“Reading, Writing, Speaking and Life,” Jan. 29, 2019

Life is full of surprises. Take, for instance, my job. For almost 30 years, I’ve written a weekly column for newspapers around the country.

I also do public speaking for fundraisers that benefit libraries and schools and community programs that help the needy.

It’s a good job. I’m thankful to have it. I can’t imagine how different my life would be without it. But I never dreamed I’d earn my living this way. It never even occurred to me.

Instead, I wanted to be a wife and a mother. I had no idea how incredibly difficult and exhausting marriage and motherhood could be. It didn’t take long to find out. When I realized what I’d gotten myself into, I still wanted to do it. The things we do for love.

After my three children started to school, I took a part-time job clipping and filing in the library of the local newspaper. I wasn’t trying to launch a career. I just wanted to bring in a little extra cash to help pay for a much needed addition to our house.

But one thing led to another, as it often does. I wrote some stories freelance for the paper’s magazine and filled in for a reporter on leave. Finally, they made me a feature writer. And then a columnist. Then the column was picked up for syndication, and the next thing I knew, I was flying to places I’d never been, talking about reading and writing and life.

If that surprises you, imagine how it feels to me. I’ve done it for so long you’d think I’d get used to it. But honestly? Every column I write feels like it’s my first. And I’m always aware that it could be my last.

When I write the opening sentence, I never know where it might lead or how it will end. It’s always a surprise. I just keep writing, word by word, until it’s done. Then I hold my breath and wait to hear what people think of it.

A similar thing happens with speaking. I work hard on a speech to make sure it fits the topic and time allowed. And I double-space my notes and keep them where I can see them. I’ve given countless talks to countless audiences ranging in size from a few dozen to 500 or more. Meeting readers is always a pleasure. But a strange thing happens every time.

On my way to the podium, I begin to feel like a little girl playing dress-up, pretending to be something I am not. And I think that any minute, someone is going to figure out that I don’t belong there.

It’s a feeling that makes me want to kick off my shoes and run screaming for the door.

Thankfully, so far, I’ve managed to avoid doing that. Instead, I lift my chin and look out at a roomful of smiling faces. It never fails to remind me that I’m among friends, in a family of readers. And I don’t need to be anything but myself.

If I’m lucky, at the end of my talk, people will ask not just for autographs, but for hugs. It’s like a family reunion without the fist fights.

I told you all of that to tell you this: Most everything we do in life is a work of faith. No matter how much time and effort we invest, sooner or later we realize we’re part of a bigger plan.

It’s not easy to accept the fact that we’re not in control of our work or our lives, and certainly not of the lives of our loved ones. It can be humbling to admit that. But it’s also incredibly freeing.

Writing and speaking are not so different from baking a cake or painting a sunset or raising a child. We don’t need to be anyone but who we are, with all our gifts and flaws.

We just start at the beginning, give it our best, let it go and be thankful for having been a part of it. Then we take a deep breath and wait to be surprised.


  1. Marchael Heitmann says

    Hi Sharon,

    Please email the name of the child’s book that you would read to your grandson that you mentioned in one of your columns. I do remember the word LOVE in the title of the book. You stated it was one of your favorites.

  2. Kathy Armstrong says

    Thank you for starting my Sunday morning off with such a lovely feeling each week, and bringing joy to so many with your words. We love you Sharon.

  3. Nice as always, loved first column in Reporter( local newspaper in Philly. It stopped, luckily I noted the website written there at the end of column.Since then read all your column. I just loved all of them and so happy that you keep them up!! Love you. May God bless you and family!

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    Thanks for sharing the joys and sorrows of life… and the fear that is often sandwiched in between the two. You are a blessing for all of us privileged to share in your adventures, thank you 🙂.

  5. Sharon —I so admire anyone who does public speaking. Public speaking to me ranks right up there with Pap smears and rectal cancer (I’ve had both). Love your columns!

  6. Jana Stewart says

    Sharon, I have read your articles for years in my local newspaper and was so sad when the powers that be decided to no longer carry your heart felt stories. Thank goodness I can still read your articles on Facebook. Please keep writing. We all look so forward to hearing from our friend. Keep telling your stories and we’ll keep reading them.

  7. Reba Underhill says

    I used to read your column every Sunday and was so disappointed when our paper stop running it.I am so glad to be able to now read it on line. Please don’t stop. God bless you.

  8. Catherine Crisp says

    Thank you for writing “On my way to the podium, I begin to feel like a little girl playing dress-up, pretending to be something I am not. And I think that any minute, someone is going to figure out that I don’t belong there.” It’s nice to know that with all your success, you are still prone to the imposter syndrome. I’m a college professor and often experience it, too. Your column appears in my paper (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) on Mondays and it’s a wonderful way to start the week.

  9. Lois Summerlin says

    Our husbands died within a few months of each other. You wrote a wonderful column and I e mailed you. Of course I wrote about our shared sadness and I told you about My2 step grsndchikdren. You wrote me back and said how wonderful I had 2 grand daughters and you hoped someday you would have grand children. I am so very happy when I read about your precious grandchildren you dearly love.I have 4 more now. We are truly blessed. When you answered my e msil i was so happy you took the time to respond. We have traveled a long road together. God bless you

  10. Sherry Thacker says

    I feel about you like I did when Paul Harvey went off the air! You just can’t quit! He was part of my lunch every day. You are a part of my Sunday. I read you right after the obits. I feel like you are a very close friend. I love your stories and knowing your family thru then. Keep up the good work.

  11. Nancy Maddy says

    Sharon, I have read your articles for years and
    Have been blessed by each and every one.
    Hope you continue writing for a very long time

  12. Roxann Young says

    And you, dear Sharon are the very best. I can’t imagine a time when I won’t be able to read your column. So, you cannot retire! You must write until you cannot think or speak anymore. You enhance and improve more lives than you will ever know. Thank you, thank you.

  13. Ginny Davis says

    I grew up in Monterey and have been reading your weekly column forever. Please keep doing what you do, so all of us can enjoy reading it. Your ability to put words to all aspects of life is amazing. I always learn or relearn something from each of your columns. Thank you, this particular one really hit home with me.❤.

  14. Janet Mann says

    I have loved your columns from the beginning that I discovered them. The newspaper we subscribed to quit printing your columns so we quit them! I just the other day found you again. A friend I was talking to said, “You can find her on facebook!” and so I did. Thank you for being you. You are an inspiration to so many people. Keep up the good work!

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