I have met Caroline Miller through MAPP program at UPENN and fell in love with her work. Thank you, Caroline, for your books and coaching work that help thousands of people every year. Your dogged determination is awe-inspiring!
By Caroline Miller
Every afternoon at 5pm my 13 ½ year old Standard Schnauzer, Splash, wrestles his body upright, shakes his head, and carefully walks to the front door where he patiently waits for his afternoon walk. I’ve never figured out how he actually knows it’s time for me to give him that attention, particularly because he spends most of his day sleeping on a huge yellow smiley face beanbag chair, but at his age, the rhythm of his day is deeply ingrained, and he holds fast to the habits that have defined his life and soothed him.
Walking Splash at this point is an exercise in trying not to obsess about whether or not he has a few years, let alone a few months, left. He seems to be blind because he looks in every possible direction before he lopes toward me. He is obviously hard of hearing, too, because he used to jump into action if anyone in his family of five came home; now you have to search for him before he actually notices that someone new has entered the house.
Most heartbreaking of all is that Splash has a massive tumor in his back left leg, and it is so large that he has trouble lifting his leg to simply clear a curb, and he stumbles in places where he used to have boundless agility. Going up and down the stairs is heroic, and I often cheer for him as he contemplates the challenge in front of him, and then gathers himself and tentatively tries a few steps before committing himself to the whole set. Sometimes he tumbles backwards and has to start all over, but he always eventually gets to the top.
Splash embodies “dogged determination.” He never stops trying to be at his best, even if he is bumping into obstacles, trudging slowly up a hill on a hot day, or fruitlessly trying to perch himself on a stair that once was a favorite spot. What he doesn’t know is how important his role-modeling of this quality has been for me in recent years.
Let me explain: in order to write and publish my sixth and most recent book, Positively Caroline, I had to be just as dogged as he is, but in different ways. I started writing the sequel to my first book, My Name is Caroline, over six years ago because I saw the need to tell the story of long-term recovery from bulimia (my first book was the first major autobiography by a bulimia survivor). Without role models to emulate, the next generation of sufferers has no guidance for getting past early recovery and into a consistent and lengthy life of health and happiness. Because I’ve received over tens of thousands of letters asking me what happened after my first book came out, and I’ve got a positive story to tell, I felt it was my responsibility to use my platform in a helpful way.
Regardless of how important my mission felt, sticking with this book proved almost impossible at times. Within months of writing a few chapters of Positively Caroline, I was offered a book contract to turn my Capstone from the University of Pennsylvania’s Master’s in Applied Positive Psychology program into the first evidence-based book on goal accomplishment and the science of happiness, which eventually became the bestseller, Creating Your Best Life (Sterling 2009). Because of its quick turnaround and demands, that groundbreaking book took over my life for almost two years as I wrote and did non-stop media appearances, which effectively bumped Positively Caroline off to the side, almost killing it.
My motivation returned two years ago, so I returned to my initial goal of writing the book to help others, changed publishers, and dug into hard topics that I wasn’t ready to face earlier in life, or in my first book. Doing so, however, took me backwards into dark and challenging places. The body doesn’t know the difference between actually going through a hard time and vividly imagining it, so as I wrote, tore up, and repeatedly rewrote major scenes in the book, I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. I was besieged with constant doubt: Would anyone read it? Did it really matter if I told my story and answered all of the questions I’d gotten from readers of the first book? Would I survive the retelling? Was it even any good?
Like Splash, though, I’m not a quitter, so I found myself booking weekends at local hotels, and using every free moment when I wasn’t working to try to finish the book. After one Christmas I spent ten days alone in an anonymous hotel room while my family vacationed, painfully reconstructing scenes of abuse, self-doubt, bankruptcy, and despair.
It wasn’t always grim, though, because I got to tell magnificent stories about my three children, and what they had taught me about finding authentic happiness, as well as how my husband and I have continued to partner through life with love and humor for 30 years. Pausing to get my family’s approval in revealing details about their lives was essential, but it added even more months to finishing the book, which was now the longest amount of time I’d ever devoted to an endeavor like this. Sometimes I felt like Splash looking up a row of slippery stairs, wondering if I had what it took to keep climbing.
Last August I booked a solo room on the beach in Bethany Beach, Delaware, which has become the place where I do some of my best thinking and writing. My editor asked me a question that brought me up short as I settled in to finish the book, or so I thought. “Why did you write this book?” she queried. So I decided that if she couldn’t tell from reading the manuscript, I had to start over, ripping up the introduction and thoroughly refining the message and themes.
As 2012 became 2013, I typed the last few lines of the book and told my agent that I was finally done. On the 25th anniversary of the publication of My Name is Caroline, Positively Caroline made its debut, and the response has been nothing short of extraordinary and gratifying. People are writing that the book is giving them new insights into recovery, purpose, happiness and resilience. On Amazon, men and women from around the world are saying that it is “must” reading for counselors, mothers, fathers, and anyone who needs to keep going when life feels overwhelming. My daughter’s friends are reading it and telling me how much they appreciate it, and people who were helped by My Name is Caroline are telling me that this one is even better.
Splash is on his last legs, but I know there will be fight in him until the moment he can’t move any longer. The lessons Splash has taught me about resilience and patience have helped me to get to the finish line of this major goal, and I will always be grateful.
Caroline Miller is a certified professional life coach and best-selling author. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, Ms. Miller received her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to regularly mentoring and speaking on positive psychology and coaching aimed at well-being and excellence, Ms. Miller has published several best-selling books, including My Name is Caroline, Feeding the Soul, Bright Words for Dark Days, and Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. Learn more about her work at www.carolinemiller.com.