Get in the car and drive. Go wherever you want. Get your GPS, plug in an address and go.

This is easy when you only have yourself to consider in your decision making, or when it’s just you and your spouse.

But when you add more people to the car, it requires — well, MORE planning, more consensus building, more work.

You can’t just hop in the car and drive anymore.

Where do you want to go?
I dunno.
Well, what do you want to do?
It doesn’t matter, whatever you want. 
Do you know what you want to eat?
Not really.

The sticky part comes when the other people in the car don’t know where they want to go.

Which happens a lot. Most people prefer someone else to drive, because they either don’t want to be responsible for making the decisions, or they are afraid of what would happen if they made the wrong decision.

Most people wouldn’t just drive the car to wherever they want without the input of their passengers. Heck, even a bus driver doesn’t do that. They go where the passengers want to go.

The key, if you’re driving the car, is to make sure you have everyone in the car that wants the same things you want.

This doesn’t mean MAKING them want what you want.

It means looking them in the eye, exploring with them what they want for themselves, and finding out of this is a trip they want to take with you.

And that’s when all of the best discoveries can begin. Without this awareness, we might find ourselves in the car, driving in circles.

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.

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. 

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.

I have never seen a honeysuckle tree, and I think the only bonsai tree I have seen was in Karate Kid, but I know they exist. I live in central Florida, so I “know” citrus trees, and yet I also know that there are other fruit trees that produce delicious results.

Hateful words, attitudes and mindsets are jarring to me. When I see things that are foreign to me, I realize that what I “know” is limiting. No matter how open I want to believe I am, I am still in a forest surrounded by trees that are familiar, safe and comfortable.

When you surround yourself with oak trees, you think the entire forest is full of just oaks. (oak trees ARE beautiful… but so are elms, eucalyptus, pine and spruce, and any other tree I don’t know about!)

I have heard the expression: “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” But I believe the bigger problem is when all you see are the same things as you. Disparate voices are important.

In order to embrace diversity, an open mind is essential.

But we also need to remember, that just an open mind isn’t enough. We need to think beyond ourselves. And even further, beyond what we even know.

We need all of the trees, for all of the universe. 

Too many people who think the same way won’t be able to change a whole lot.

Do you know the song Galileo by the Indigo Girls? I never really new much about Galileo, except that he is considered the “father of modern science,” and that the Catholic church banished him for his scientific “theories.”

What I love about music is that it makes me curious, so when I first heard Galileo, sometime in the 90’s I became curious. Why was his head on the block? And why did looking for the truth cause so much controversy?

Galileo’s head was on the block
The crime was looking up for truth
And as the bombshells of my daily fears explode
I try to trace them to my youth

My interpretation is that the leaders of the church were afraid. Their limiting beliefs led them to decide that what Galileo was suggesting as facts were beyond them and the threat of his discoveries about the heavens led them to accuse him of heresy and he was forced to live out the remainder of his life imprisoned.

When he discovered the heavens with his telescope, he knew what he was up against. But he also knew what he had discovered was fact. The world just wasn’t ready for a scientific revolution.

In the stories I have read, Galileo is characterized as a philosopher, filled with awareness, and, while he knew his discoveries were going to shatter the reality of what everyone already believed, he didn’t stop. He didn’t back down from the truth.

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

This is still so true and so relevant today. We’re still asking the same questions. What is beyond our limiting beliefs? And if we discover a truth that is frightening, are we brave enough to acknowledge it, or do we turn it away?

Whenever I think about my own limiting beliefs, I try to give myself grace, but not too much — I believe my responsibility will always be to push myself beyond. More often than not, I fail, but I want to overcome this weakness, and I am ever seeking to look beyond.

As soon as I start believing my mind is open, I hope someone will remind me that the only trees I know are the ones in my forest. And there are millions of miles of trees I may never know.

As leaders, this must always be our quest. To make decisions that acknowledge not just the trees we know and recognize, but also the ones we simply know exist, even if we have never seen them.

“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.