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A Chance Encounter on a Beach and an Epiphany


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I had the amazing opportunity to visit St. Thomas U.S.V.I. over spring break. We were nervous about taking this trip, as we we were still waiting on our first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but then we started thinking that my oldest daughter is a junior in high school and we may not have her to vacation with us much longer. We took the necessary COVID-19 tests the U.S. Virgin Islands required to arrive on the island, and off we went (at the time we planned the trip they had zero reported cases). 

I knew one of my favorite authors, Elin Hilderbrand, was on the nearby island of St. John because she goes there to write for five weeks each spring. I kept joking that I’d love to bump into her on the day we took the ferry to St. John, but who was I kidding? She knew all the off-the-beaten path beaches so there was no way I was going to run into her on the tourist beach we planned to visit. As fate would have it, we didn’t realize how limited parking was at the beach we wanted to go to and were forced to turn around in our rented jeep and park in the first beach we could find a spot. This one was called Hawksnest Bay, and it only had a changing area and bathrooms—no other amenities like some of the other beaches. My husband went into the restroom and I stood with my two teens reading the sign with all the rules for the beach. Right at that moment, Elin Hilderbrand came strolling through the trees with a beach bag slung over her shoulder. I blurted out, “Hi, I’m such a big fan!” She replied, “Thank you! Good to see you!” 

She spread out her beach towel and wondered if I would see her writing her next novel longhand on one of the yellow notepads she favors (can you tell I know a lot about her from her Instagram page?) But instead, she sprayed on sunscreen and relaxed on her towel. As I stood looking at the clear blue water and the coral reef underneath, I had an epiphany. I had been waking up every day on vacation around 4 or 5 a.m., worried about nagging little things at my day job and worried because I had to take a break from producing my true crime podcast. The epiphany was this—I’m anxious because I know it’s time for me to “level up.” And by “level up,” I mean it’s time to seek out more sponsors for my podcast, to pitch the podcast to local media outlets, to get more ahead of my content calendar. Put in the work necessary to succeed. Yes, I’ve been putting it off because of work deadlines at my day job, but I’ve also been putting it off because I’m scared. I’m scared to take the next step, scared to outline the non-fiction book that I know I can create from the podcast content, scared to put myself out there more to promote and sell the work. But it’s time. I’m sure it didn’t just take running into a New York Times bestseller on a remote beach on an island to make me realize these things, but it sure didn’t hurt. 

Have you ever stopped working on something because you were scared of promoting yourself or taking a step you knew could lead to success? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, “Missing in the Carolinas.” This week, the podcast surpassed 20,000 downloads.

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