone), and I did “experiment” with many extracurricular activities… even the speech team. But that didn’t “stick”-even in adult life I’m still very disinclined to speak to groups without immensely thorough preparation. I think I never joined Toastmasters for fear of becoming toast!

    I hope you kept the stories you wrote as a child. Did they foretell your future?

  5. Whitney Johnson A Collection of Tweets and Blog Posts from My Launch on 16.05.2012 at 09:22

    [...] A Mother’s Day reflection from Susan Cain, bestselling author of Quiet. [...]

  6. Hidi on 17.05.2012 at 12:18 (Reply)

    This is a beautiful post. My mother encourage my quietness by buying me more books, taking me to the library on the weekends, giving me money for book fairs and never once discourage me from being who I am. I thank her everyday for this. :)

  7. Barb Markway on 17.05.2012 at 15:20 (Reply)

    I, too, used to spend hours making family newsletters, newspapers, making my own books, etc. That is such a neat image of you having your workshop under the table.

    I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day!

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1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

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