How publishing a badass book kept us afloat during the worst of times
by Maureen Cain
The world was listing and about to capsize. But in my pre-pandemic naivete, I thought it would be charming to close an email to my new client with “Yours in handwashing.” Fortunately, even through the unease we all felt during that time, she saw the humor of it. That was back in February 2020 when none of us knew it was The Beginning of The End. These were choppy waters that made for an unusual start to a client relationship.
I was staying near the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France. A few kilometers away, in the North of Italy, hospitals were drowning in Covid-19. Back in the US, Sanjay Gupta was at a sink demonstrating basic personal hygiene for the camera. My new client across the ocean in Washington, DC was an accomplished thought leader who had a story to tell and a book to write. I had just signed an 18 month contract to produce her manuscript and design marketing strategies to amplify her voice, her reputation and her impact. I was excited about the engagement because Lisa Wise is an unabashed social justice champion with a mind for business and a fierce track record in community transformation. This was the kind of woman that could bring change to the world and I knew I could help tell her story.
Two months after we started the project, the world tipped all the way over and started to sink. I got on a last flight out of Europe to be home with my family. Business took a backseat and I offered Lisa an out – we could postpone or altogether cancel the contract. I knew this would be a tough time for her business. But Lisa, who embodies empathy more than everyone I know combined said, “This is the time to dive in, not turn away. And if I have to pull from savings to continue with the contract, I’ll do it.”
During the pandemic lockdown, Lisa took a 75% pay cut to avoid company layoffs. Every hunch I had about her being the real deal was spot on. She is a true badass. So we dove in and wrote a badass book called Self-Elected: How to Put Justice Over Profit and Soar in Business. It’s a story of abundance. Part memoir, part business guide and part manifesto, it explores the convergence of social justice and profit. The story is intimate, provocative and easy to follow. It shows us that business can and should be an agent of change.
The thoughtful work and consistent rhythm of creating Self-Elected became our lifeboat splashing around in a pandemic. We held virtual meetings once a week, me in Seattle and Lisa in the other Washington. I conceptualized chapters, researched justice-focused businesses and developed a marketing plan. I observed her leadership team meetings and it only took me a few weeks to learn that her company was doing things differently than I had ever seen before. But six, nine, twelve months into the project I was still observing their Zoom meetings because it was comforting. I needed to be in that optimistic bubble with Lisa’s team. I needed to be part of something alive and bold during the watery, dull lockdown.
Writing through the pandemic was transformational for Lisa. She needed the routine of storytelling and framing her social justice values as a business woman. She needed the clarity of writing to keep herself grounded. Lisa isolated at home, cranking out articles and book pages. We wrote pieces about empathy, grit, resilience -- all in the context of the pandemic. Then already difficult times were hit with waves of racial injustice, gun violence, natural disasters, insurrections, upside down labor markets. And Lisa’s badass voice got louder and louder. Her writing appeared in places like The Washington Post, NPR, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and The Hill. While most of us took naps and baked bread, Lisa started a philanthropic foundation and launched a national company. And wrote a book.
After nearly two years in the open sea, we drifted far from our initial chapter outline, but we had to follow the current. We wrote about the pandemic and Black Lives Matter and the insurrection, but we didn’t drown in current events. We also wrote about the timelessness of empathy and the thrill of business success. Now our “book in a bottle” is about to hit shore and change the world.
Learn about Self-Elected and meet lisa wise here.