Amba Brown is an Australian Positive Psychology author and the writer of Finding Your Path Books, a happiness series for youth.
As the author of the successful book series for kids, Finding Your Path, what inspired you?
I’ve always written and loved journaling, but when I finished high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had no idea what my job would be. People would always ask, “What do you want to be?” like I should have an answer. I wanted to have an answer, but I didn’t. I felt a lot of anxiety about wanting to pick the right thing. The angst I went through!
So, what did you do when you realized you didn’t know what you wanted to do?
I took a gap year, and I am so grateful I did. I worked very hard in my last year of high school, and it was helpful to see a world outside of Australia. The experience I got from that gap year was invaluable. Because I didn’t have a lot of money, I worked for six months straight and got an around-the-world ticket with my best friend. We ate a lot of tuna and rice.
Do you recommend taking a gap year after high school?
A gap year is common in Australia. I remember when Malia Obama had a gap year here in the U.S. and it was a big deal. It was everywhere in the media and I thought, “Why is everyone so interested? A gap year is just what people do.”
A gap year is a commitment financially and not right for everyone, but it is something that I do encourage. No experience gained is wasted.
After your gap year, how did you start finding your path?
I went to University and took a broad degree in liberal studies. After taking classes in different subjects that I enjoyed, I started to realize that I love psychology. For the first time, I was doing all the reading. I wasn’t trying to skimp on the class. I read self-development books, and the amount of effort that I put into the class made it obvious to me how much I enjoyed psychology. There was mental illness in my family, and I was more and more drawn into these tools that were out there to help people.
When I learned about positive psychology, I was so excited and fell in love with the field. I am the oldest of six kids, and it felt natural to focus on this specific field where I could help youth. After university I worked at a job helping psychologically unwell people in the work place. I would fly around and write reports for insurance companies. My job allowed me the flexibility to begin writing my first book, Finding Your Path.
You’ve taught kids all around the world how to find their path. How can we find our path?
Take a holistic approach to the GPS model. G is your guiding pillar. P is your psychological pillar. C is your social pillar.
First, for the guiding pillar, think about the practical things that are going to help you navigate your change. For example, with the transition to high school, what are the differences going to be between your old and new environments? Become familiar with these.
Next, for the psychological pillar, the goal is to build resilience. Consider it an emotional toolkit for the person making the transition. Develop a growth mindset, which is the idea that our abilities are not fixed. Take a proactive approach to prepare your child to be the best they can be.
Finally, for the social pillar, think about what loved ones and family friends can do. Share a story of a time you went through a new beginning to help normalize the anxiety. Encourage the person to reach out to a support network.
Tell me about the experience of publishing your first book, Finding Your Path.
Finding Your Path: A Guide to Life and Happiness After School is about helping kids with the transition after high school. I started sending the book out to agents and I received lots of ‘no’ responses. It was very disheartening. It is hard not to get positive responses when you put your love into something. I told myself, “If no one takes on my book, then I will put it out into the world myself.” And, that’s what happened. Six months passed and no one wanted to take my book, so I looked into self-publishing. That’s a whole learning curve in itself.
I wasn’t writing for the money. I had a book I wanted to share, so I started going into bookstores and stores were buying it. Although I was living in Singapore at the time, I would fly back and forth to Australia. I received an overwhelming positive response in Australia. Then, teachers found out about Finding Your Path and schools contacted me. Schools would purchase a couple hundred books as graduation gifts for their students.
How did you transition from self-publishing to a traditional publisher?
A year after I self-published my book, a scout from HarperCollins found my book in a store and asked to buy the rights. I remember skipping around the room with excitement. Finding Your Path launched the following year in 2017 in Australia. It launched in the U.S. last month.
Your first book is about the transition after high school. When did you realize that kids need tools for other transitions, too?
I started writing my second book, Finding Your Path: A Guide to Starting High School with a Smile when my youngest brother was about to start high school. He had the normal levels of anxiety we all feel before starting high school, and I realized we need tools to help us through this transition as well. My brother was my goal. If I could get him to read this book, then I knew I could communicate it to other students. My brother and his friends were my guinea pigs, and the book was very successful. My third book, Finding Your Path: A Happy Start to School, is for kids who are starting preschool.
Since moving to New York, I have launched two other books as well. One is a a biography of Dr. Seuss, written in his style called The Story of Dr. Seuss: Theodore, Ted, Geisel Who? The Story of How Dr. Seuss Grew. The second book is The Magic Door Under Your Bed: Fun Guided Imagery Meditation for Kids. It is a meditation book for young children that they can listen to on audible or an adult can read to them from their Kindle. I started meditating when I was a kid, and I still meditate every day. My mom would say that we would go under the bed and go on an adventure. I adapted that idea into a meditation book to help youth.
Thank you for helping so many kids with your books, Amba.
Thank you, Ali. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Amba Brown is an Australian Positive Psychology author and the writer of Finding Your Path Books, a happiness series for youth. Her work has been featured in Readers Digest, ABC National Radio, The Huff Post, and The Positive Psychology Blog, to name a few. She has also delivered her message on the TEDx Stage. Now residing in New York City, Amba is a member of The International Positive Psychology Association and is passionate about alleviating youth anxieties. Her goal is to share these tools as far and as wide as possible.