Alisha Fernandez Miranda, MY WHAT IF YEAR: A Novel

Alisha Fernandez Miranda, MY WHAT IF YEAR: A Novel

Zibby Books author alert!!! Zibby interviews debut author Alisha Fernandez Miranda about My What If Year, an exuberant and inspiring new memoir about her decision to pause her successful (but incredibly stressful and draining) career to pursue the dream jobs of her youth. Alisha shares the details of her exhilarating internship adventure, from working on Broadway and mastering virtual yoga to handling multi-million dollar artwork and waiting tables at a posh restaurant in Scotland. Tune in to laugh at Alisha’s internship mishaps, feel inspired to step outside of your comfort zone, and discover where you can meet her on tour this week! And, in case you missed it, watch Zibby and Alisha on Good Morning America here.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Alisha. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss My What If Year, your memoir.

Alisha Fernandez Miranda: I literally could not be more excited to be doing this right now with you.

Zibby: I am beaming. Obviously — not obviously. My What If Year is the first book from Zibby Books coming out today when this airs on February 7th. It is so exciting. As I reread this book to prepare for today — I’ve read it in multiple iterations, but just the final whatever. I love this book so much. I love this book with all my heart and soul. I could not be more excited that this is our first book. You did such a good job. I am just over-the-moon excited. I just had to say that.

Alisha: I am so glad you still feel that way. I really reread it in full when I had to record my audiobook. I was worried. I was like, what if I don’t like it anymore? I was still happy with it.

Zibby: It’s so good. It’s so good. I am just so honored that we get to publish it, so thank you. Really exciting.

Alisha: I am so honored to be on the guest side of this podcast with you. I feel like this is the real dream, honestly. This is one of those things that was on my life vision board. I can’t really believe that it’s happening.

Zibby: Not only are you on the other side, but you have been a guest host for — how many episodes did you guest host? Ten or twelve?

Alisha: Ten brilliant episodes. Well, I don’t know if the episodes were brilliant, but my experience was.

Zibby: They’re brilliant. Everything you do is brilliant.

Alisha: I loved them so, so much. I had so much fun doing them.

Zibby: Of course, you host your own podcast, “Quit Your Day Job,” which is a Zibby Audio podcast. You are such a pro. You could just do this. I’ll just sit here and let you talk.

Alisha: I’m here with my mic and my eight-dollar headphones. I love it. I love that this is my life now, though, that I get to do this. How crazy is this? How different is it from what my life used to be? which certainly, you’ll see a lot when you read the book.

Zibby: Yes, I know. Knowing that you’re here and where you started and all of this stuff — I’d love you to explain to listeners what My What If Year is about. In general, you have a quote in the book where you say, “How long had it been since I had been happy? For so long, I thought the pursuit of happiness had been what was guiding me, but now I wasn’t so sure.” You kept saying things like, “It should’ve been the perfect time in my life, except it wasn’t.” Talk to me about this book and the project that led to the book.

Alisha: It’s weird and amazing to have your own words quoted back to you, as I’m sure you know from having written your memoir. I love it, I have to say. It’s pretty great. That’s from the beginning of the book and about a time in my life, which was back in 2019, where, on paper, I had all the things. I was approaching forty. I was CEO of my own business. I had healthy twins and a loving husband and a really cute dog with an Instagram-able face. I had all the things that I had been working toward. Instead of feeling happy and content and satisfied, I felt this major itch. What if? As in the title of the book. What else? Why am I not happy? Then of course, incredibly guilty that I had all of this, and I still somehow was not satisfied with my life. I hatched this idea that evolved over time, which was to go back and explore the uncharted career paths of my youth and to try to get unpaid internships at the jobs I always wanted to do when I was a kid. At that original time, I was thinking about things like musical theater and art. Marine biology was on the shortlist back then. I actually managed to turn this project into a reality. That is what My What If Year is about. It’s my experience of going and taking four internships in these dream jobs. By the way, during the first wave of the COVID pandemic was when all of this takes place. That’s generally what it is about.

Zibby: In the book, you refer to yourself as just another normal Cuban Jewish girl and how from the very beginning, you have been this, not perfectionist, but someone who’s striving for excellence at all times, starting with the fact that you started to read at an extremely early age in preschool. Start at the beginning. Explain a little bit about your background and where this malaise may have come from. What happens when you set goals and keep reaching them? Then what? You have to find what’s underneath all of that. Take us back to the beginning for a second.

Alisha: I am from Miami originally. My dad immigrated from Cuba in the sixties. My mom is a nice Jewish girl from North Miami Beach. We lived in the suburbs very close to the Everglades. I went to public school. I had this drive to always be the best, do the best. Being smart, being good at school, that was my thing. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on that having written a whole memoir about my life. It’s like free therapy, really. I came from this family, like many kids who grow up with immigrant parents, of, education is the way forward. That is what we do. That is your single responsibility in your life. You have to do well in school. You have to get a good education. That was really engrained in me from a very young age, but I was also very self-motivated. I loved the feeling of being the best. I loved getting A’s. I loved achieving things. That was where I got my big serotonin bump, from doing all of that. Endorphin rush? Serotonin?

Zibby: Both.

Alisha: Whatever the thing is that makes you feel really good, that’s what happened. I powered my way through school. I graduated high school. I said when I was nine years old that I wanted to go to Harvard. I don’t even know how I heard about Harvard. I didn’t know anybody that went to Harvard. I must have seen it in a movie or something like that. That was what I wanted to do. I did my undergraduate there. Then I got on the treadmill. I was doing successively bigger jobs, bigger roles. Moved to the UK because I had a real love for travel and being abroad and a husband who was willing to come along with me. I just kept unlocking the levels and leveling up, leveling up. Then I got to this point where I was at the top of my game. I was doing all of the things that I was supposed to be doing. It was very, very hard to get there and then somehow still think, wait, is this it now? Is this just what I do forever? What more is out there? Why am I so unsatisfied? Why do I keep feeling like I have to do more and more? This internship plan was the way to solve that crisis. It ended up bringing so much more into my life than I ever possibly could have imagined, including you, Zibby, and this book and this whole new universe that I was not a part of and exploring all these creative sides of my life that I had just put to the side because they weren’t strategic. They weren’t going to get me to the right place in my career. It’s just been the most extraordinary experience from day one.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. You wrote a great essay for what was Moms Don’t Have Time to Write back then. Maybe then it was We Found Time. Now it’s Zibby Mag. I remember reading it and being like, this is so great. Then didn’t I reach out and say, “Do you have a book in you?”

Alisha: You did.

Zibby: I was like, “Don’t sell it anywhere else. I’m starting a company.”

Alisha: That’s exactly what happened. I submitted this essay. It was really in the deep, dark days, still, of COVID. Everybody was still at home. It was an essay that was based on what is now the fitness section of the book. You wrote back immediately. First of all, I couldn’t believe you were the one reading the essays for your site. You wrote me back. You were like, “Can we get on Zoom?” I was just telling this story this morning to a friend of mine. I tell it to anybody who would listen, which is that you were so generous with your time. You just hopped on a call with me. You were like, “Tell me what you’re doing. Tell me about yourself. Let me introduce you to some people.” It was really amazing. That has been, overwhelmingly, my experience, actually, in the book industry with other writers and other people, is just this real generosity of spirit and wanting to share. Then people are like, what’s your publishing journey? I’m like, well, I queried seven million agents and finally got one. Then I got a two-line email from Zibby that said, “Have you sold your book yet? I’m starting my publishing company. I want to publish your book,” which is still the Cinderella story of the century for me.

Zibby: No, I am the lucky one. I think it goes along with this entrepreneurial drive and spirit you have to make a difference, to try new things, to not be afraid. This whole venture is “what if” between both of us. Go back to the internships for a minute. I have to say, Kinloch Lodge, even though it’s the last of your internships, was laugh-out-loud funny. The mishaps that happened when you were working at this lodge, when you went into the wrong room, oh, my gosh. Talk about each one a little bit and some of the highlights that people will find.

Alisha: I started before COVID really kicked off. I left my husband and kids in London. I got on a plane. I went to New York.

Zibby: To be clear, you did not leave your husband.

Alisha: I temporarily left him. He was going to come meet me after two weeks with the kids. I had been very generously introduced to two directors, John Doyle and James Lapine, two incredible directors who were in rehearsals for a Broadway and an off-Broadway musical that were going to open in the spring. The mandate was like, come and shadow, and you can sit in and learn. Of course, immediately, I was like, I have to do something and make myself useful. I started volunteering to sweep up the floor and filling the water jugs before people would ask me and actually buying coffees for the cast. No one would ask me to go get them coffee, but I was like, “No, no, it’s my treat. Let me just go buy all of you coffee.” I was so desperate to be useful. That was the first one. Timing-wise, it’s not a spoiler to say that I left at the end of February 2020, so I had to cut that short and come home in the UK, come back to the UK very shortly after. My second internship was with a retro dance and fitness brand called Retroglow. At the very beginning of COVID, they were looking to go virtual. I begged Frankie Taylor, who’s the owner, to let me intern for her, do a virtual internship and help her figure out how she was going to transition to putting her entire business — running it out of her living room and doing it on TV.

That involved learning how to use social media in a more meaningful way, which was not natural to me as a child of the eighties, and also trying out all of the competitor classes that she had. I did retro aerobics from an Australian class. I did a lot of sexy dancing in my living room, which was really, really difficult while my kids were running around. I did some gong baths and meditations. I did something called voga, which was really weird. I really got my fill of novelty exercise classes during that internship. It really got me through the real worst parts of that first lockdown. My third internship was for a contemporary art dealer in London called Blain Art. They sell contemporary painting and sculpture, buy and sell at the very top tier of the market. I was seeing Hockneys and Picassos and Frida Kahlos and these incredible pieces of art. I very quickly realized that even though I had minored in art history some almost twenty years before, I knew absolutely nothing and remembered nothing. I knew none of the words and none of the artists and none of the terminology. That was a real lesson in humility and learning how to ask questions. I was going to all these galleries all the time as things were starting to open back up. I had really missed that part of my life. That was just a joy.

Then the final internship, as you referred to, was at Kinloch Lodge. It is a hotel and restaurant on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Oh, my god, I was just so bad. I was so bad at all of it. I have to say that I went back. I’ve been back subsequently. We go to Skye a lot. Isabella, the owner, is a very good friend now in spite of my terrible internship for her. With COVID and Brexit, there’s been a lot of staffing issues in the UK, trying to get people staffed. Every time I go, I’m like, “If you need someone to come and waitress a restaurant shift, I know what I’m doing. Come and call me.” Literally, no one has ever picked up the phone to call me in spite of the fact that they’ve been desperately recruiting staff for six months. They really don’t want me to come back there. Understandable. Perhaps my skills are better used elsewhere. Anything involving hand-eye coordination, carrying plates, remembering people’s room numbers, I was just so bad at it. I loved every single one. I learned so much from every single one.

Zibby: What was your final — not to give the ending away. After doing all these internships, what are you taking away from this? How are you inspiring other people? Should they try it? What is the hack that they could get from just reading your book?

Alisha: It was an interesting circumstance. Would I recommend that everybody go and take a sabbatical from their job to do internships? No, I don’t think that’s for everyone. Although, if you can make it work, it was a great experience for me. There was a lot of privilege that I had to be able to do that, a husband that was willing to watch the kids, a job that — I was running the company, so I was able to take time off and manage that on my own. I think the real lessons that came out of it are much more widely applicable. You said that I was doing all these things and I wasn’t afraid to do all these things. Actually, I’m still terrified all the time to do all of these things. One of the big differences that’s come as a result of this internship project for me is that I do them anyway even though I am afraid to do them. It’s not at all the absence of fear. It’s just trying to push through that and knowing that whatever comes on the other side of it is going to be worth it even if it’s terrible. I went to an acting class the other night. I can’t act. I’m a terrible actor. I don’t even know how to act. It was something I’d always wanted to try, so I was like, let me just go to this workshop and see what happens and play zip zap boop with all of these other theater kids. Why not? Am I going to do an internship in professional acting? No, definitely not, but I’m so, so glad I did it.

Really, the biggest thing for me has been forcing myself to not get too comfortable, to push myself out of my comfort zone, to remember that learning is part of what motivates me to do almost anything. If I’m going to go into an activity and learn from it, that’s in and of itself a really good goal. To be okay to not be good at stuff, I’m constantly working on that. To be comfortable with failure, to be comfortable with not being the best, from my entire childhood, that has been very difficult for me, to not be really good at things. I think I, for a long time, shied away from doing stuff that I wasn’t good at naturally because I didn’t want to not be the best at it. Now I’m trying to do the opposite. I’m intentionally where I have to do things that I may not be good at, that I’m not the best at and be okay with that. Truly, it has made my life so much richer and deeper. Failure has been great for me, actually. I think it’s working really well.

Zibby: That is so amazing. Tell listeners about your upcoming tour. You’re going to so many places.

Alisha: Oh, my god, we’re having a party. Look, you approach publishing, Zibby, from this way of, here’s what’s happening, and how can we make it better and different? Why does it have to be this way? I think all of your Zibby Books stable of authors are really taking that ethos in. I was desperate to go on tour. I have missed seeing people. I love being around people. It’s incredible that this book is even coming out, so celebrating it, I really wanted to do. I started thinking, what kinds of things would I want to go to? It’s nice, of course, to go hear an author read their book if you know their book and who they are, but nobody really knows who I am yet. I was like, how can we actually take the spirit of My What If Year and do some really fun, exciting, interesting things? We have got a wild agenda coming up. We are doing a dance class together in New York — that’s right — plus a launch at The Strand, which is going to be amazing. We’re doing cocktail making, also in New York, with Terez. Then I go down to Miami. I’ve got a family fun day with laser tag and virtual reality and a craft workshop and cookies, all kind of things. We’ll be in New Orleans the week before Mardi Gras, so we are celebrating there with a Mardi Grad headdress-making workshop and mimosas the morning of the Muses parade, which is in the evening. My high school crush is DJing, which is pretty much reason to go on book tour enough in and of itself. We’ve got a house concert in Houston and then some really fun stuff being planned for LA and Seattle. I would love to see as many people as possible there. I am an extrovert in the sense that I get my energy from being around other people, so I just cannot wait to do this. I’m planning all my outfits. This is my big crisis now, what I’m going to wear on book tour.

Zibby: Everyone can find details of your tour on, right?

Alisha: Correct.

Zibby: We will link to it as well. One thing I just want to talk about for two seconds are your twins because you seem to manage everything with such grace and this great, fun-loving attitude that I love. You refer to parenting as a rush of codeswitching, which I just think is so perfect. Talk about your experience with being a mom, now of your kids that are older. I love how you wrote about it in the book and how you were finally willing to come clean about just how hard it was to have twins, which as a fellow mom of twins I completely relate to, and how you’re incorporating all that and making it all work.

Alisha: If it looks like I’ve got it all under control, then I’m doing a great job of promoting that on social media because honestly, it’s extremely challenging. I hate giving people parenting advice because I’m always like, that’s the thing they’re going to pull back when your kids are in rehab one day or something like that. I never want somebody seeing my article about bragging about what a good mom I am. I’m not sure if I would say I have struggled with parenting, but I have found parenting very hard. It’s been the biggest challenge of my life. I think in large part it’s because it’s been a thing I can’t really control. I have addressed most of the challenges in my life by trying to control them because that’s the type of person I am. Then I had kids. I had a challenging journey to even getting pregnant. Then when I had the twins, it was so, so difficult. Those early days were really tough for me. I found very little joy in it. I love my children, but I found that initial stage really, really hard. I wished when my kids were little that I had more people that were willing to just be like, yes, having kids is amazing, and also, having kids is really difficult. Let’s embrace it all. I think a lot more people are willing to do that now than they were eleven years ago when my twins were babies.

I try to be honest with people about what that experience has been. It has not been easy. My kids are coming on book tour with me. They’re coming along for the ride. I drag them to all sorts of things. I am starting to understand as they grow older and develop their own personalities that it’s okay where my kids are not like me. My kids are total homebodies, whereas I would get on a plane — if somebody was like, “Do you want to meet me in Paris for lunch tomorrow?” which is a short flight for me because I live in Scotland, I’d be like, “Yeah, let’s go. Where do you want to meet? What time? Where? I’ll be there.” Whereas my kids, they like to stay home. They like stability. They like to be in one place. That is, for someone like me who wants to create all these fun adventures for them all the time and go and do this, it’s been a constant learning that I can’t control who they are. I can’t control what they do. I’m just trying my best every day. I try to role model for them. I try not to get frustrated. I do not always succeed. Ultimately, I try to be honest when I talk about parenting, the good parts and the challenging parts, because I love when other people are honest with me about that. I try to pay that forward since my kids are a bit older now.

Zibby: It’s true. I do think there has been a shift with the parenting dialogue, that it’s okay. My twins are fifteen and a half. I felt like there was still so much, my kids did this at this age. Yes, we’ve already mastered this. I was always feeling bad about everything. I’m glad that it’s okay to say, yeah, this is really hard. It’s okay.

Alisha: Honestly, I think sites like Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, now Zibby Mag, places for moms, parents, but really from my personal experience, mothers, to talk about what they’re really going through, what it’s really like, I think that has made a really big difference in, also, there being outlets, places to go and google and read about not just this very picture-perfect, idealized, Instagram filter-ready version of parenting, but how it can be challenging and how if you’re a person with your own identity and your own ambitions and you plan for your life and then you have kids, that changes things. It shifts things. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, but it is something that you have to reckon with. I think that having outlets like Zibby Mag and like — there’s now a lot of different places you can go to read about parenting. I have found reading other people’s personal stories incredibly helpful. I still do it now that we’re entering preadolescence and the preteen years. That’s a totally different phase of parenting that’s nothing like what came before. I am constantly reading about other mothers of teenagers. Tell me. Tell me how you did it and how you survived. I want to know everything. Don’t worry, Zibby, you’re on my list of people to hit up for parenting advice.

Zibby: So many people had terrified me about my kids being completely different people and that the teenage years were going to be the worst things of my — from when they were little. They probably did this to you. Wait until they’re teenagers. You know what? If you’re close to your kids, it’s one day after another. If you take your eye off the ball, maybe it’s a huge thing. I don’t know. We can handle anything. I think it’s all about respecting your kids and knowing who they are. I am no parenting expert either. Your book is coming out. You’re going on this fabulous tour. Tell us what’s next. Where do you want your life to go?

Alisha: World domination. No. I have some ideas. I am working on a novel. As someone who’s also writing a novel, you will relate to me that that is a challenging process, but I am still enjoying it, mostly. One thing I would say that is different now from basically every other stage of my professional life is I’m trying to remain open to different opportunities to seeing where this takes me. The things that have materialized as a result of the internships themselves and then the process of writing the book have taken my life into all of these directions that I never could’ve expected. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to share that while Kinloch Lodge has never once invited me back to waitress, they did ask me to write the narrative and a bunch of essays for a cookbook celebrating their fiftieth year. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I was going to be able to do something like that. That came as a result of doing this internship and getting to know them a bit better and building that relationship. I’m trying to see what the universe is going to throw at me. That’s very unusual for me because I normally like to plan absolutely everything. Already, I’ve been so delighted with where the different opportunities from My What If Year have taken me. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen when it actually comes out.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, me too. For everyone listening, please join Alisha on tour. She’ll be everywhere. It’ll be really exciting. She’ll be popping by so many bookstores for signings and all of that great stuff. Pick up My What If Year today. Follow along. We’re so excited.

Alisha: We’re so excited. It’s our joint baby. We’re going to parent this baby very well together, Zibby. I have no doubt.

Zibby: You’re the parent. I’m the babysitter on the side, or the teacher. I’m off on the sidelines just helping it along, but you’re the real parent here. Congratulations. I’m so excited. We’re going to have so much fun.

Alisha: Thank you so much for having me.

Alisha Fernandez Miranda, MY WHAT IF YEAR: A Novel

MY WHAT IF YEAR: A Novel by Alisha Fernandez Miranda

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