Heart pounding, face burning, the young woman approaches the New York Times bestselling author. Don’t risk it, her fear whispers. He didn’t mean the offer literally. You’re only going to embarrass yourself.

The author turns to face her, and she fumbles for words. “Um, hi, thanks for coming to talk to us writing students.”

He smiles and nods. “Of course. I love doing this.”

She flushes some more. This is crazy. Just say “thank you” and walk away. Save your dignity.

But she swallows her fear, takes a deep breath, and speaks. She tries to remain calm, but the words rush out. “So, you suggested we contact successful authors and offer to do free work for them in exchange for advice on our own writing. And I type really fast, and you’re here right now, so I was wondering if maybe I could do some typing or something for you in exchange for, well, advice.” Her voice trails off at the end, and she can’t maintain eye contact.

I’m sorry, I don’t have time right now, she expects to hear. Or, Don’t take everything you hear at a career panel literally.

Instead, the bestselling author raises his eyebrows. “How fast do you type?”

“Huh?”

“How fast?”

“Um … ninety to a hundred words per minute.”

“Wow.” He makes a thoughtful face. “I think I’ll pay you for that. Here’s my contact info. Get in touch to set up a meeting.”

This story happened in late May of 2010, and the terrified young writer was me. In 2011, that author referred other typing and editing clients to me, and then those clients referred even more clients. In 2012, I edited a traditionally published book for the first time. By 2013, running my small business became my only job. In 2015, I had to start hiring contractors to take on some of the work.

All because of one decision six years ago.

About fifty people attended the panel where that bestselling author spoke and told us to ask successful authors for advice.

I was the only one to approach him afterward.

Here’s the thing about scary things: They’re scary. Failure is devastating.

Here’s the other thing about scary things: They’re the only way to succeed.

If the author had turned me down, the worst I would have suffered is some embarrassment.

But he didn’t turn me down, and I grew an entire business out of that one point of contact.

Taking ownership of your own goals – stepping out of your comfort zone and pursuing your dreams – is known as claiming “agency” over your own life. You’re choosing to be an agent of change in your future.

No matter who you are or what your background, you have agency. No matter how often you’re rejected, humiliated, pushed down and spat upon, you possess the ability to keep trying to improve your future.

The only way to lose your agency is to surrender it yourself.

“But my boss won’t promote me.” Watch what the promoted people are doing and copy them. Find a different job. Maybe just work harder.

“But my book keeps getting rejected.” Write another book.

Whatever “but” sentence is on your mind right now, it’s an excuse. “Something is blocking me, so I’ll stop trying.”

That obstacle didn’t stop you; you stopped yourself.

Sure, you tried one thing and it didn’t work.

Trying isn’t enough.

You have to change tactics and keep trying.

Is that hard? Hell yes.

Is it scary? You bet.

Will it guarantee success? Nope.

But will some of the things you keep trying work out in the end? Absolutely.

The world is full of stories of people who met failure again and again and again and again until, on attempt 1,000, they succeeded.

We all know their names today, but if they had given up on attempt 999, or 653, or heaven help us, 2, they’d have floundered in obscurity.

Yet the frustration and hopelessness they felt on attempt 999, 653, and 2 was exactly the same as the hopelessness you feel now.

Hold onto your sense of agency.

Change strategies and keep trying.

Be brave.

You never know which attempt will make the world say “yes.”

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