During my recent trip to New York, I spent time with this week’s podcast guest, Farnoosh Torabi. We talk about how to lean into fear—how to hone it, tap into it, and make it work for you. I loved everything about this conversation, and I know you will too.
Farnoosh has written multiple books, and her latest book, A Healthy State of Panic: Follow Your Fears to Build Wealth, Crush Your Career and Win at Life, came out last month—to fast acclaim. She is one of America’s leading personal finance authorities. She is also a multi-best-selling author, former CNBC host, and creator of the Webby-nominated podcast So Money. The New York Times calls her advice, “perfectly practical.” Her award-winning and critically acclaimed podcast has surpassed 25 million downloads, thanks to its one-of-a-kind interviews and deep conversations about money.
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Transcripts for Episode 113
These transcripts were generated by robots, not writers.
Farnoosh: Our fears are universal but also extremely personal. What I’m afraid of is not what you’re afraid of. We might have some overlaps, but I think that fear tells a story. It tells a narrative about your life, the people who’ve influenced your lived experience. I think that’s so fascinating and interesting. And to dismiss fear is like dismissing a huge part of ourselves.
Stacy: Welcome. Welcome. I am so excited this week to get to tell you about this week’s guest. But before I do, I just want to give a little bit of a download. After a lot of travel that I had, I just came back from a big trip to New York, to Ohio. Back to New York, actually part of it, to celebrate this week’s guest.
And as I’ve gotten back to Portugal and just kind of anchored into being in my life here, I’ve been so grateful for this place that we live in, for the choices that we’ve made to be here. And that’s part of what I want to talk about with this week’s guest, because she has really created a life of her own design. She had a vision for herself. She overcame barriers to get there, and she did not accept other people’s definition of who she is. And that, for me, is so resonant. And that’s why I’m so excited to get to share more of her story. So let me introduce you to Farnoosh. Farnosh Torabi is one of America’s leading personal finance authorities. She’s a multi bestselling author, former CNBC host, and creator of the Webby nominated podcast so Money.
New York Times calls her advice perfectly practical. Her award winning and critically acclaimed podcast has surpassed 25 million downloads thanks to its Oneofa kind interviews and deep conversations about money. She has written multiple books, including her most recent book, A Healthy State of Panic. Follow your fears to build wealth, crush your career, and win at life, which was just released this October. Welcome far AnUSH. I’m so excited to have this conversation.
Farnoosh: Thank you, Stacy. That’s a really generous intro, and thank you for visiting me in New York. I’m so honored that I was a stop on your multi city trip.
Stacy: It was so fun. It was such a great trip. And I think just getting to be in this space and see all of these people just celebrating you and how much community you had around the launch of your book, a Healthy state of Panic. And then as I’ve gotten in and gotten to read it, I feel like I’ve gotten to see this whole other side of you. And I’d love for you to give our listeners, our viewers a sense of your just maybe big picture narrative arc, because your book talks a lot about your childhood as your family, immigrant upbringing, and then you also on all of the content that you put out, you talk about your young adulthood being $30,000 in debt and how you went from that to being really one of the leading experts in the finance space.
So talk a little bit about that journey. What led you from your roots to where you are today?
Farnoosh: Well, being A financial expert author is not something that you dream about as a young girl. But I think that what I really wanted to create and do as a kid was help be of service, tell stories and all kinds of platforms. I wasn’t just thinking about writing as my North Star, as being an author, as my North Star, but also performing on stage and being in front of a camera and then, of course, writing. I think that for me, as the daughter of immigrants, it’s important to point out that I grew up with a great, loving family. But were not like everybody else. And because of my parents being immigrants, there was this, I think, over indexing on fear that they came here and they weren’t always met with open arms.
They knew that the world was tough and that they had come from Iran, so they knew from their home country just how tenuous and unpredictable life can be. And so all of that fed my upbringing. And I think when you think about money. Money is also uncertain, unpredictable, tenuous. So I sort of feel like in some ways, I was raised to not be afraid of money because money was very much like, okay, well, I’ve done scarier things. My parents have done scarier things. And also, culturally, we talk about money a lot as Middle Easterners. It’s not taboo like it is in America. And that doesn’t mean that we always have positive, healthy conversations about money, but we’re talking about it.
And I think that is not a small thing, that flexing of that muscle at a young age, being invited into these conversations about money. And my father, for example, he’s insisting that I get a job, save what is credit. I remember he told me he pulled out one of his folders one day that had all these credit cards in it. As an immigrant, earning credit is sort of a rite of passage. So he’s very proud of all the credit that he had accumulated over the years. And so all this to say that my background as a kid, it really set me up for, I think, the life that I have today in that, although I did get into some debt, I think that’s normal in your 20s.
There was this vigilance and this appetite and this, interestingly, not a lot of fear around addressing money in my own life. And I think when I came to my career, I wanted to, again, be that person that was in service and was helping and was writing and was telling stories. And I realized that money was this area in our culture that, again, not a lot of conversation, especially directed at young people. There wasn’t a lot of literacy for women and young people. And my first job was an editorial assistant at Money magazine, which at the time was the country’s biggest personal finance magazine. And our target reader was in his 60s, white, male. And I just thought, what a missed opportunity. I personally am going through some things with money. I have debt. I have student loans.
I’m living in a really expensive city, making $18 an hour. I need to learn this stuff. And so as I was learning it and I had access, fortunately, that most of my friends didn’t because I worked in the world of personal finance, I was able to help myself pretty quickly, but I also wanted to give that information to my friends. And that is essentially what happened. I mean, I basically became a voice for young people, writing about personal finance for young people. My first book was about managing money as a young person, and it just kind of went from there. I got laid off in 2009, which was not a small thing either. And I think in some ways propelled me to the next level of my career.
And I write about that in the book, how a layoff in the moment is gutting and very uncertain. But what the fear wants us to identify is what is certain. We want to protect certainty. We want to protect predictability in our life, and we can’t go back and beg our employers for our jobs back. We can’t regain the title. We can’t regain the salary. But what are some things that were not taken from me and that included my body of work, my connections, my network, my appetite for learning, my curiosity, my ambitions. And so I harnessed all of that to then launch the business that I have today. Knowing, too, that my book that I had published a year prior, you’re so money would be a great platform to initially launch the business.
So that’s kind of the three minute version of where I’ve come from, the middle, and where I am today. But you can fill in some blanks.
Stacy: If you like, and you have some really good stories in your book about many of those things, including when you wrote your first book and your second book. And so one of the things that I was thinking about as I’ve been reading, a healthy state of panic, I made some connections that I want to kind of throw back to you and have a conversation about. So for those of you listening or viewing who have not read the book yet, one of the, I would say the core premise of the book is that fear exists, and we get to decide what we do with that fear. We can either cower under the weight of it, or we can confront it, and we can make a decision of what we want to do with that fear. And it’s made two connections for me.
One is, I don’t know if you’ve ever read the work of Nahan. He’s a Taoist author, and he wrote this book called Anger. And in it, he talks about making anger your baby. So a lot of us, when we feel anger, we try to shove it down, but instead, he talks about holding your baby and loving your baby, and it’s like a nurturing of this emotion that you’re feeling. So that connection came up for me as I was thinking about fear, because it’s this feeling that we just want to reject, right? We don’t want to confront.
And then the other thing that was really interesting for me, just prepping for our conversation today, I listened to a medical podcast all about the connection between our fear of pain and feeling pain and how, by our brains, basically being afraid of having a certain type of pain, we actually create a physical pain cycle that intensifies over time. But how you actually fix that pain is by being aware of the fear and rewriting the scripts around that fear. So I thought that was so fascinating, and I’d love to just give those to you to extend with theme in your book where you cover nine different fears. And to me, there’s like a philosophy to it, but there’s a very practical side to it. So tell us a little bit about your work and how you arrived at this approach to fear.
Farnoosh: Well, firstly, I’m happy to hear that there’s other work out there that is reinforcing the conclusions that I came to in my book, which is that fear can be a friend. I think it’s important to personify sometimes the stuff that we like, fear and anger and sadness, these sort of bad emotions, that our first reaction is to try to fight them or ignore them. We’ve been hardwired to receive these emotions and react in those ways impulsively. And in my life, I’ve never been the person who could just be fearless, because the way that fearlessness works is that it doesn’t. It doesn’t. I appreciate all of the books and all of the memes that are like, do it scared, be fearless. But it’s like how, though? Because the world is scary.
And I think that when we say that we have no fears, we’re really not being honest with ourselves. I think that the truth of it is we probably went through a process to get to a point where fear isn’t consuming us and we’re presenting as fearless. Like, being on this podcast, for some people might be terrifying. Getting on a stage could be really scary. Writing books is scary, but you do them anyway. Does that mean that you’re stuck in fear? No, but I do think it means that at one point, you probably had a healthy amount of fear and you reconciled with it. You had a conversation with it, you unpacked it. Our fears are universal, but also extremely personal. What I’m afraid of is not what you’re afraid of. We might have some overlaps, but I think that fear tells a story.
It tells a narrative about your life, the people who’ve influenced your lived experience. I think that’s so fascinating and interesting. And to dismiss fear is like dismissing a huge part of ourselves. And so, no, I’ve never been fearless in the sense that I’ve never been able to just not care about consequences, just walk through life holding my breath. I don’t think that things are just going to work out. I feel like there has to be a level of my own self accountability. I always have to prepare for things going in a different direction, because that’s life. And that pragmatism I learned very early on. And so this book is really an honoring of our fears. And saying, if you’re afraid, maybe that’s okay.
Actually, maybe that’s just your body’s way of telling you, take a minute, you’re about to embark on a journey that could have serious trade offs, where there could be a lot of uncertainties on the other side. Let’s think about it. Let’s make some calculations. Let’s trace the root of this fear. And rather than dealing with fear as this monolith, which we often do in our culture, too, this just like four letter word, this ugly four letter word, I wanted to break it down even further because the truth is, again, when you’re feeling fear, it’s circumstantial. There’s probably a fear of something specific, which is worth noting.
And the more specific we can get, the more we can name our fears, whether that’s fear of loneliness or fear of rejection or FOMO, the more empowered we are, the more we know what to do with it. And the book provides, at the end of every chapter, some prompts questions that you might want to ask this fear. And when I say ask this fear, it’s really asking yourself these questions. Fear is just constantly trying to turn us inward. And in a world where we’re being completely stretched thin, pulled apart, comparison culture, we sort of forget who we are. We don’t trust that who we are is enough sometimes. And fear is, I think, this beautiful, abundant resource that we all have that can be that signal for us and that reminder for us.
Not always, I’m not saying fear is always worth following, but in the book, I chose to focus on the very visceral fears that tend to show up during our lives. When we’re at major crossroads, we’re dealing with heavy things like relationships, career, money. This isn’t about how to follow your fears so that you don’t get on the airplane and then you never travel. It’s about what to do when you’re afraid about talking about money with your loved ones, or you’re afraid of taking on a new job, quitting your job, breaking a relationship, maybe possibly starting a family, but you’re not sure how to afford it or whether you’re really ready. All these really high stakes moments in our lives when naturally fear comes to the surface and it’s usually there for a reason. So let’s unpack that reason.
Stacy: I love all of that so much, Farnosh. And I think the thing that came up for me is that we can really approach fear and ask these questions of it. And I love that you’re giving it like, it’s like creating a character out of this thing that we call fear. It reminded me of when my kids were really little. I got really curious about how you raise children to be courageous, and I was really curious about how we gender that. So how, as a society, we raise girls to be courageous versus how we raise boys to be courageous. And as I dug it, I did a bunch of just, like, review of existing research that had been published in various journals. And one of the things that I looked at was a metamanalysis of courage.
And what they were trying to get at was a universal, accepted definition of what courage is. So they had reviewed all of these studies, and they pulled in all this information. And what I pulled out of it, I think, was maybe one of the most important things, which is that courage cannot exist without fear. We cannot have courage if we’re not first fearful, because in order to be courageous, we must feel the fear, and we must do it anyway. Which is what you just said as you were giving us your own personal philosophy on fear. What would you say to somebody who’s listening to this right now, and they’re hearing your story?
They’re hearing the story of this person who has felt fear and has chosen courage in all of these situations, and maybe at this point in their life, they haven’t made that courageous step forward. What would you offer them to help them kind of become a courageous version of themselves and confront that fear with a sense of groundedness?
Farnoosh: Well, for me, I think courage is doing something that may not initially seem like you’re capable of doing it that is worth doing. There might be some costs related to it, and you did it anyway. And it wasn’t because you did it blind. You did it because you made some calculations, you stopped, and you made a plan. You prepared. People who are courage just don’t throw themselves out of a plane. We think that’s courage. Like, there was no plan, but that person probably practiced. That person probably read the manual. That person probably had a plan B or, like, an extra parachute or something, right? They didn’t just do it. Our culture tends to portray courage as this sort of act that was thoughtless in the sense that the person just went out and did it, and then they did it without fear.
And I think that’s such an unfair characterization. It’s not the full story. And that’s what I want you to know, is that when you see someone who’s doing something courageous, there was a lot that went on behind the scenes, and part of that was being emotionally intelligent about fear and their doubts and being strategic, which fear encouraged them to be, that they use fear as an instrument and a tool so that they could go and do the thing that seems very courageous to us. But for them, it may not feel courageous. Actually. It may feel like they’re just being themselves. They’re doing it their way. And again, because I said earlier, what I see is fear, and you see as fear is different. So it’s funny. Again, I use the analogy of, like, someone parachuting out of a plane that I would never do.
And that, to me, seems like the most courageous thing. But to the person doing it’s probably just another Tuesday. For those who do it regularly, or they do it as a sport, because they have created a workaround. They have been strategic about it. They do it in the way that they feel comfortable. They trust the process. And so when you see an act of courage, know that there was probably a lot of thought and planning that went before that. And even up to that point that we don’t often see, we cut right to the act. I think that what my book is trying to offer is the middle of when you’re afraid, and then you go do the thing. And we often hear, like, just do it anyway. Just do it. Just ignore your fears. Well, no, that doesn’t work for me.
That’s always backfired. You have to sit with that fear for even just a little bit to figure out, how can I go still do that thing while honoring the things that I want to protect? Because that’s what the fear is really trying to encourage me to do. Right. So I did stand up comedy a few years ago. Terrifying. And as I was sort of in the process of learning about it, and I took a course, I watched this Netflix show. All these comedians, like, these really famous comedians, like Jerry Seinfeld and all the Gang, Chris Rock and somebody in that group was like, if you have to take a stand up comedy class to do comedy, you’re not really funny. You don’t really have it.
And I thought, see, what he’s saying is, if you have any fears, if you think that you can’t just get up on a stage and be funny, then you’re never going to have a career, and you don’t really deserve a comedic career. And I thought, see, once again, here’s our culture saying, like, just do it scared or just get up on there and that you have to defy your fears. And I thought, no, I think that there’s another way. I think there’s a way where you can learn the art of comedy. Because for me, I’m terrified. I wouldn’t get on a stage and just wing it. I don’t know many people who can do that. And these comedians were priding themselves in the fact that they did that. They just would go up on stage and wing it.
I don’t think they’re being honest with us. I think there was a lot of writing in the background. I think there’s a lot of rehearsing in the background. I think there’s a lot of breathing techniques in the background. But okay, fine, it’s for the commercial value of this. I get it. But so I tell this story because I still did this thing that was kind of scary, but I thought, I want to protect that when I go on stage. I’m not saying I won’t completely flop. I just want to maybe get a B plus. I’m not saying I’m going to get an A plus, but I don’t want to get an F. And so what does that mean? I have to learn. I have to study, I have to practice, practice. And I did. And I got up on stage and it was okay.
I got more than a few laughs. And then actually, if you read the book, you’ll learn that was the moment where this book kind of came to be. A literary agent had seen the act and said, do you have more stories? I was talking a lot about my parents and our upbringing and the fears and all that. She goes, this is kind of funny. Do you have more personal stories? And I said, no, but I can start writing. And so I did, and it became a healthy state of panic. And so, again, we often don’t see the work in the middle and we often don’t give ourselves the credit. You think you did something without fear?
Actually, I would argue that there was a moment where you faced the fear and you didn’t shove it, you didn’t run away, you didn’t fight it, you invited it in, and there was something that happened, and then you did the thing, but you did it with, I guarantee you, more confidence, more integrity, feeling like you’re doing it your way, which is ultimately what we want in life. This book isn’t about how everything’s going to work out perfectly with fear. But it’s that on the other side of doing the thing as you have brought your fear with you and you’re in control, that you land on your 2ft and you say, I did everything I could. I did everything with respect to my values, and I think that’s what we all strive for. At the end of the day, I.
Stacy: Love that story so much, and if you hadn’t put yourself in that fearful situation, that meeting with that particular agent never would have happened. So I love so much about that. And it’s such a great segue into one of the things that I’ve been dying to ask you about, which is your book writing process. The act of writing a book for so many people holds so much fear. This is why 80% of people want to write a book, and a very small percentage of those people actually finish and publish those books. I think a lot of it is the vulnerability of it, of getting your work out there also in a quote unquote permanent form that you can’t then go and modify. But I’d love to hear a little bit from you on your own approach to writing a book that is very personal.
You told a lot of vulnerable story. You tell a lot of vulnerable stories in it. You share about being bullied, you share about exploring your relationship with your name. You tell embarrassing moments from both personal experiences and very public experiences. And you do it in a way that is an easy read for the reader. But I, as somebody who’s in this world, know it took a lot of work to weave in research and dig into your podcast archives to pull in these thoughtful quotes and weave together your story, and then to craft something and put it out into the world. Bless and release it to become its own entity separate from you. Talk to me a little bit about that journey for you and what it’s been like writing this book.
Farnoosh: Terrifying experience. Which means that I probably should keep at it, right? It was a layering process. I started with just some stories about my life, the ones that felt most important to tell, not because they were so important to me. The sort of Venn diagram of the perfect story is sort of like this was meaningful to me. It’s moving, it has an emotion to it, whether it’s funny or sad or powerful. But the bigger circle is that it really does translate to the reader in a way where she or he, they are really going to get something important out of that. They’re going to learn from that. And it’s not always maybe that they learn, but that they are inspired or they’re moved.
And I try to create a balance of all of these types of emotions throughout the storytelling, where sometimes you’re laughing, sometimes you’re shocked, sometimes you’re reflecting on your own life, because that’s what it’s asking you to do, really, the goal for me was I want to be able to create such a diversity of stories, not just my life, but also the other stories that I pull from my podcast and people in my life that the reader sees themselves in the work. This book needs to connect, ultimately with the reader. And I think it’s easy and it’s exciting sometimes as sort of a memoirist or a first person writer, to try to make it all about you because you think your stories are so great.
But no, I think that there has to be a conscious pulling back and creating boundaries and sharing enough where the reader trusts you, gets enough out of the story, but as an author, too, protecting your own privacy to some extent. I didn’t share all the stories in this book. I shared the ones that I thought were most relevant and cast a diversity of experiences. I found myself a lot of times writing mostly about my career and being a breadwinner. And my editor was like, we got enough of that. Are there stories about friendship? Are there stories about relationships? Are there stories about your personal health? And if not yours, other people’s? Because we want to really create this global look at how fear can be helpful in all of the ways.
So that was the big sort of foundational layering of storytelling and making sure that were being very diverse and conscious about how were telling the stories and the stories were choosing. And then, yeah, there was a lot of technicality to the book, too. Where I’m a journalist, it’s a service book. It’s a self help book. We’re talking about fear. Let’s talk about the science of that. Let’s talk about the research. Every chapter, my editor said it perfectly. She said, pretend each chapter is like a New Yorker article or a long New York magazine piece, like a 6000, 8000 word, not investigative. But those articles have many pieces to them. They have the personal story or the story, and then they also have the concrete sort of nut graph, which is like the global frame.
We would say every chapter starts with a personal story, and then it pulls you out and says, here’s what we’re talking about. This is the fear. Here’s where this fear comes from, the fear of loneliness, or FOMO. Here’s why it shows up. Here’s why we tend to have a hard time shaking this fear. But here are some of the gifts that this fear potentially can give you. And then going into those gifts in the rest of the chapter, trying to maybe sometimes tie it back to the first story, I tried to also, on top of everything, layer on an arc, which is as I love the books where you’re reading it for the advice, but you’re staying for the stories and you’re staying because you’re invested in some of the people.
Like, you really want to know what happens to this character or a host of characters. I remember reading a book years ago about parenting, and the author is part memoir, but also like her take on parenting. I think it was the Tiger mom book, the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. And I mean a best selling book, and it’s really about Eastern versus Western parenting culture. And the mom who wrote the book, she includes her husband and her children, their characters. And then I think it was her sister who was battling an illness. And the way she wrote about her relationship with her sister, it was so beautiful that on top of everything else, as you’re reading about different parenting techniques and meeting her family, you’re also really invested in how is her sister going to do by the end of the book.
And it was just this carrot that we didn’t need it. The book was great on its own, but it was just this extra bonus of like, I get to really be invested in this person and ride this person’s journey. And I tried to do that in some ways with my mother, our relationship, and also my grandmother, who I call sort of the matriarch of fear in our family and how she doesn’t make a lot of appearances in the book, but just enough. I sort of sprinkled her in, and then in the end, she’s kind of a bigger character. But yeah, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I hired a writing coach because so much of my work up until this point has been more technical. And yes, I write a lot of story.
I think personal finance needs stories to engage readers and get readers really interested in learning about money. You have to make it personal, but to do it across 300 pages and then it’s all about your life. I think it was a huge endeavor. It took multiple years, multiple rewrites. It was a lot of work. I can probably say the hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally and in some ways personally, because this book was such a therapeutic experience. I probably should have also seen a therapist while writing this book, but I think it was important for me to not always put pressure on myself to write every day. I always say to authors as they’re in the process, that writing a book is not just writing the book, it’s thinking about the book. It’s the gestation.
It’s going on a walk and listening to a podcast and hearing another author talk about their process and what are the words that they’re using. I listen to a lot of NPR. I listen to a lot of fresh air. I listen to a lot of memoirists and fiction writers. I tried to go outside of the nonfiction world for inspiration, not just in writing the book, but also marketing the book. I think that it’s important, right, to just expose yourself to all the different ideas and ways of thinking and articulating that. I think this book was influenced by so many external factors that in some ways were unconscious because I was insisting on just making myself a student for so many of the years of writing this book.
Stacy: There’s so much in that, and I love that you talk about just that process of processing where maybe you’re not actually sitting down and writing. And I’ve told this story on the podcast before, but years ago, Seth Godin came to my town of Boise, where I was living at the time, and I invited him to go on a walk. And so we took this 45 minutes walk around Boise. One of the questions that I asked him was, how long does it take you to write your daily blog posts? And he said, well, that depends. Are you asking me how long it takes me to physically write the post, or are you asking me how long it takes me to think about what I want to write?
And he said, I spend probably 8 hours thinking about what I want to write, and I spend maybe five minutes writing it. Like actually five to 15 minutes actually writing it. So that varies, but the work that I do is often not when I’m actually sitting down and writing. And to your point, a lot of that processing. I think what makes it an intentional endeavor that you are engaging in is that you also accepted that as part of the writing process. I think a lot of authors, they become really hard on themselves, thinking I should be at my desk, I should be sitting at my keyboard. And they don’t acknowledge all these other things that they’re doing, like reading books that inspire them, like studying. Actually, podcasts are a great study of storytelling.
And all the things that you mentioned, they’re such powerful ways of engaging in the writing process, even when you’re not actually physically sitting down to write. With all that said, I would love for you to tell us a little bit about your actual routine around writing this book. What did you do? You’re a mom. You have a business, you’re speaking. You have so much going on. What was that process like for you? Did you have some ebbs and flows when you got off track? A little bit, as most of us do. How did you reorient. Tell us a little bit about that journey of the actual writing of the book.
Farnoosh: It was a series of sprints. Your editor gives you deadlines. There are multiple revisions. And so I just kind of worked in those sprints. And the first sprint was just figuring out, what is this book? And the only way you can figure that out is to start writing. And a lot of it, you won’t use a lot of stuff. That’s something that you have to really accept. And the earlier you can accept that, the better. It’s not about the success of the writing in the beginning. And, oh, my God, this is the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s about just literally getting all the words out, all the ideas onto a piece of paper or on your. To your document, and trying to find the patterns and the through lines.
It’s a lot of puzzle pieces in the beginning, and you have to create those puzzle pieces. The puzzle pieces don’t just show up. You have to first create all the puzle pieces and then you put them together. And so I remember, actually, the first deadline, my editor called me and she said, so, listen, I think that we need to revisit what it is we’re actually trying to convey. And initially, this book was supposed to be in my mind and how I sold it, a series of essays about my life, that fear was theme, but I wasn’t really going to get into the how or the framework. It was just like, look at me. I’m a terrified woman.
And I started out as a terrified kid, and things worked out, and it was just kind of supposed to be this journey through my life and meeting my family, et cetera. And my editor was smart. She said, I don’t want to abandon that. I just think that we should layer onto this. We should give it a backbone. We should give this story, this book, a big idea, because I think there is a big idea here. There’s enough of a pattern of you doing things. Not fearless. So can we unpack that? Can you give us the framework? And I was like, oh, my God, that’s so much work. Because I didn’t know it yet, because, again, it was sort of intuitive to me. And now she’s asking me to do the very difficult work of trying to suss that out.
And so she also gave me, in the same call, a bit of a framework, like a structure, because I was like, well, how do I actually structure this? And so the next phase of the book writing was thinking more structuralLy. So, okay, we know these are, like, the 30 stories that we want to incorporate into the book. Here are the nine or ten chapters. Her idea was, rather than go chronologically through your life, which I was finding to be a huge lift, because life doesn’t work linearly. Right? She goes, don’t put that pressure on yourself. Instead, let’s think about if there’s a way to craft this book so that you talk about the different kinds of fears. What are the biggest fears people face? Maybe those are the chapters, and you pick the ones that you have a lot to give in those departments.
A fear of loneliness, fear of rejection. And some, maybe you don’t, but that’s where you might pull in other people’s stories. And that was so helpful, because as I am a student and an academic, I love structure. So once she gave me the framework and the structure, then I felt like, okay, about a third of the puzzle is figured out here. So we’ve got stories, we have structure. And then it was a lot of trying to write these chapters. I had a sticker on my laptop, and the one word I had on there, which was, for me, a reminder of what I always needed to do and think, was, why question mark. When you write a sentence and you say, for example, let fear be your friend, why I wasn’t taking it to the next level.
And so the third step of all this writing was, like, really getting deep and never assuming that your reader has an assumption of what you’re talking about. It’s not intuitive to your reader. It may be intuitive to you because you’re the expert and you’ve been living this, I think we all are that person. Whether you’re a lawyer or a writer or a doctor or a teacher, you do things without even thinking. But to the outside world, they don’t understand how you got from point A to point B. It’s not intuitive to them. So going into that middle and explaining it. And so I have two kids. I would usually write from the hours of bedtime, their bedtime, which was around eight till about one in the morning. And I would do that usually five, six days in a row.
Take a break, do it again. Five, six days in a row. I remember writing during Thanksgiving. I remember asking for an extension because that’s what I needed, and I didn’t know you could. And someone said, just ask for an extension for your first draft. And I was like, what? And my editor said, sure. So take that advice, that these deadlines are not hard and fast in publishing. You can always move deadlines around. And again, having a writing coach was really helpful because I had accountability. We would get on calls, and she would read things, and we would talk about it. Sometimes the hardest things for me were finding the words. Finding the words. I feel like I was using a lot of the same words, so use a lot of thesaurus, but also listening to other people talk about life.
And again, that’s why I listened to a lot of podcasts, and it didn’t have to do with my content. It could just be someone telling a story about something happening overseas or a book they love, whatever. I just needed to hear other people talking so that I could be inspired to lift some of those words out and put them in my book, because I was running out of synonyms for the word fear or for the word inspired. And then the last layer of the book was, I mean, there were so many revisions. I remember rewriting the entire money chapter almost, and my editor gave me the first pass, as they say, where now you’re like, in a PDF, and you’re not actually in a word document anymore, and you have to make red lines and margin notes. And I sent it back.
It looked like it had been bloodied, it was so full of red marks. She was like, this isn’t usually the level of editing that we want at this point. But I said, you know what? These have to get. And I’m so glad I pushed for these edits, because I’m really happy with the book now. I wasn’t happy with the book in March or February of this year. Believe it or not, the very last edit of this book was in July, and the book came out in October. And I had a group of other author friends who were further along, very helpful, because they could tell me the future, and they could also tell me where I could bargain and where I could negotiate, where I could push, and, oh, this is just your first draft or your second PDF.
Don’t worry, there’s three more after this. It gave me less anxiety, unhealthy anxiety, as I was going through those finishing miles.
Stacy: There’s so much in that revision process. I think authors underestimate the amount of work that goes into the revision, but I actually think that’s where the book can become a great book is through that revision process. The other thing that you brought up that I’ll just kind of reflect back to you for commentary that I see a lot in the process of writing a book is it’s like this forced introspection. You have to go, not only go inward in a way that most of us never do. We rarely sit for five minutes with our own thoughts. So now we’re doing it for hours. And then we have to take those thoughts, and then we have to translate those thoughts to engage somebody else and inspire them, educate them, whatever it is we’re trying to do with this book.
And so because of that, I really believe that the journey of writing a book is one of the most insightful and transformative journeys that we can go on as humans. I’m curious, in your own process of actually writing this book, going through that journey, was there an insight? Was there something about you that shifted? Was there a deeper anchoring in your beliefs? What was that like for you, coming out on the other side of this process of writing a book?
Farnoosh: It’s such a good question. I think the most transformation I experienced was in telling my mother’s story. My mother, as you’ll read in the book, is 19 when she has me. She’s new to this country. She’s new to motherhood, marriage. She didn’t have her own money. She didn’t have a license. She didn’t speak the language. I mean, talk about barriers and talk about loneliness. And as her daughter for many years, I didn’t understand it. I was frustrated with her frustrations. ANd she had sort of a cloud over her for many of my youth, much of my youth, and I took it personally. I didn’t understand how could she be this way? And had I written this book in my twenty s, I probably still wouldn’t have quite understood it.
But now, to write this book as a mother myself, and I had to sit with a lot of her behaviors and trying to find the why, the why. And it wasn’t like I wanted to just pick up the phone and ask her, because I didn’t want that to be the process. I wanted it to be like, is there a world where I could maybe connect some dots? And if I’m not connecting the right dots, it’s my interpretation. But I wanted my interpretation to be very thoughtful and coming from a place of a lot of compassion where I don’t think I would have had that ability 15 years prior or 20 years prior, because I was still in it with her and still figuring out who I was.
And now that I’ve lived more years and I’ve now again become a mom, I think I was able to write about my mother in a way that was more patient. And I unpacked a lot of our relationship. I remember asking my writing coach, Suzanne, do you feel like I’m throwing her under the bus? Because that’s not what I want. And I think there was a fear, too, that from my mother that she thought I might write something that was hurtful, because we’ve had a lot of moments in our relationship where it hasn’t been great and it hasn’t been easy, and we’ve had to really work through our past so that we can land at a place today where we’re still talking and that we’re happy with one another. But she said, no, I don’t think you’re throwing your mother under the bus. Not even.
She said, I actually think your mother is turning out to be kind of a hero here. And I said, well, that’s going too far. Let’s pull it back a little bit. But, yeah, I think that at the end of the day, my mother has read the book. And she said to me, she said, I didn’t realize, first, that you were paying such close attention to me. And secondly, she said, it felt like therapy for me to be able to, especially that fear of loneliness chapter where she’s really the star of that chapter, that she didn’t even know probably why she was feeling the way that she was or trying to find a healthy meaning behind it, a justification. And she felt validated in a lot of ways, reading the book, like, okay, so, see, I had it hard.
And my daughter, of all people, recognized that in me. And there’s a scene in the book where my mother, unlike a lot of people in their 20s, this is now she’s in her twenty s. I remember she just, like, loved hanging out with the elders. So if a grandparent was visiting or even her own friends, she was always the youngest in her friend group. And I think she sought it out. I think she wanted to be around older people, and I never understood it. And not only older people, she loved antiques. She loved old timey movies. She just had, like, an old soul. And in my mind, I thought, let’s understand my mother here. And as I’m writing, I’m like, I want to understand my mother and where she was in her life at that point.
She was a young woman who left her country, and not only her country, but her parents. She didn’t have the parent love that we all have, that she could get on the phone with her parents, but it wasn’t the same. She couldn’t just call her parents anytime she wanted or go to their house. And I think she was really longing for parenting and longing for an older person to recognize in her potential and to treat her almost like a daughter that they may never have had. And so I remember we would have parties, and there would be, like, a grandmother visiting, and she would just be in a corner with her talking. And it was usually, you could tell the power dynamic where it’s, my mother was in awe of her, and this woman was really taking interest in my mother.
And I thought, wow, that makes a lot of sense. She was trying to fill a loneliness void in her life. Her fear of loneliness had led her to reach out to people that reminded her of her parents and that familialness that she was lacking in her new life in America. And I think when she read that in the book, she was like, oh, wow, that is true. I never quite knew it myself, because sometimes that’s how it works, right? With fear, we just kind of are drawn to do things, and hopefully, if they’re healthy, we just don’t stop and go, oh, this is me being actually making a conscious choice.
And I’m doing it because the fear wants me to protect my sense of belonging and my wanting for this very specific kind of relationship that I’m not experiencing right now in my life that is so needed, especially when you’re just starting out. And she was a young adult. We still need our parents. When we’re young adults, we need our parents always. But especially in those days.
Stacy: Wow, I got chills while you were telling that story. And I think, for me, what it pulled up, just as a mom, is just culturally, we’re kind of made to be invisible. And so a lot of times, what we want the most is to be seen, especially by the people that we care, that we spend our time, energy, money, all the things caring for. And it’s interesting just touch back on your earlier point about you confronted this fear, and you made a decision to gracefully approach this thing that felt kind of scary to you. And what it resulted in is your mother getting really what it seems like she desired the most, which was to be fully seen. And what a beautiful story. Farnoosh, I could just talk to you all day.
I feel like we could talk for another hour, but this seems like a great place to end because this is such a representative story of the beautiful and funny. I mean, I’ve laughed out loud so many times reading your book, and I felt deeply with your stories. It’s a beautiful book. Tell our listeners and viewers where they can learn more about you and how they can kind of get into the Farnosh ecosystem and get a copy of your book.
Farnoosh: Well, thank you, Stacy. I admire you so much. To hear that you’re enjoying the book and are laughing out loud, that is everything to me. My book is available widely. You can go to a healthystatofpanic.com to find where specifically you can grab it. And I have a podcast three days a somoneypodcast.com. And I love hanging out in the direct messages on Instagram. That’s where I find my people. So don’t be shy. Send a question. Drop your thoughts in the DMs on Fridays on the so many podcast, I answer audience questions, so that’s also a good place to drop me a question on Instagram. But look forward to connecting with many of you. And thank you again for having me on your show.
Stacy: Thank you so much for joining me, Farnish. This was so much fun, and I know our listeners got so much valuable. It’s entertaining, it’s interesting, and also a lot of things they can apply to their everyday life.
Farnoosh: Thank you.
Stacy: And thank you for being here with us for this hour discussion. We’ve really enjoyed getting to share Farnoosh’s story with you, and I want to say a special thank you to the people that make this podcast possible. So thank you to Rita Domingues, who produces the podcast. Thank you to Catherine Fishman for Project support. And I am so grateful for them. This podcast would not exist without the diligent work that they do every week to make sure it gets out to you, the listener. If you have a moment, please take just two minutes to rate and review the podcast. It makes a huge difference in my ability to reach more listeners, and I will be back with you before you know it.