Make contingency plans. Expect difficulties to crop up. Life rarely allows a perfect plan to go off without a hitch. For instance, a pandemic just crashed through the world and terminated our contracts. All we can do is our best when we wake up in the morning every day. If you plan ahead and have backup plans, then you won’t be caught by surprise.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kirsten Schuder.
Kirsten Schuder is author of Schooling Your Kids Through a Pandemic: Your Step-by-step, Guilt-free Guide to Remote Learning, Homeschooling, or Somewhere in Between and Vice President of Apex Literary Management, a growing boutique literary agency. As a long-time online student, online educator, remote worker, and homeschooling momma, Kirsten offers her hard-earned techniques for dealing with technology in education, remote commuting, conducting education at home, or if necessary, switching to homeschooling. She used the pandemic to reach out to parents all over the world who suddenly found themselves in charge of their children’s education at home and to help them feel good about the difficult decisions all parents face during COVID-19.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in the New York City area in a typical suburban childhood. We had pine trees in my backyard I used to climb. I was a bit of a tomboy. I hated dresses, and I would play tackle football, basketball, and soccer with the boys next door.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.” Alice Morse Earle
I have workaholic tendencies, so when I came across this quote, I decided to keep it in front of me at my computer to remind me to take breaks, check in with the ones I love, spend time with them, enjoy a walk, or sit on the floor with my puppy in my lap. It helps me be present in my daily moments instead of always living in the future.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
It’s strange to say, but A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving made a tremendous impact on me when I was a young adult even before the movie was made based off of the book. Before I read this book, I thought life was random and full of coincidences. I was struggling with the meaning of it all, and even doubting whether or not a higher power existed, or if it’s something mankind has always made up to provide comfort in a world of injustices. The book made me think that perhaps life does have a mysterious force behind it.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
This year was going to be a stellar year for our growing boutique literary agency, Apex Literary Management, of which I am Vice President. We had sold all of our talented authors’ works. We were in different stages with all of our authors, from contract issuance and negotiations to set publication dates. We were just about to make the announcements public when the pandemic hit.
When COVID-19 touched down and made its way across the United States, and President Trump declared a state of emergency, the publishers we lovingly placed our authors with evoked the force majeure clause in the contract. This clause ensures that the publishers have a right to rescind the contract in the course of natural disaster, war, etc. No one could deny that the coronavirus was a natural disaster, but it wiped out all of the progress we had made until that point.
I also teach part-time because I love it, most recently for Pearson Education, and fully online. I really do love reading and writing, I love education, and I get to share this love with students of all ages. It’s so gratifying when I see a struggling student understand a concept and then successfully apply the new skill.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Naturally, when we had lost everything we had worked so hard to accomplish in the last couple of years, it hit us hard. After we regrouped and licked our wounds, we set to make a contingency plan with our authors. As discouraging as the news was, our Apex authors are all the best, most resilient bunch of people I have ever had the pleasure to know. They all took it in stride, and they all redoubled their efforts, working on their plans on how to go forward in a pandemic, and they all kept busy writing, many of them completing another book within a few short months.
However, the time at home allowed me to focus on what was going on around me and find my voice independently as an author.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I was so inspired by my authors’ moxie to keep moving forward. When my initial worry for them abated, I noticed something that was going on that was not being discussed. I knew, had read about, and had spoken with a lot of parents who were struggling with online and remote learning.
I also disagreed with a lot of the information that was initially broadcasted in the beginning, and as well, I witnessed the effect this misinformation had on communities and families in general. A lot of the stories that came out, I think, were necessary, to understand some of the struggles people were facing. On the other hand, it seemed like no one offered any solutions to ease parents’ burdens and fears.
Moreover, a lot of the messages sent across the media was having a negative effect on families. I noticed how the federal government and the states were not acting in sync, spreading the anxiety for parents and making the environment seem more unstable than it really might have been. For example, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, and President Trump, were pressuring schools to open full-time, as if no pandemic were occurring at all, and without offering any suggestions on how to instill the measures that are needed to keep us safe from the virus. The schools certainly didn’t have the resources to suddenly double their housing capacity to accommodate social distancing in already overcrowded schools, and DeVos was not offering any solutions, just publicly lambasting school districts who decided to allow students to stay home for remote learning during the pandemic.
Plus, something she said really irked me. She made statements about how other education alternatives are inferior to the public school system. Yet, every parents who homeschools knows the many existing alternatives that can offer a superior education.
I thought, wow, how unproductive! People have no choice but to stay home and handle their children’s education, and she’s setting them all up to believe that whatever efforts the schools will make will be for naught because no matter what the school will do to ensure the delivery of education in these times, to the best of their ability, it will never be enough. I see this effect even today as parents complain about the shortcomings of remote learning.
These events made me pretty mad, a righteous anger for my “aha moment.” My entire family has been remote learning and homeschooling for the last decade and a half, and I believe that my husband, myself, and my children, have all received an excellent education. You just have to adjust your expectations. Remote learning is different, but it doesn’t mean that it’s an inferior way to learn!
I had to do something about the misinformation spread about households that take charge of their children’s education, so I wrote a book to let people know that yes, they are capable of making sure their children will receive an education, they can do it from home, it can be effective, and they should feel good about the decisions they have to make in these precarious times. It’s about becoming an efficient manager in your household so that you can help your schooling at home run efficiently.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I wrote Schooling Your Kids Through a Pandemic to help people, so when I hear back from readers and they tell me that the book has brought them some comfort, it makes me over-the-moon happy.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Becoming an author was a lifelong dream for me. When I was four years old and we were living in Yonkers, New York in an apartment across from the reservoir, I had created my first book. It had rainbows, pictures of smiling children, and flowers. I bound it in green ribbon, gave it to my mother, and asked her to publish it. She laughed and put the book away. In my twenties, though, she brought me to a writing seminar with Sol Stein, which made up for my earlier experiences with her.
Twenty-seven years later, I sat at a small Italian restaurant off of the Saw Mill Parkway in Yonkers with my father. Over our meal, enjoying wine with our meal and espresso with Sambuca as a digestif, I shared with him that I wanted to be an author. At that point, I was pretty confident that I could do it. I was published regularly in photography magazines with my husband as photographer, I as a writer, and writing was something that I enjoyed immensely. My father looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t pursue being a writer. You can’t become a writer. You will fail.”
It took many years to build my confidence back up again, but I didn’t do it alone. My husband tirelessly worked with me to heal, support, encourage, and gently, and at times, not-so-gently push me to live out my wildest dreams. His never-ending support of my efforts is and always will be an indelible part of everything I have written or will write until the end of my life. His undying faith in me restored every single slighting I have ever experienced from people who made me feel “less than.”
This experience is why I took the position with Apex Literary Management. I was aware of many people who struggled as I had, and I wanted to make sure that I could help authors over their entire careers, to touch as many lives as I could so no one else would ever be made to feel “less than” for living out their dreams. Our agency does something that many traditional agencies do not: we offer full support for authors so that they can succeed throughout their entire career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I spoke with a single father who had read Schooling Your Kids Through a Pandemic. This is what he shared with me: “When I looked at that cover, I said, that’s me, trying to do it all from home, working remotely and managing my workload with my daughter and son’s education. If my wife were alive, this time would have been a lot easier.” His eyes teared up, and mine almost did along with him. “I was going crazy, and I didn’t know what to do. When people are stressed, as they have been all throughout this year, it’s difficult to think straight. I was losing my temper, and my kids were suffering from being home all of the time, having to sit in front of a computer screen all day, missing their friends, and I was in survival mode, trying my best to handle everything.
“Your book gave me exactly what I needed to get me through this time. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and advice. It saved us. We are less stressed and happier now, and because of the tips you shared in establishing myself as the lead educator in my house, everything is going a lot smoother now. The kids are doing their homework, they have adjusted, and are doing much better.
“You were absolutely correct. All we can do is our best in this situation and enjoy all the time we have together.”
I always knew that books could change the world. I was happy that I was able to provide this one widower and single father with the comfort he needed, and if it were the only book I sold, I would still be happy.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Everyone makes their own decisions, and sometimes, their decisions don’t match with your expectations. I work with authors across the world. I’ve been around for a while as a writer, so I have picked up tons and tons of writing tips, revising and editing tips, and ways to prepare a book for the marketplace. Yet, sometimes, authors might have different ideas, or a strategy I have for them doesn’t fit with their personality or abilities. I knew a gentleman who was interested in becoming an author, but he didn’t want to engage in activities that make authors successful, such as joining a writer’s group or gaining feedback from beta readers. However, he is an extremely competent individual and has made great strides in his career, so I had to trust his truth and what was right for him.
- Make contingency plans. Expect difficulties to crop up. Life rarely allows a perfect plan to go off without a hitch. For instance, a pandemic just crashed through the world and terminated our contracts. All we can do is our best when we wake up in the morning every day. If you plan ahead and have backup plans, then you won’t be caught by surprise.
- You can’t control everything or everyone. Keeping this in mind is a good way to maintain healthy expectations throughout your organization and to prevent you from micromanaging. For instance, when I have authors who are simply not willing to cooperate with our agency to maximize their chances of publication, it could lead to contract termination. Everyone is responsible for their own part.
- Having healthy expectations over our individual responsibilities and boundaries in an organization can really reduce stress. Everyone always seems so stressed out and tired! The most common reason: we worry a lot. If you want to live to a ripe old age, it’s best to try and decide if you are going to worry about it, or if it’s something important and you need to take action.
- You will have to help your team get through tasks they don’t like. As a literary agent, sometimes I have to use these skills to convince authors to do something that is not their favorite thing to do. While we pursue our dreams, people are often surprised that they come across a certain task they don’t like. Everyone has a task they don’t like even when they are living out their dreams. However, these are tasks that benefit them in the long run, so I try and help them adjust their expectations so that they can navigate their careers and make wise choices that will help them in the future.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were really stressed out about getting sick, but then we realized that there are measures we can take to prevent it. My husband and I are in our fifties, so we are in the higher-risk category. We do things that help us dissipate stress, like wearing our masks when we go out and carrying hand sanitizer with us, as well as keeping our distance from others and staying home as often as we can manage. Knowing we are doing all we can to stay healthy is comforting.
We also concentrate on doing a lot of family activities together. The kids don’t get as lonely when we spend a lot of time with them, whether we are co-working on our own projects side-by-side or doing an activity together. Spending time with my family always makes me feel better.
I have also been going for walks every day to help stay fit and keep my energy up. Physical activity really helps with my stress. Here in the Appalachian Mountains on the western-most tip of Virginia, the majestic mountains offer a lot of interesting eye candy as I embark on my walk every day, and we have a lovely, bubbling, clear little stream that runs parallel along the dirt road. I walk to the bridge and back, enjoying the foot bridges along the way and the natural, fresh-water spring along the side of the road that looks like a Japanese meditation garden.
Boredom can create stress too, but writers are never bored. We are always dreaming up the next big story! So, I write when I can to keep busy.
Most of all, I make sure that when my thoughts turn to doom and gloom, I reinforce positive thoughts. For example, when it feels like there is no end to the pandemic, I say to myself, sure there’s going to be an end. Of course there will. We have scientific geniuses all over the world racing to create a vaccine. The medical field created vaccines for polio, chicken pox, small pox, measles, mumps, rubella, and a host of other illnesses. They got this. They will create a vaccine for this one too. There will be an end to the pandemic one day soon. Keeping in mind that this is temporary keeps my hope up.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would inspire a movement for honesty. I think our world has a paucity of it lately. We need people who are able to stare at reality in the face, unflinching and courageous. Honesty begins within the heart, and if you are able to look inward and be honest, it means you have the courage to face all the demons. Only then can people extend honesty to others. Honesty brings peace of mind, dissipating stress and promoting healing and happiness. We can heal the world with honesty.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
As an aspiring fiction author, I would love to have lunch with Stephen King. I spent so many sleepless nights as a teenager with his books. I used to have a lot of trouble sleeping. His books didn’t help for getting me off to dreamland, but I did enjoy them immensely, far superior to staring at the walls until sunrise! The Stand scared me so much that I asked my younger sister if I could sleep in her bed. He is absolutely responsible for my love for apocalyptic stories. I find him interesting and would love to have a conversation with him.
How can our readers follow you online?
Twitter.com: [email protected]
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!