The Five Stages of a Dream
(that one time I made a magazine)
Stage One: Pure Elation
Stage one is like the elevator at the LEGOLand hotel (IYKYK). Disco ball, flashing lights, music pumping through the speakers:
Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you're part of a team
Everything is awesome
When you're living out a dream
A picture starts forming in your head. Heartfelt stories. Beautiful photography. Modern, minimalist graphic design.
It feels like champagne bubbles in your brain. Like the good kind of nerves, like first kiss butterflies standing in front of his car. Stage one is giddy and sparkly, Taylor and Travis energy, all hope and potential, the way you feel when you step outside on the first warm day of spring.
Stage Two: Doubt Creeps In Like A Fog
Stage two is like when you come home from a haircut and it looks different on you than it looked on Pinterest. A lot of second-guessing. Very little confidence. Am I pulling this off? A lot of yikes.
You very quickly realize you’re in over your head. Google is both your friend and enemy, your frenemy. You begin to research paper, shipping, fulfillment, online commerce, something called “profit margins” which is fancy code for “how to not lose $9,000.” You learn as you go, Googling frantically like a new mom in the middle of the night. You put so many numbers into so many spreadsheets, pausing to search Amazon for a book called Small Business for Dummies that you end up not putting in your shopping cart. You consider throwing in the towel. You consider giving up. But one day the afternoon light comes streaming through the window and catches the mirror just so. You look at the haircut again, and you think maybe it’s not as bad as you thought. You stop hiding, go out into the world, and whisper the dream out loud.
“I am making a magazine.”
The words feel good on your tongue. You say them again, a little bit louder. You tell your husband. Your team. Your friends. Eventually you work up the courage to tell the whole Internet. A pretty big risk.
One person responds immediately.
“I’ll buy it,” she says.
You heart the comment. Feel a prick behind your eyes. The fog starts to melt away.
Stage Three: The Zone
Stage three is like that moment when you’re on a trampoline and your entire body is suspended in mid-air. You feel weightless. Anything is possible. The ideas keep coming, and coming, and coming. You are like a kid rolling down a grassy hill, high on life and sunshine and unhindered joy. You wake up early. Go to bed late. Email the graphic designer something like 700 times and pray she doesn’t hate you for it. At Kinkos (which is now called FedEx Office but you will always call it Kinkos), you hand the print technician a thumb drive and hope for the best. He prints the pages and slides them across the counter, completely unimpressed, as if he sees dreams come to life every day under these fluorescent lights.
You drive home and carefully cradle the pages like a newborn baby through the front door. You swipe everything off the dining room table. Coloring books, markers, broken crayons, unicorn stickers, so many granola bar wrappers. You move your children’s art projects to make room for your own.
After everything is spread out on the table, you take a second to appreciate the sight in front of you.
This is the high point. The peak. The top of the mountain. People think this happens on launch day, or when the sales start rolling in, or when people start posting pictures on social media, but all of those people are wrong.
This moment right here, alone in the stillness of your house, is the very best part. The dream has become real. The invisible thing that existed in your head for over two years is now a visible, tangible thing sitting on your dining room table. You and God are the only witnesses.
“It’s beautiful,” you whisper.
Stage Four: Doubt Crashes In Like A Tidal Wave
Stage four is like the last few miles of running a marathon (so I’ve heard). You hit a wall. You’re 98% done, but that last 2% is a real b****. There are 54 tiny decisions to make. You are exhausted and weary and starting to question everything. You go back and forth with the printer a dozen times, confirming and re-confirming you understand how all of this works. The cost of the magazine. The shipping. The fulfillment. Suddenly there’s a misunderstanding. You thought the magazines would be shipped in an envelope. The printer thought the magazine would have a white label stuck on the cover. No no no no no. We need an envelope. The envelope should be pretty. No problem. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. More dollars to add to the spreadsheet.
Cue the copyedits. The minor adjustments. So many opportunities to question so many things. Are we sure this is the right photo? The right font? You talk yourself out of changes left and right. One page still doesn’t look right. This poor graphic designer. You ask for more changes, more changes, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry just a few more changes. You wonder if she dreams of hopping in a time machine and saying “hard pass” to this project.
The table of contents is finalized. You add “Editor in Chief” next to your name, an absurd title that almost makes you laugh. You set the price at $25—an absurd amount, but you’ve done the math 37 times.
That scene from The Office plays on a loop, the famous exit interview with Michael Scott and Toby.
Who do you think you are?
What gives you the right?
Those questions haunt you, heckle you, echo in your mind.
Editor in Chief. Who do you think you are?
$25 for a magazine. What gives you the right?
You finalize the artwork. Double, triple, quadruple check. Quickly run through worst case scenarios in your head: typos, a donor’s name accidentally left off the list, some kind of unexpected print issue, the post office loses half the magazines, people are disappointed in the product, so many angry emails, so many apologies and refunds to issue.
Worst case scenario, part two: nobody buys it at all, you lose a few thousand dollars, and are forced to shelve 500 magazines in the garage next to the coffee mugs that never sold.
In all worst case scenarios, though, you survive.
The printer sends a proof.
You type back, “Approved.”
Stage Five: Delirium (the launch)
Stage five feels like putting stages one and two and three and four in a Vitamix. Champagne bubbles in your brain. Very little confidence. You are weightless and ecstatic and also insecure and awkward. This is the hardest part of all: hitting publish, taking your hand off the wheel, letting go. You are watching your child walk into kindergarten while you stand at the gate waving. You know it’s time. Goodbye, good luck, I love you.
You sit glued to your laptop for hours, checking and re-checking that everything is in its place, that everything works. You test the shopping cart. Test the checkout process. Walk through the process on desktop and mobile. You forget to eat lunch. You forget to brush your teeth.
The day before the official launch, you realize there is no marketing strategy. No email prepped. No social media posts scheduled. It is almost hilarious how much you haven’t thought about this. Jenna Kutcher would be horrified. She would not think this is funny.
You attempt more hours glued to the laptop but your beloved children force you to take a break because it is 4:49pm and what is for dinner?
You do not sleep at all. You toss and turn all night, dreaming of misplaced commas and shipping delays. Editor in Chief. $25. Who do you think you are? What gives you the right?
Your daughter crawls in bed next to you at 4:40am and coughs all over your face. You let her stay next to you for twenty minutes before rolling her into your husband’s spot, who is traveling for work this week. You kiss her head and stumble into the kitchen to turn on the coffee, much-needed after approximately three hours of sleep.
Once the caffeine hits your bloodstream, you get back to the nonexistent marketing strategy. You write an email, prep the system, import the contact list, and realize within minutes you’ve accidentally sent an old, automated freebie to 15,000 people.
You groan out loud. You put your face in your hands. You say, no no no no no no no, loudly, to the alarm of your children. You frantically Google, “how to unsend mass emails.” Spoiler alert: you can’t.
Responses barrel in. Did you mean to send this? The dates in this PDF are wrong. Is this an old email?
What to do? There is nothing to do but add a disclaimer at the top of the launch email you meant to send, and click “send now” to those same 15,000 people. BIG WHOOPS, you type, apologizing for the error. You say a quick prayer that people forgive the blunder and actually read the email, which is now standing in the shadow of the mistake.
The children are everywhere. Complaining there is pulp in the orange juice. Complaining you won’t let them watch TV. Asking if there is any yogurt, and is it the strawberry kind, and if it isn’t the strawberry kind, when will we get more of the strawberry kind?
You scramble eggs and dress the preschooler and sign a field trip permission slip and remember to put on deodorant, all the while trying not to beat yourself up over the email snafu.
Right before you leave to take the kids to school, you check the sales. The email went out minutes ago and there are already six orders. Another prick behind your eyes. There is nothing left to do. (For now.) Everything is in motion. There is no going back. You’re on the roller coaster, arms in the air, embracing the fall.
You are tired and grateful and a little bit delirious.
You book a facial for Friday afternoon as a reward for the hundreds of hours you have poured into this project. You treat yourself to a real lunch, driving across town to pick up a steak salad with a side of cheesy bread.
And then you spend the rest of the day putting words on paper—these words—smiling at how easily they pour out of you.
You add a quick call to action at the bottom of the post, foregoing a profound ending because it is 5:22pm, and the children are, of course, asking what’s for dinner.
Cover image by Charles Floyd, age 9.
Pre-orders are open now through midnight on December 7th. ❤️
Thank you for being here, for supporting C+C, and for allowing me to dream, and dream, and dream again.