In January of 2013, Craig Hosking and I were just beginning to realize what the LOVE of this community felt like. We were still building a name for ourselves. We were slowly (SO SLOWLY – or so it seemed then) building our business, and looking for ways to add value, whenever possible.

I think my family still thought I was crazy… for thinking I could build a business out of nothing. But we’d been building the business for almost 4 years – things were just starting to get “good!”

I had to work hard to keep believing. I remember wondering, “What in the world am I even doing?!” When I started to doubt it, I forced myself to hold on to the belief that I was here for a reason, and I looked for the lessons I was supposed to be learning (aka the pennies, I was supposed to find) on this journey.

And every time, I convinced myself to “Have one more try.”
More than once, I looked at Craig and asked, should we go get “real” jobs?

But for one reason or another, we kept going – alternating between “believing” and “hustling” and along the way, I discovered what I was capable of. (Craig says he knew all along.)

The truth is, none of our current situation – where we are today, and where we’re going – happened simply because of our own effort.

We needed a few doors to open.

We didn’t know it at the time, but those doors were opening, and the unexpected was happening right before our eyes.

In February of 2013, a “door” to a downtown office opened, and an opportunity that can only be described as the stars aligning was presented to us.

I know the struggle that working from home presents to many entrepreneurs. I doubt we’d be where we are today had someone not generously offered us some space on Tennessee Ave. “Explaining” our office was no longer a thing I had to concern myself with.

About a year after we moved to this downtown office, we were invited to merge with what is now our company – Maximize Digital Media

And yet another door had opened.

Over the years, Lakeland Business Leaders has continued to grow. We have made so many friends, and contacts and discovered so many “pennies” along the way. We’re blessed beyond measure.

And it’s time to move on – even if just a little step. I know now, that every step is important, especially the little ones!

It seems like yesterday, I was just a scared “kid” with a dream.

What a difference 5 years makes.

Today is our last day in our office. We’re moving to a nearby location, 3 blocks south of the place were all of this magic has happened.

It’s a bittersweet moment. And it might seem like a little step, but I know that every little step has led to so much.

These are the other things I know now, thanks to this office:

1. I am capable of more than I ever knew was possible.
2. Craig is the best partner I could ever have asked for.
3. I am surrounded by a family who loves me fiercely and who believes in me.
4. I have a talented, passionate team of WINNERS working with me and serving our clients.
5. My friends, those I see every day, and those who cheer from a distance, are the greatest friends a girl could ever ask for.
6. This community of Lakelanders, LBL members and citizens I have had the privilege to know and connect with, are, without a doubt the most incredible community in the whole entire world.

Yes, we’re only moving 3 blocks, but I am remembering and appreciating 5 years of memories, that started right here in this office that I have been so blessed to enjoy.

So, the next time you’re wondering if some little step is worth taking, I hope you’ll lean into it with all you have, because there’s something amazing waiting for you on the other side.

It’s called LOVE.

For the record: I don’t wear rose-colored glasses. I don’t believe in unicorns and I understand that not everything is sunshine and rainbows.

I struggle with the same issues everyone else does, and I try to consider where ugliness and disrespect come from before I disregard the negative and critical voices that use social media to voice their concerns, without filters or any consideration of the person they are directing their thoughts (often unfiltered) toward.

I do believe there’s a way to communicate that respects ALL parties (yes, even the parties that I don’t agree with, and even to a degree those parties that seem to forget their manners).

And I believe if we want something to happen, there’s a right way to go about it. And it requires face to face, in person conversations.

Social media is powerful. (And it should be considered more and more as a means for connecting to the fringe, and to understanding how to convene the ideas of our communities – by showing that we care about the ideas people – regular, everyday people – are sharing).

It is not perfect – it’s powered by people, so it’s never going to be any better than we are.

There’s a lot of work to be done.

I guarantee it will never (yep, that’s the word – never) get done without people accepting, listening and respecting one another.

We are responsible for the carnage of the words we write. And we can reap the rewards of the hard work that human connection requires.

The hard part – the work that matters is recognizing that the people we don’t agree with – the so-called “keyboard warriors” are the very people we need to bring close, listen to openly, and determine how best to build trust with them.

The trust is eroded. We can’t build a strong foundation without trust.

Whenever we decide to start, we can begin believing again.

There’s a fear in my heart that I must work daily to silence, or it will take over and convince me that everything I am doing is “wrong.”

Who cares about your light? You’re blinding them. You’re overwhelming.

Have you ever discovered that, simply by being yourself, you’re helping others do the same?

Holding strong to who you are, and what you believe can be difficult.

You get a feel of people. Some people feel encouraged by others’ exuberance and enthusiasm and others feel threatened, and suspicious.

I once held a little experiment.

I ran around Lake Hollingsworth, which is about one mile in diameter. When I encountered some people running or walking the other direction, I noticed many of them avoided eye contact. They looked down, or away, or just stared as if transfixed as if they were watching something serious on television.

Here we were, two humans, doing something healthy. Getting outside to enjoy the city, the weather, our health, and we couldn’t even look at each other for a polite smile?

The next time around, I was ready.

I gave them a smile that said, “I am going to smile at you until you smile back!” (Actually, when I think about it, it was a pretty goofy, silly, happy smile…)

And guess what?

They smiled. The saw my silly, goofy friendly smile, and they welcomed it.

Not all of them.

But most of them.

And the best part of this experiment was that I was able to be myself.

A friend of mine calls me a Goober (referring to Sponge Bob’s Goofy Goober Rock song).

We don’t have to buy into the way everyone else acts.

We can be ourselves.

And, if you’re not into Spongebob, you can refer to this quote that always comes to mind, at the right times, challenging me not to cover my light:

“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children (and Goofy Goobers) do.

So, let your light shine. Be yourself, and don’t hold it back.

I have always been a sensitive soul – (I know, many of you would recommend that I don’t share something like that in such a public way) easily hurt, idealistic and passionate about the entire human experience. Longing to feel connected, valued and understood. Often feeling far from all of these.

Feeling ALIVE has really been the only goal I have known.  Most of the advice I was given growing up was to “toughen up” “stop worrying about what other people think” and “your skin is too thin, the world will eat you alive.”

At times, I felt like I wasn’t meant for this world. If I was going to succeed, I would need to change who I was – and that seemed like selling out and, well, pretty impossible.  So, I have continued to fight the good fight – claiming my space in the world and continuing to do everything I can to be human, in spite of the vulnerability and risk that brings.

Ironically, as I have become more comfortable with (and accepting of) my thin skin, and by claiming and accepting my vulnerability, I have become stronger and more confident. I have also learned to use it as my shield against negativity and cynicism. Accepting myself, as I am has allowed me to discover  that there are many other people like me, who appreciate humanness.

We are a growing army, and I love feeling the energy of all of you who shine your light on me with your kindness, and acceptance, love and appreciation of who I am.

This has been the greatest reward of being myself. To be met with the opportunity to connect and grow with you, my fellow journeyers – and I realize now, that was why, initially, I was led to embark on this quest.

To find you, and, if you existed, to connect with you in a very real, meaningful way. Because these connections make me feel alive, which is the only thing I have ever truly wanted!

This is exciting!  And yet, the most unexpected result of all has been to begin to experience success. To become a leader of a company, and the founder of an organization – I call it a community – that believes in the strength that comes with connection and relationships that are built with trust.

My journey has been – and continues to be – filled with challenges, which is to be expected. But I’m often struck at moments like this with amazement and awe of the person I have become.  And each time I allow myself an indulgent moment to pause and reflect, as I am doing today, sharing this message, I realize that God is here, shining His light and encouraging me to answer His call. He’s been doing this all along.

My resistance to the idea that I must change who I was in order to succeed, has been Him. The voice in my head has been Him whispering; encouraging me to be myself and to lead with courage, confidence and openness.

To listen and learn. To always love, in spite of the ugliness, and hate that fills the world, He has been nodding and smiling, encouraging me to keep being me. And today, I humbly and happily accept His request.

If there’s anything I can offer to you, the reader, it is this.  By shining your light, and sharing your love with the world, you welcome and embrace people like me.

Love is magnetic. It pulls out others who love, and gives them permission to be themselves; to give their best; to forgive; to accept; to be human, and to embrace all that it means to be a child of God. So, please be that person.

Even when it seems like it’s not “right.” Even when it seems like you should care less.  Care more. Because that is what we need today.  It’s what we have always needed. We can’t give in. We are ONE.

In 2009, when I was broke, and we were just starting our business, I felt completely miserable around the holidays. I’ve always loved Christmas (how can I not, with a dad who is Santa Claus!)

I didn’t have much money to buy things for my family — specifically, my nieces. And it gave me such an overwhelming feeling of shame that I dreaded going to see them for Christmas.

Irrational thoughts like, they won’t love me as much as their other aunt, and what if they ask me why my presents were so lame? Of course none of that happened, and they didn’t even notice my lame presents, so I think they love me anyway! At least they still run to hug me when I see them!

But, I didn’t want to tell anyone in my family about this fact. I tried to keep up appearances, and since I was still trying to figure out life (faking it till I made it), and more specifically #adulting, I didn’t want to talk about my money problems.

I just wanted to get to a better place. And the only way out — was through.

For the past couple of years, I have been in a better place, and I believe the struggle has been worth it, and the hard work is starting to pay off. So, the shame is receding, and along the way I found a Christmas tradition.

. . .

Two Christmases ago, I discovered a young single mother with 4 daughters that was struggling to make ends meet. I spent some time with all of them one evening, and as the oldest was recovering from a seizure — a common occurrence for the 8-year old — I held the third daughter in my lap.

While I held her, I realized something sad, and had I not been there to experience this, first hand, I would likely have never realized with such clarity: These girls weren’t going to have the kind of Christmas my nieces would. And, this led me to another thought: maybe there was a way to make this Christmas a little more magical for them.

I asked a friend who knew the family well if he could get me a Christmas list for each of them.

And Operation Christmas Magic began.

Instead of giving Kate, Anne, Mary & Maggie something that would end up in a pile of other beautiful presents, I found out what each of the girls in this struggling family wanted and bought them the presents on their list, and wrapped them up and gave them to the mother to deliver on Christmas day, from each of my nieces.

It was a special experience. I shared the story with the girls on Christmas Eve, there were tears, and a very special feeling that made the Christmas spirit very real for all of us.

This Christmas will be the third year, and the family we’re blessing with Christmas magic is one that is close to my heart.

There are days when we’re struggling only to keep ourselves alive, and then, as if by magic, the work we do starts to lift us, and we’re no longer down in the pits of despair.

I am so blessed — for so many reasons, it’s my greatest joy to know that my blessings can help spread some Christmas cheer — not just by giving cool presents that will make me the “coolest aunt.”

But by giving where there is a certain need, and spreading that message into the hearts of those I love.

I am eager to learn from you — what are your Christmas traditions, and how do you create Christmas magic in your families?

Contributed by Jay Clouse 
Unreal Collective | Columbus, OH

I receive Jay’s daily email. We were in altMBA12 together. There’s been a connection since we first met this summer. Today’s post was perfect and articulates perfectly how I have approached networking. I hope you enjoy this guest post from a fellow Seth Godin fan.

Originally Shared via Jay’s Blog

As you are probably already aware, I’m a big Seth Godin fan.

Seth Godin thinks differently about marketing than most marketing gurus – and I love it. Recently I watched a video where he described permission marketing.

Every time you engage with someone, you are either making yourself more irreplaceable (and justifying why paying attention to you is worth it) or you are taking a valuable resource: someone’s attention.

Attention is precious. It’s not refundable and it’s always limited.

Godin is describing modern marketing and communication – email lists, social media, advertising, etc. His point here is that a specific message needs to be adding value, or you are wasting your time.

His expanded viewpoint on this topic is that most modern marketers are focused on short term wins for their company/organization/cause and not putting emphasis on the receiver of the message.

And his thesis is that this selfish form of marketing will come back to bite us, making attention an even more difficult and valuable asset to command.

So to him, the time is now to focus on “permission marketing” – marketing that is done by gaining permission from the receiver of the message. Every time you then engage with your audience, you are making yourself more irreplaceable and proving your value.

Would people miss you (or your message) if it was gone?

That’s how I approach this newsletter, and that’s how I’ve implicitly approached “networking” as well. Networking for networking sake (i.e. “collecting” contacts) is not providing value. It is not demonstrating why you are worthwhile of attention.

Instead, relentlessly provide value to someone you’re trying to get close to. Connect them to someone else, send them some piece of information you think is valuable to them, or invite them to an event they could benefit from.

When the expectation of your message (or presence) is positive, new worlds open up.

Read more about Jay here

Whatever you do, however small it might seem…

Realize this — it is making a difference.

It doesn’t have to be everything.

It’s ok if you think it’s nothing.

Whether you know it or not, it will be something.

The only thing that is “nothing…”

Is nothing

There is usually an easy way around the hard work. We can buy cheaper products, get cheap labor to put the thing we want to build together, we can just do the minimum to check it off the list.

But what’s the joy in that?

Emotional labor isn’t fun, but it guarantees connection — to our lives and to what we are doing.

And, if we want it to last, do we really want to look at something we cut corners to build?

If we take the shortcut, we’re missing the point.

How committed we are to the work we do determines much more than we realize.

My mother taught me a lot without ever teaching me. She just had a way of living life that I realize now has become my way of life.

As a little girl, we had beautiful dark mahogany Ethan Allen furniture. She told me they bought it before my brother was born. They had saved for a year. They wanted the quality furniture that would last.

Bucky was born in 1971. I just sold that furniture at a garage sale this year.

It was part of my entire life. Because it was worth saving for. It was worth working for.

I can’t say I have always followed these principles, but I realize today, the value in the hard work — the importance of seeing something come to life after hard work.

The things that I tried to hurry are no longer around. 

Dreams are a precious gift. Not the ones we have when we are sleeping. Not the fleeting dreams that don’t stick around longer than a day.

I am talking about the ones that stir our hearts, that won’t leave us alone, that feel like someone or something is tugging at our hearts, challenging our reality, month after month after month. That nagging voice that asks, “What if” — and actually wants you to answer.

The ones we have when we’re designing our purpose-filled life.

What life are you imagining when you endeavor to ask yourself why you exist, why you were put on this earth?

And what does the voice of reason say when you give your heart permission to dream?

That’s impossible.

You’re never going to be able to make it happen. 

It’s not your turn yet. 

It’s never been done before. 

You’re not old enough.

You’re not young enough.

You’re not smart enough.

You’re not good enough.

Dreaming isn’t reckless, it’s not selfish, it’s not crazy.

Whatever we dream is possible — is. Unless we listen to the voice of reason.

We might actually share our dreams with someone we trust, and they might be the ‘voice of reason’ for us.

But more often than not, the voice is our own, internal buzzard. Picking at the leftovers of our hearts, chiding us for even considering that what is within us is alive, if only we will allow it a chance to become more than a thought.

The real world can be a deadly place for dreams.

Until one day, when we decide to play devil’s advocate with the voice.

Who says I can’t? How do you know it’s impossible? What if I can? What if the only thing holding me back is this voice? What if I’m imagining this because it is possible?

If you want to read a book about how to make your dreams come true, I have a couple of suggestions.

But a book isn’t going to make it happen for you.

There will be hurdles. You’ll mess up, you’ll stumble, you’ll be filled with these doubts again, all along the way, you’ll find plenty of reasons to stop. But you cannot stop. The voice of reason is lying to you.

Resisting the voice is part of the magic of making it. Your desire to achieve — whatever it is stirring in your heart — is there for a very special reason.

It’s your dream. 

Maybe your dream is to help someone achieve their dream.

Maybe it seems silly to consider anything other than the life you currently have. After all, you have a great life. You should be happy with what you have. You have so much more than many people do!  You’re blessed, right?  Things are good just the way they are.

And, if you choose to believe that, there is no one that will criticize you for it. You get to make that choice.

But remember, it’s not the voice of reason’s fault. You can’t blame the energy vampires, the pot stirrers, the haters or the ‘realists’ for talking you out of your dream.

Only you have that power.

And you also have the power to decide to go for it.

There’s only one real way to grow.

Show up. 

Social media allows us to exist and connect in a world that allows us to keep up the appearance that we’re “there.” We can express interest, comment with our feedback, share an opinion, ask for feedback…

We can even peek into the lives of those who share “Live” events.

It’s convenient, and it feels like a good happy medium for us in a busy world.

Connecting online in this way, allows us to believe that we’re on the road to building a new relationship.

And, for awhile, we are.

People will respond to our ideas, they will engage and share and help us find what we need.

But this only lasts for a while. It’s like a social media bubble.

Computers allow us to feel like we’re connected. But showing up actually connects us.

The bubble eventually will pop, and the relationship will feel empty because it was not based on the real, face to face human connection.

People seem to expect more from an online connection, when they have never met the person in real life.

If you really want to make an impact, show up. Ask in person, give your time.

It’s the most precious thing we have, and it’s the most appreciated gift we can give.

Care about all of the people, by caring enough to show up. 

This is when we are truly connected. This is when we’re going to grow.

And, when someone takes the time to show up, appreciate them. Because this is becoming harder and harder for people to do.

If they don’t show up for you, consider showing up for them.