Writer Fuel: Lesson #9– Surround Yourself with Awesome People

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

With all the chaos of 2020, I have a hunch that for many of us, this holiday season will be far from “normal.” Whether your gatherings are in person or virtual, the important thing is to surround yourself with awesome people. Jim Rohn said “You are the average of the five people we spend the most time with” In the spirit of the holiday season, I wanted to bring you behind the scenes and tell you a bit about the amazing folks—both at work and at home—who shape my world and make a positive impact on my life.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a strange relationship with Thanksgiving. My parents are Brazilian immigrants, arriving in NYC with barely more than a suitcase and a smile, just a few short years before I was born. As a family, we never did the whole turkey thing—Brazilians are more a rice-and-beans, steak-eating culture—and the one time my family tried to do a “real American Thanksgiving” it was nothing short of a fiasco.

First, we forgot to defrost the turkey, so it took 15 hours to cook and we ended up eating after midnight. (Let’s be honest, by Brazilian standards, this is a perfectly reasonable dinner time.) We also forgot the potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, so we had to improvise on the side dishes. In the end, our Thanksgiving was more like churrasco, but with turkey instead of meat. The only thing that did fit the tradition was that we were all together as a family. Tradition and family are so important to me, and so is continuing to surround myself with awesome people. Let me share with you the awesome people in my life.

Team Awesome

I’m lucky enough to work with some awesome people. Seriously I think they are some of the coolest folks on the planet and we have so much dang fun! We have a behind-the-scenes virtual dance party before every webinar. Our Slack has a channel reserved especially for hilarious memes (and it’s our most active channel, by the way). Plus, we have the awesomest work titles and special signature emojis. You’ll be seeing more and more from these folks in the future, so stay tuned!

🦄 Jeanette is our Curriculum Unicorn. She helps me with the curriculum side of things at DIY MFA, especially when it comes to coaching. This is key because while I love my word nerds, I’m also a total introvert, and the face-to-face part of teaching was running me ragged. For Jeanette, coaching and mentoring is her jam and she’s helped me build more person-to-person attention into our programs, but in a way that is sustainable and compatible with my personality. She has also been the driving force behind our Small Group Coaching program which we launched earlier this year and has been filled to capacity each time we’ve run it!

🧘 Lori is our Operations Maven. She’s also a yoga instructor and the abbreviation for Operations Maven is “OM,” hence the yogi emoji. Lori first joined the team as our admin wizard, and outgrew the role within a few short months. She now handles all of our behind-the-scenes operations and works side-by-side with me on all the logistical aspects of building things for DIY MFA. She curates our summits, produces the podcast, coordinates all our columnists and guest contributors for the blog, plus she manages our launches and promotional partnerships. Lori also makes sure that I stick to team deadlines, nudges me when I forget stuff, and also tells me to get off Slack when I’m on vacation and am supposed to be relaxing.

🐉 Angela is our Community Welcome Dragon. If you’ve emailed support or replied to one of these newsletters, you’ve probably already gotten to know Angela. She’s basically the first person you’ll “meet” when you enter DIY MFA-land, pointing you to useful resources and answering questions. She is a ray of sunshine, a master at diplomacy, and also a fierce protector of our community. Like the dragon in the movie Shrek, she showers love on the awesome folks who come to our castle gates but also keeps the meanies at bay. One of the scariest—but also best—decisions I made this year was having someone take over our support inbox. I’m an introvert, I don’t do feelings, and I have a fiery temper… not exactly ideal traits for someone in a customer service role. Angela is an extrovert with seemingly endless empathy and patience, making her perfect for the job.

🧚 Amy is our Tech Fairy. While Amy is our newest hire, she’s actually been part of the DIY MFA ecosystem for a long time. She’s taken all of our courses and was a long-time member of the HUB. Earlier this year, we realized we needed help with some of the more technical web-related parts of DIY MFA, but we also wanted that person to have an insider perspective of really understanding how our word nerds were using our courses and interacting with the DIY MFA websites. Since then, Amy has really come into her own and has taken several projects under her wing, including the DIY MFA social media channels. The @replies on Twitter and Instagram are still coming from me, but the links, quotes, and memes are a product of Amy’s genius.

Hubby and the Nerdlings

If you’ve been in the DIY MFA universe long enough, you’ve probably heard me mention Hubby and our nerdlings: Little Man and Lady Bug. Usually it’s me sharing stories about weird things the kids do, or funny misunderstandings that result from Hubby being a muggle. (Yes, I call non-writers muggles.) What you might not hear about as often is how much of an impact these three awesome people have had on my growth as a human, and subsequently the growth of my business.

I’m an introvert with no feelings, remember? I don’t talk about mushy stuff. Except now.

Little Man and Lady Bug are amazing little weirdos, but it has taken me a while to wrap my head around my role as a mom. I don’t really know what to do with kids in the larval stage. Sticky and slimy are not my favorite textures, and I’m kind of a stickler for personal space so pregnancy through toddlerhood was basically my personal nightmare. Now both nerdlings are firmly in the regular-child stage, which has made things so much easier. And it has been a joy to see them grow into awesome people.

Lady Bug (age 6) is fierce and scary-smart. She has big feelings and an even bigger vocabulary. Her favorite author is Edgar Allan Poe (no joke) and she loves anything spooky or macabre. When she was a newborn, she spent the first month of her life in the ICU for a mysterious breathing-related ailment. (Don’t worry, she’s totally fine now.) While she has no conscious memory of that event, I think it sparked a fighting spirit in her. She is ferociously stubborn and competitive (gee, I wonder who she gets that from) and although these traits make it challenging to be her parent now, I have a hunch they will serve her well when she grows up. This young lady has taught me that even someone very small can be incredibly strong and have a seismic impact on those around her. Learning to parent her glorious, fiery spirit has been a worthy challenge.

Little Man (age 8) is me, but as a boy. While Lady Bug is a much more even mixture of Hubby and me, Little Man is lopsided. He looks just like Hubby (except his eyes, making him our little Harry Potter) but his personality is all me. He can sit for hours alone in a room and not be bored because he has millions of stories in his head, most of them involving space battles with lasers and explosions. He talks to himself, has full conversations in his mind, and when he communicates with humans he talks in metaphor. (“My brain feels bumpy, Mommy.”) A lot of the time it feels like he’s talking in code, and I’m the only person who knows how to translate it—an honor but also a huge responsibility. He lives in the world of abstraction, much like I did at that age, and he solves problems by “seeing” the answers. This means it often appears like he’s day-dreaming, when he’s really just working things out in his brain. He is so creative, always coming up with millions of ideas and I love seeing his quirky projects evolve from concept to completion. Being his mom has allowed me to time travel back to what I was like before my bipolar diagnosis and it has been such a joy to revisit a part of my character that I thought had been lost.

Hubby is the common sense barometer at DIY MFA. He’s the reality checker, reminding me to pace myself and pick my battles: “Gabriela, is that really the hill you want to die on?” From a health standpoint, he knows my moods better than I do. He can spot when I’m heading toward a slump or when my brain is getting speedy.

Most importantly, he is a witness to my creative process. Every time I finish a project, I immediately think “that was easy!” and forget all the blood, sweat, and tears that it cost. When I moan and groan that a new project is so hard, he gently reminds me that this exact same thing happened the last time. While this may not be the thing I want to hear at the time, it’s what I need so I can get out of my own way. If I’m the protagonist of my life, Hubby is the whole supporting cast rolled into one: the love interest, the BFF, the mentor, the fool, and sometimes even the antagonist. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There you have it: the people in my world—both at work and at home—who have the most immediate impact on me. Now it’s your turn: Who are the awesome people in your life who have the most significant impact on you as a writer?


Gabriela Pereira is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, her mission is to empower writers, artists and other creatives to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth.

Gabriela earned her MFA in writing from The New School and speaks at college campuses and national conferences. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews bestselling authors and book industry professionals and author of the book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community.

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