Engage with an editor early on. I had a belief that my book had to be perfect before I showed it to anyone, and it took me almost a year before engaging with an editor. Once I engaged with a good editor who gave me constructive feedback on my manuscript, the draft made huge strides, and I was able to see new ways of writing my stories that I couldn’t see on my own.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ngan Nguyen. Ngan is the author of One Million Steps: Lessons From A Legendary Hike and Self-Defined Success: You Already Have Everything It Takes, and the founder/CEO of Cintamani Group, an executive coaching and consulting firm. Nguyen coaches on leadership and empowers entrepreneurs as an intuitive strategist. With over a decade of business strategy experience as an advisor to Fortune 100 companies, Ngan is also a certified master-level intelligent leadership executive coach with John Mattone Global and was an analyst for McKinsey & Company.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I’ve always had a love for books and writing. My parents have shared with me that as early as 4–5 years old, I could be found hiding away in the upstairs library in our home in Ho Chi Mind City, Vietnam reading series novels about Chinese legends. My love for reading continued, and I wanted to be an author, but it would be a while before I started publishing.
My career started in entrepreneurship, and then I went into management consulting. I kept postponing my love for writing until a few years ago when a storm went through my life. In a very short period of time, it seemed everything started falling apart. I believe the underlying reason for this is because I was not pursuing my deepest longings and life was giving me a wakeup call. It worked. Through this challenging period, I found a mentor that allowed me to connect with my path, and I started pursuing long-delayed passions, including my love for writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
The most interesting one is around trusting life and knowing it will all make sense in the end. A few years ago, I decided to build my first coaching business and become an author. Initially, it seemed like a crazy idea. I had a successful and prestigious career, and pursuing my own coaching business felt like I would be starting all over again.
Yet, I trusted the guidance and made the change. At first, it was very different than what I was doing, but as the business grew, I started finding my niche and formed two separate business entities, one serving entrepreneurs while the other are major corporations.
Once I uncovered this path, I could see how the skills I had learned made what I have to offer unique, and it allowed me to do what I love which is helping people create their highest vision in the world through personal and leadership development.
From my earlier vantage point, I could not have seen how the puzzle pieces would line up, and it taught me to trust that life has my best interest in mind — to have faith that it will always work out.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Gosh, I have so many, from silly typos to poorly constructed emails to prominent people. The biggest, which I’m not sure is truly a mistake is probably waiting ten years to publish my first book, 7 Powerful Questions, because I was so scared of what others would say.
I remember the day it was published, and I started reaching out to professional reviewers, I could have sworn I was going to get one-star reviews, and I soothed myself by deciding that I would just unpublish the book if that were the case. Quite the opposite happened, all of the reviews were 4–5 stars, and people appreciate what I shared. It taught me a powerful lesson in seeing how my inner critic holds me back, and after facing that fear, writing became much easier. I’m now excited to be able to share my work with others.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have two businesses I’m building and growing the team in addition to a few more books in the works. My consulting firm, Cintamani Group, offers a revolutionary approach to leadership development and organizational transformation. Bringing together strategy consulting expertise and leadership development tools, in addition to awareness, consciousness, and empowerment tools to create an effective and holistic approach to success for our clients.
In my other coaching business, I work with entrepreneurs and small business owners. My vision is for it to be an entrepreneur accelerator with comprehensive services and full suite offerings that empower my clients to more easily create their highest vision in the world, enabling them to do what they’re meant to do in the world.
Down the line, I would like to share the synergies between these two businesses. Connecting the skill sets and services that my entrepreneurial clients have to major corporations to further innovation and entrepreneurship while creating opportunities for their businesses — all the while advancing transformational leadership, corporate culture, and global innovation. It is a blessing and a joy to be able to bring this work into the work, and I believe there is a lot of collaboration and beautiful things to be created here.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e., perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or an example?
Reading my writing out loud as if I am sharing it with my ideal reader. We have a certain way we write versus how we speak, and also when we think we’re speaking to a crowd versus in a one on one conversation. The reader who will be reading a book is expecting a one on one conversation, that is what a book is — a dialogue between the author and the reader. Reading it out loud helps me refine my voice. Once I discovered this strategy, it became so much easier to write because I’m just basically speaking as if I am conversing with a friend.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I started walking the Camino de Santiago at a point in my life where so many things felt disappointing. Embarking on that first day, I decided to set an intention, say a prayer to life. I prayed that the walk be dedicated to my true healing and wholeness, something that has alluded me no matter what I’ve tried. I prayed that every step is for this purpose. I said it with total commitment, conviction, with all my heart and soul at the time. Then the events of the Camino and life took over.
That first day over the French Pyrenees was incredibly challenging. It took all my mental and physical strength to cross those mountains over the 12 hours. I was then wrapped up in the daily motion of the path and didn’t think about my intention again. In fact, if I had remembered my intention, at times, it would have felt like it wasn’t working at all. There were many moments where I would be brought to remember things I had worked diligently to forget. There were days where I would be walking in pain from the physical pain of my feet, times where the distance ahead felt daunting as if I was never going to be able to get there.
I had to split the pilgrimage into two separate trips, and once I finished the first segment, I had lost the drive to continue because of all I had gained from the path but eventually was called back to finish.
By the time I scheduled the flight to Spain to continue the walk, my life was starting to shift into something so different than what it was two years ago. It wasn’t until the day before leaving that I finally realized my intention of finally feeling whole within my own being was coming true.
In the commotion of life, I had not realized how much I have grown in two years. Returning to the path, I was walking as a different person. This taught me a powerful lesson in intentions — that there doesn’t need to be a lot of struggling and pushing to try to fulfill an intention. As long as it is said wholeheartedly with full commitment and the willingness to fulfill our part by doing everything we possibly can, life will answer the call to do its part and fulfill the intention.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
How miraculous this life is and the love that is present. Always willing to bring us all that we ask for. Sometimes in ways that we would not have expected or even would want, but in the end, getting us to exactly where we need to be with experiences beyond what we could have imagined.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
I’m still on that journey now, and I’m learning what it takes to become a best-selling author. With any big goal, it requires getting started, staying on track, and continuing to move forward in spite of setbacks and obstacles.
A few things helped which I would love to share with aspiring writers. The first is getting clear on the ultimate vision for the book. This helps push us pass the fear and helps to motivate us. I remember how challenging it was to write the manuscript for my first book. My inner critic was so loud. Having a vision of it completed helped me see the end goal and allowed me to push my internal barrier.
The second thing is getting clear on the ideal reader avatar so that you are writing for a specific person, and then it is just a matter of conversing with a friend and sharing your story.
The third thing is letting go of the need for the first draft to be perfect. That comes during the editing phase. The first draft can be awful, and the only goal is to get the ideas on paper.
Once I understood these elements and implemented them, along with pushing through on my fears and continuing to write, the process became more relaxed. After publishing my first book and receiving positive feedback, writing my second book, Self-Defined Success: You Already Have Everything It Takes and this third one, One Million Steps: Lessons From a Legendary Hike, were so much easier.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Writing is a work of self-expression, so books on personal development are helpful for me to stay more connected to who I am so that I can more clearly express my ideas. One of my favorite authors is Marianne Williamson, and I find her writing insightful, inspiring, enriching, and eloquent.
Aside from that, works of fiction spark my imagination and allow me to see new ways of sharing ideas. I also love biographies and historical texts. You will see in my writing that pull from so many traditions, stories, and different eras of history to make a point and I’ve gotten feedback from readers that this adds a lot of depth. I believe this is just a reflection of the wide variety of books that I draw inspiration from.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
I seek to add some positivity, insight, and inspire my readers through my writing. If someone reading my book feels more inspired and uplifted, that’s a win for me because it increases positivity in the world. If the reader’s life is uplifted, that impacts their loved ones, those around them, and is a positive contribution to the world.
What is even better is if people are inspired to take action to create change in their life from reading stories that I share because now they see new possibilities and gain more knowledge on how to create that change. That is a dream come true for me.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Get started today and do not wait any longer. You can only make decisions in the now. If you have a desire to write, then there is a message that needs your expression to be shared with the world. While it may seem like it is a long process, and you may not know where to get started, you do not need to know all the steps. Just take the steps that you can, and more will be unveiled to you. Take the baby steps because baby steps, taken consistently, will take you all the way up Mount Everest if you continue moving forward.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- The first draft is supposed to be bad. When I first started, I took so long to craft each paragraph because I was trying to get it just right. I then learned to let go of the need for perfection and accept that it will come together in later edits.
- Freestyle write and get it all out. The goal of writing the first draft is to get all your thoughts and ideas on paper, so just let it flow. Get all the ideas out there and then work on the first draft but don’t censor.
- Brainstorm with sticky notes. This is another trick to help get all your ideas out and structure the book. What you can do is get sticky notes of different colors and write down ideas for various categories of content. Once you have exhausted all the ideas that are relevant for your book, then you can start grouping the relevant ones into chapters/sections. Then you have an outline, and you write based on the outlined which gives you the first draft. From there, it is just refining the story and editing.
- Engage with an editor early on. I had a belief that my book had to be perfect before I showed it to anyone, and it took me almost a year before engaging with an editor. Once I engaged with a good editor who gave me constructive feedback on my manuscript, the draft made huge strides, and I was able to see new ways of writing my stories that I couldn’t see on my own.
- Write a vision of it done. Often, we get caught up on how much left there is to do and all the challenges ahead. Having a vision of it finished, and the outcome of that helps to pull us forward and provides the energy needed to continue moving forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would do something that breaks all paradigms, bringing together global connection, and inspire billions of people worldwide. I have this pipe dream, and I’ll share it here publicly for the first time. Like you said, who knows what it can trigger.
I have a vision that one day, within a 24-hour period at noon in the local time zone all around the world, all the great countries with a military power use their fighter jets to write “Dare to Dream” across the skies over their major cities. It would be a powerful symbol of global collaboration. Our leaders coming together to create something beautiful and showing people that the impossible is possible. I think it would be the beginning of many people believing that anything is possible and could put the world on a completely different trajectory. If this dream inspires you, let’s work on it together!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Absolutely. I’m very active on social media, so please do keep in touch. My Facebook page is @NganBHNguyen. My Instagram handle is @Ngan_H_Nguyen, and my twitter is @nguyenng.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!