In her newly released book, College of Communication and Information alumna Sharon Price John (’86) weaves stories from her childhood, alongside insights from her career journey, as a way to encourage others to set and achieve personal goals. The Build-a-Bear, Inc. president and CEO didn’t want to write a tell-all or girl boss story, but rather wanted to provide a book with relatable anecdotes and tools that could guide others on the wandering path of life, personal growth, and achievement. Her book, Stories and Heart: Unlock the Power of Personal Stories to Create a Life You Love, is an easily digestible read complete with worksheets, guides, and reflection prompts.
“I didn’t want this to have a lot of flowing narrative that you can’t really find a place to stop or you lose the plot or have to re-read two chapters each time you pick up the book; I wanted it to be bite-sized, because that’s how a lot of people think today,” John said. “Each section is long enough that it has some meaningful content, but short enough that you can just read a few chapters without much time dedication.”
John, who notes that so much in life is determined by the narrative we weave
around things that happen to us, writes about her stumbles alongside her successes, most notably turning the former into the latter by approaching life with flexibility and positive thinking. At first glance, some readers may not find the author’s success achievable, but this small-town Southerner and self-proclaimed “tomgirl” who was the first in her family to graduate with a four-year degree, talks about living off mac and cheese, using up the last bit of credit left on her card, and barely squeaking by (financially and emotionally) at certain points in her journey. Or, as she jokingly sums up in a phrase that is an allusion to the book’s thematic tale about a significant tree climbing tale from her childhood: “Life’s a beech.” Which is to say, just like attempting to scale a big unwieldy tree, life presents challenges, and the reader can either choose to be open-minded and make those challenges opportunities, or let those challenges stymie growth.
Throughout the book there are people featured who shaped John’s life, including her family, husband, friends, and mentors. But there are several non-people characters with starring roles, including the companies she worked for and the schools she attended. Early on in the book, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is one such character.
“UT is like an old friend. Somebody who knows me, but a contemporary. When I took a break from UT in college, and then decided to return, it was still there for me, again, like a good friend saying, ‘Whenever you’re ready to come back, we’re still here, and when you come back, it’s going to be great.’ Then, when I lost touch with the school early in my career, one day I received a call out of the blue to get back involved, John said, referencing the reconnection she made with CCI and UT in recent years, which has led to the creation of an endowed scholarship for CCI and being the keynote speaker for the CCI class of 2022 commencement.
She said her undergraduate time at CCI also allowed her to expand her already established talent for creative writing by adding different styles to her repertoire, including the journalistic inverted pyramid and copywriting. Her talent, education, and subsequent work experience all provided the confidence she needed to dive in and write a book after Forbes Books approached her with the idea. The only other thing she needed: time.
“I’m not a writer first, I’m an executive who happens to write. I have a job to do, the job I get paid to do, and then I also have a family. This was not the primary role for me, so I had to find the time to do it. But when people ask me, ‘How did you find the time to write a book?’ That is when my response is generally about being a writer at heart, because if it really is impassioned in you, it’s going to come out,” she said.
In fact, she had already outlined some of the childhood shorts included in Stories & Heart, as a way to remember those days and lessons. However, for the book, John layered the stories and supported the advice with hard data to back up the tools she shares and uses daily to maintain the forward momentum that propels her life and her career. She even used her own tools to navigate penning this book. As an avid reader of business, leadership, and motivational books, it could have been daunting to take on the task of crafting a book in that genre. Instead, she chose to stifle negative thoughts, avoid the pitfall of perfectionism, and push forward to achieve what became yet another goal on her list.
“I couldn’t possibly have started the book if measuring up had been the goal. You’ve got to get in your own lane. Trying to compare yourself to others can be incredibly intimidating and often causes people to not do anything. Find your own genius, and hopefully there won’t be anyone to compare you to directly,” she said.
While she didn’t want to write a business book, per se, John includes just enough business expertise for readers to discern why she’s a CEO leading the advancement of one of the most recognizable brands in the country that pioneered experiential retail. But the life lessons and hands-on tools she provides readers are simple to deploy and can have powerful results. She said if there’s just one lesson or sentiment a reader ends up taking away from the book, it would be a very easy one: “For the most part, if you can stay positive and focus on the things that really matter, it’s all going to be OK.”
To find out more about living a life you love, you can purchase the book on Amazon starting today. And, for those who are more listeners than readers (or both!), John also has a podcast with Forbes Books with the same name, Stories & Heart, wherein she speaks candidly with people in business and leadership roles about their own journeys and insights about life and career.