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.

There’s no easy way to change. In this world of fast, quick, cheap and watered down opportunities, the only way to really make a difference is to commit to the hard work.

The good news is that everyone else is looking for fast, quick, cheap, watered down, and the competition is fierce for everyone else.

But we’re not everyone else. 

If you want to stand out, do the hard work first.

If you’re still convinced there’s an easier way, that shortcut, that quick-fix, that easy button – might be doing you a disservice.

The best way to stand out isn’t to be another cog in the wheel.

The bubble burst years ago.

Grit, perseverance and acknowledgment that the human connection — however slow it might feel — is the best way toward abundance, light, love and the realization that Awesome exists in this world.

So, when you decide to write down your manifesto, make sure to include…

Do the Hard Work First.

“A rising tide lifts all ships.”

I hear this statement often, and I tend to agree, it’s a good message for what happens when the economy is improving around us, the benefits for all are great. So, we cheer for economic development, because it will help us all rise!

Recently, I have started to see this a little differently, and quite frankly, I wonder if the prediction a friend of mine made several years ago — that I would eventually become cynical like him — is actually happening. I am hoping that’s not the case, but… this shift in thinking is somewhat foreign to me.

After all, I am an idealist, so this is something I worry about happening. Am I being worn down by the cynics?

I really hope not!

Today, when someone chirped the very familiar “tide” aphorism, which I discovered while writing this post, was popularized by president John F. Kennedy, and borrowed—interestingly enough—by Kennedy’s speechwriter, from the slogan of the New England Council  ( the area’s chamber of commerce), I saw a fallacy to the statement that I had never noticed before.

I wondered why we don’t talk about where the tides come from?

While we’re all in this together, there are also some responsibilities we have — to ourselves and to those we serve, and it’s in this space that I am most focused today.

We can pray all we want for the tide to rise, but what are we doing in the meantime? Just waiting? How can we be bettering ourselves?

Not just the obvious — a leaky boat, or worse, being tied to the dock, and finding ourselves underwater when the tide actually does rise, because we’re so attached to the moorings that we forget to loosen the ropes!

So, today, as I explored this idea a little further, I started to ask, “Where can we start using our own internal “water sources” to assist the process?” Is it always an outside source that is responsible for lifting our boats?

Have I been cheering for the wrong things, focusing on the external forces that are not within my control? What energy, attention and work can I add to the cause that will allow us, even ever-so-slightly, begin to contribute to raising the level of our community?

I heard someone say today that small businesses —  the organizations that we credit as being the backbone of our community —  “are not-for-profits whether they mean to be or not!

Wait? Really? This might be the problem! We have to become better than that. Individually, we have to begin to understand that we are not a charity, and we do not need people to make donations to our businesses.

We must begin to look at the marketplace differently.

Because it’s not someone else’s job to ensure you succeed. And, the tide may not be rising, unless we, as leaders, community-minded people who believe in a better future, start to assess what we’re doing to raise the bar.

Christopher Gardner, (who wrote Pursuit of Happyness, but also Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be — another book that was integral in my personal growth journey, reminded me, at just the right time:

“Only by acknowledging, ‘Hey, here is where I am, and I’m here because I steered my horse here,’ can I make the next choice to ride on out to the sunset where I’d really like to be… The cavalry ain’t coming. You’ve got to do this yourself.”

I share honestly. Transparently. And it feels incredibly liberating. Except when it doesn’t. Because, I too live in the real world.

I have been following writers for as long as I can remember. I loved to read as a little girl. Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Harriet the Spy, Trixie Belden, and a Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And, as I grew up, I continued to passionately pursue reading as a hobby.

And secretly I dreamed, someday, that I might be a writer.

I shared both the passion of reading (and the desire to write) with my mother, who introduced me to authors that challenged me and inspired me. We would share our favorites, and sometimes, we’d argue about the philosophies shared by the writers.

Mostly, I just borrowed her books and never returned them. (Sorry, Ma!)

One of our common favorites was Pat Conroy. I found The Water is Wide first, and then moved on to The Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, Beach Music, My Losing Season, South of Broad, and his memoir, The Death of Santini.

What always fascinated me about his writing, and what I believe I connected to the most, was his raw vulnerability. The more I read about him, the more I learned and realized that much of his personal life was reflected in his stories. I discovered that The Great Santini caused friction in the family, because it reportedly revealed family secrets. His father, after reading, was initially angered, and then eventually set about to prove himself to be a better man than he read in the pages of that novel.

The power of words, written, can truly change the course of a person’s life.

While I don’t have family secrets, I do have a past, and there has been pain and failure and shame (I hear that I not alone in that fact). And, yet, it is my pain, failure and shame that have shaped me and given me the strength, insight and desire to make it all worth something. If I can take my fears, doubts and mistakes and somehow inspire someone else, it will be worth every tear I cried while trying to find my way to the light.

Recently, when someone commented on the transparency in my writing, I was reminded of Conroy, and the inspiration he had on my early life. His pioneering way to writing, personally, passionately and clearly, without losing his power, he was a true professional. Turning Pro, as I have written in a previous post, is not easy, but I do believe, at least for myself, it is necessary.

I found this quote shared by Conroy toward the end of a forward in Writing South Carolina: Selections from the First High School Writing Contest — a publication for high school students in Beaufort, SC in 2015.

“To write is a form of nakedness that all of you are going to learn about when this book is published. It is an act of courage to write anything, but it is an act approaching madness to want to do this for a living.

Go deeper. That is my advice to all writers. Then go deeper again. When I look at myself in the mirror, I’ve no clear idea of who that guy is looking back. For fifty years I’ve been trying to learn the essential truth of that one man. I’m not sure I’ve scratched the surface of that unending mystery. There are enigmas buried inside you in the deepest waters. Whether they be angels or moray eels, whether they be godlike or demonic, it is your job to discover them for yourself and no one else. You write for yourself. You write for no one else. It is your art that you are seeking, and if you are very lucky, it is your art that is desperately trying to make its own voice heard to you. Listen. Pray it is calling your name.”

I write from the heart, and if it’s worth reading, I can only say, it is calling my name, and I believe it is my duty to respond. We’re all called to something, some time. I pray you are brave enough to answer.

Not the cute “Hair Up” “Dance Dance Dance” variety. The Internet variety.

I have learned a lot about trolls over the past several years. Ever since I have been encouraging conversations about the local economy and small businesses in an online forum, I have been dealing with the most interesting people.

When one troll didn’t like the fact that there were rules in our forum, and he didn’t agree with them, he created his own forum, named it the same thing, just changed one word. And told everyone that his was a FREE forum, where everyone could post whatever they wanted.

At the time, this stole my joy. I was hurt, frustrated, angry. I wanted to know how to “fix” it and figure out what I had done to deserve such “cruelty.” To make matters worse, one of the members of this new group took a screen shot of a photo I had shared of myself and Craig at a Spring Training game, on the berm, with a subtitle — “This must be where the money is going!” Yep, the $12 ticket to the “cheap seats!” 🙂

I can remember how frustrated I was, but the key is, today, I can look back on them and recognize that they have made me better. I didn’t let the trolls stop me. But they did effect me. And, over time, I have learned how to deal with them. I found a way to accomplish what I feel I was put on this earth to accomplish — in spite of the haters.

The cool part is, at this point, all these years later, there seem to be fewer trolls lying in wait, ready to pounce. Maybe mom was right, if you ignore them, they will eventually find someone else to pick on. Sadly, there are people who find satisfaction in the anonymity that being a troll provides them. But you cannot let them win. Someday, I hope we as a society work to solve this problem, but in the meantime,

You cannot let them steal your joy, or keep you from your purpose.

So, whenever I deal with a troll today, I consider several things before I respond (if I respond at all).

First, what do I know about them? For me, personifying the troll, helps me try to see things from their perspective. If I can’t figure out what their angle is, I create a story for them in my head — Most of the time, it goes like this: “Wow, this person must be hurting. I wonder if she had a crummy childhood, or maybe he found out his mother is sick, or her husband is cheating on her.

This helps me put the situation into a little bit of perspective — even if it’s not really true, I need to realize that there is probably something underlying, and it’s not me. 

There have been cases when it has been me. Not necessarily something I am proud of, but when you’re dealing with real people — people you know and think you can trust in the community, the emotions become a little more personal.

There is one time, early on in the development of the community, that I allowed my emotions to get the better of me and I engaged. I reacted to the situation, and then, I immediately regretted it. I then publicly apologized — I did not delete anything, and I swore that I would never do that again.

So, what I do now, is consider the words I want to say — I might type them as if I am going to comment, or send them to myself in a text (I do this a lot!) But I do not engage publicly in a negative, argumentative way. I read their comment, and generally find a way to tell them that I hear them, but that it’s not something I agree with, and we can agree to disagree.

If it seems there’s no way to resolve the situation, I will let it go, without comment. Sometimes, this is not possible, because the troll is waiting for you. And, they might escalate it to call you out and ask why you haven’t responded. In these cases, I normally, send them a private message, and comment (for the sake of the peanut-troll gallery) that I have done so.

You might be asking why I care, why I engage, why these people matter.

The answer is, they might not matter to the end result, but the path toward connection and transparency requires that we acknowledge that there are those who will disagree with us. They have the right to their own opinion. And, by refusing to lose our cool, or worse, shut it down, delete the account, and let them feel the satisfaction of “winning,” we are sending the message, that what we are doing, what we’re working to do is bigger than them, and, over time, this message will be what people remember. And the trolls will eventually grow tired. As long as we don’t give them what they want — which is usually the satisfaction that they brought you down to their level.

Taking the high road, and yet, allowing yourself to stay connected and accessible, is the hardest choice — but in the end, I believe it is the best choice we can make — if we’re doing work that matters.

It’s easy to point the finger. But what makes us stronger is taking responsibility for our role in success (or lack thereof).

If we’re stuck, how did we get here? And what is it going to take to get unstuck?

Chances are, we didn’t get here overnight, and we won’t get there overnight either.

The pivotal moment comes not just when we’re able to take an honest look at ourselves, but when we’re truly willing to take that step away from what is comfortable.

It’s going to be hard. The labor is going to be painful, uncomfortable, challenging.

Especially when we’re still holding on to the history, the good old days, the golden years. What got us here won’t get us there.

When we get to the point that we realize that there’s some undoing that needs to be done, some bridges that need to be built and some forgiveness that needs to take place — that’s when the real work begins.

What do we want, going forward? And, if we want to get there, what are we going to need to do?

“Whatever it takes” isn’t a popular idea. But it might be the only way we turn the corner and change the trend away from the negativity toward a brighter, happier, more profitable future.

On my 30th birthday, I was still shadow-boxing, battling to discover the answer to the question, “Why am I here?” I thought I was born to be a mother, and yet that had yet to happen. I write about that in another post. I can recall the day of my birthday very clearly. It was very uneventful.

That’s what makes it stand out in my mind. I was angry. Bitter and frustrated that nothing seemed to be going the way I wanted it to go. But it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I wanted. It was empty — and I abhorred that emptiness.

I was angry at my ex-husband for not realizing that my 30th birthday was supposed to be a special day. I expected him to do something, and he didn’t. And it hurt me so much that I spent the day pretending to be happy, while inside I was anything but.

It’s ridiculous that we can get so angry at others for not meeting our expectations — even when we’ve never even shared that we have these certain desires.

So, I took control. A day before my birthday, when it occurred to me that nothing was going to happen on my birthday unless I did something, I started to call all of my friends, and family and planned my own party. It came together beautifully. Everyone was there to celebrate with me, and to love me. But it wasn’t enough. Because it wasn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was a surprise party. But the truth is, that would have been impossible – because I also wanted to control it all! 🙂

When I look back at that time of my life, I realize that what made me the most angry was that I had no control.

All I wanted was what I wanted. I thought I knew what my life should be. I was bitter that things weren’t going the way I had planned.

And the more I tried to control everything, the more out of control my life became.

Eventually, the bottom fell out. Except it didn’t happen all at once. My bitterness made it a slow, painful process. My anger was my cross to bear, and I played the victim like a champ, so the bottom didn’t come quickly. It came ever-so-slowly, like a gigantic bandaid being ripped off one day after another.

Until I was numb to the pain, and just going through the motions — pretending to be alive.

I am so grateful for that painful journey.

Because, today, because of that painful journey, I know that I am not in control. I still struggle with this (every day). I still want to be in control. I want to be able to skip to the last page of the book, so that I can make certain I will like how the story ends.

But, I realize today, that I am not driving.

I am in control of only two things — my thoughts, and how I react to those thoughts. How things turn out, is not within my control. And when I finally came to accept this, it allowed me to truly begin to enjoy the journey.

I just know that my job is to show up, do my best, give my love, and know that I have done my part. The rest, is not up for me to decide. And, that’s ok, because I finally know why I am here: to help others find their purpose, by helping them see the goodness — no the GREATNESS that exists in the world when we realize we’re really not driving. 

When you find someone else finding themselves, it’s almost as exciting as when you find yourself!

Recently, one of the key members of my team, Jessica, started participating in an 8-week challenge. Participants were customers at a local gym, and the final weigh in was yesterday. She lost 19.2 pounds.

But, that’s not the biggest win of that challenge. At the end of the challenge, she shared a video about how she was feeling, and reflecting on how she felt before she started the challenge.

“I wasn’t saying yes to me. That’s all it was. I just needed to share that with you, because it’s life changing. LIFE Changing. To make that first step. And then from there on, momentum catches on, and there’s no stopping you. Once you get going, there is no stopping you. It’s like going downhill, there’s no stopping you.”

Sometimes, you just find exactly what you need to find in the messages people are sharing. But this one, was a lot closer to home for me. In her words, I saw myself. And yet, her confidence in sharing that video, is something I admired and respected immensely. It’s something I continue to be challenged with.

We can (and should) learn from each other — not just our peer groups, but the generations before and after us. (More on that in a coming post). But this moment in time, whatever you’re not doing, if you’re stuck, or if you’re just not moving forward, take Jessica’s advice.

Say YES to yourself. It truly is life changing — it has changed my life, and continues to be the only way forward for me at any given moment.

Everyone else might be standing (or sitting) around you, telling you they believe in you, but until you make your move — until you say yes to yourself, everything is going to stay the same. But when you do make that first step forward, the propellers will turn on and the jets will start doing their thing.

We’re waiting for you. It’s your turn.

Keep going Jessica!

By Sarah Keener

Tonight, I had an incredible opportunity to attend a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit which is a community of believers, walking with the homeless.  Gospel, Inc is a grassroots organization where the volunteers and leaders are right out there, befriending the homeless of our amazing city.

I’ve been to these dinners before.  A prayer, a speech, a sad video, they ask you for money, you fill out your envelope, you go home full of good food and with a few dollars less in your pocket.  This wasn’t that dinner.

The light bulb came back on.  My spark was re-ignited.  I remembered.

I remembered making cookies and serving them on Christmas Eve with my daughter.  (And if you know me, you know I don’t bake…that was LOVE)  I remembered driving around with my aunt and my mother-in-law, feeding the homeless chili when the weather got cold.  Most of all, I remembered being a 16 year old girl, staying at the Bowery in New York City, a senior in high school, on my senior mission trip.  We sat at a piano while a homeless man who was staying at the Bowery played and sang.  I sat right next to him.  The homeless man became a human.  His gratitude and pure love poured over me.  And I was the one who was supposed to be helping him!  I don’t remember his name, but I remember his love and passion and understanding, his story.

In my heart, I have always felt called to help the homeless.  But we need to help them beyond feeding them every day.  (Feeding them is first priority, but there must be more)  Why do we have a shortage of jobs and an overage of homeless?  While I do understand the reality that some will never be able to work due to circumstances beyond our control, some are able to work, they just don’t know how.  I was able to come out of the dinner, with a new idea, a new perspective to solve two problems with one solution.  Let’s help these men and women work, in good jobs, and make it a joint effort.

Is this going to work?  I don’t know.  What I do know, is I found my spark again.  MY cause… My reasoning.