Leading with Joy

By Anne Shaw Heinrich | May 15th, 2024

Going for it after 50

God Bless the Child book cover, by Anne Shaw Heinrich. For second act essay on leading with joy: going for it after 50

After decades of putting off her dream, Anne Shaw Heinrich has finally achieved what she longed for so many years ago. Her experiences have honed her skills, but she has also realized the benefits of “creating space for new goals” and leading with joy.

I am closer to 60 than 50, and my nest isn’t exactly empty but getting a little roomier. Not long ago, I made a conscious decision to just stop fretting about my graying hair. And one of my lifelong dreams is finally coming true.

I’m here for it in ways both big and small. Despite the long wait, I feel more prepared than ever to accept what the universe, some good contacts, and a dash of good fortune has made possible: my first novel is being published. And it’s even better than that: I’ve signed a contract with a traditional publisher for a three-book series. Yes, I’m still pinching myself.

When I’m writing, it really does feel like I’m getting away with something. I’ve been putting pen to paper since high school, and with great joy, but this novel, the one finally making its debut, took me a minute to bring back out into the sunlight. In truth, it took about 18 years. What has happened to me during those years I spent treading water, waiting for my next shot, has been vital to the process, the product, and how I see my future.

I scratched the first version of this manuscript out on a stack of yellow legal pads with a sharp No. 2 pencil. I did this at the encouragement of a new friend and editor I’d met as a few of my essays were included in two higher profile collections. At the time, my two older children were in grade school, and our youngest was just too little to put on the bus by herself to attend preschool in the next town a few miles down the road. At least that’s what I thought, so three days a week, I sat in a little diner while she started forging her own little path to independence.

The story felt like it was telling itself as I made short work of my yellow tablets, then typed it up and shared with my editor, who helped me get it in good shape. We even started pitching to agents and, like any aspiring writer, I took my lumps with plenty of rejection letters. I even got close to securing an agent, but she wanted me to alter a character beyond recognition and, too proud, I declined. I kicked myself plenty for that over the years but filed the novel away in a drawer marked some day when I have a minute. The truth is, that day, that minute, never did surface like I thought they would.

Our kids needed me, my husband needed me, I managed a serious health setback. I needed to earn income. We moved. We were in the trenches with games, permission slips, performances, dinners, yardwork, and laundry for miles. During those years, writing for fun seemed more self-indulgent than ever. Then our son was diagnosed with a serious mental health challenge that we’ll likely be navigating forever. It’s just what you do when you love deeply. The timing never felt right.

Still, I’d sneak off from time to time and pound out stories. No legal pads, just me, my laptop, and words that needed to make it to the page. It still felt like a guilty pleasure, one that I didn’t deserve. But one day I decided that was just nonsense. When I’m writing, I’m happier. I bring more of the good version of myself to my family and to the world. In short, I decided that pursuing joy didn’t need to be off the table or my plate. I could reach for it if I was still hungry.

I reached out to my editor to see if he would take a look at what I’d written. He was glad to hear from me, read my new stuff, and encouraged me to get that first novel out of the drawer. It had been a long time since I’d had the courage to look at it. I took a deep breath and just did it. I did this with a glass of good wine in my hand. It was humbling. There were some things I would change, but I had to admit that the story still had legs. My editor agreed, and after reading my newer pieces, he suggested that they might work as a series. Long story short, with his help, we pitched it to an agent who saw what we could see. She signed me on, and it wasn’t too long before I had a contract for the whole series, not just one book.

I think this was about timing and contacts for sure, but there is something bigger here that really does deserve a nod. I’m a better writer than I was back then. I’m more polished as a professional, more observant, more forgiving, more able to detect nuance in the world that can make what I write compelling. I’ve also taken some hits, lost people, and had to make peace with the notion that life isn’t fair. But I’ve gained a capacity for gratitude that just wasn’t there back when I started with my pencil and yellow paper.

That little preschooler has finished college. She’s changed and grown right up. I’m just as busy. I work full time, have plenty of responsibilities caregiving and loving my family and friends, but creating space for new goals and letting joy lead the way makes all of it, all of me, better.

Anne Heinrich headshot - author of "God Bless the Child," presenting essay here on Leading with Joy: Going for It After 50Anne Shaw Heinrich lives in Kirkwood, MO. Her debut novel, “God Bless the Child,” will be released in June 2024. It is the first in a three-book series, The Women of Paradise County, to be published by Speaking Volumes. To learn more about Anne, visit anneshawheinrich.com.

More on leading with joy in a second act:

Finding the Courage to Start – Again: Four Becoming Wordsmiths

More from Boomer