You, dear reader, have met me at the dawn of my second act. Today, at the age of 44, and after what I can only call a shocking-even-to-me amount of buzz, my very first novel hits bookshelves. Later this week, a bunch of glossy profiles about me will be splashed around websites and newspapers, and soon you won’t be able to put on a podcast without hearing me wax on about my book, Olga Dies Dreaming. (Warning: I have a voice that was made for typing.)

Here is the bite-size summary of my story: A girl from a humble Brooklyn background stumbles into a career as a wedding planner and then, upon turning 40, finally decides to listen to the voice whispering inside her head and try writing. She blows up her business and her life, moves to Iowa to get her MFA, and, while there, completes and sells her first novel, which is now being adapted for television.

All of this is factually true, and, when framed that way, is the kind of story that you—or a past version of me—might find inspiring. But also, potentially daunting? Inspiring because, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, America loves a Cinderella story. But daunting because the most compelling narrative—the one stripped of tedious details—can elicit an “If only I could do that!” even more easily than an “I should do that!” Put another way, without seeing how the sausage is made, our natural tendency is to attribute some magical, unattainable quality to the “Cinderella” of these stories.

The truth is, most of us harbor ambitions that we often don’t articulate. That tiny voice in our head that whispers I think I could do that or That would make me very happy. But all too often, we’re discouraged from pursuing whatever those ambitions are—whether running a marathon or trying stand-up comedy—because we think that there’s a mysterious “it” that we need to have to go from where we are to where we want to go. An “it” that only “other people” have.

So, in the spirit of the New Year—a time when many of you are no doubt ruminating on your own personal possibilities for transformation—this Cinderella is here to tell you that the only “it” quality you really need to mount a second act is discipline. Yes, talent helps, and so does vision, but at the end of the day, the gap between ambition and actualization is closed by staying the course. And, of course, knowing that the road is going to at times be hard.

To read the rest, subscribe to The Atlantic.

Already a subscriber? Sign in