“There will be many times in your lives – at school, and more particularly when you are grown up – when people will distract or divert you from what needs to be done. You may even welcome the distraction. But if you use it as an excuse for not doing what you’re supposed to do, you can blame no one but yourself. If you truly wish to accomplish something, you should allow nothing to stop you, and chances are you’ll succeed.”
I opened up the attachment, and immediately my eyes began to burn. The photo was everything I’d imagined, and nothing I ever allowed myself to dare dream. It was a colliding clash of conflicting emotions, and it all washed over me in a giant wave.
When I first dared to dream of writing a book, I was twenty-one years old. I was told it was an attainable goal, and I believed that fully and without doubt. I had no reason not to believe it.
I didn’t understand how difficult the process would be, though – how hard I would have to fight to tell the right story in the right way. I didn’t know that I would sweat and labor and toil, and I had no idea the effect all that fighting would have on my confidence.
All around me, it seemed other people were living out my dream. People launched books, and they all seemed to do it accidentally, never having really wanted to publish in the first place.
So I wondered if I wanted it too much. But then I realized, it’s okay to want it, and it’s definitely okay to fight for it. In fact, the fight makes the end result that much sweeter.
I am constantly telling my children that they have to fight for their dreams. Success doesn’t just fall into your lap – you have to work for it.
“Scared,” she replied. “I was so scared to try it, and the first time I didn’t get all the way up. But then one of the bigger girls told me to do it again, and I reminded myself that I have to just keep trying, so I got up and tried again. And I did it! The third time I tried, I wasn’t even scared anymore.”
Out of the mouths of babes, right?
Friends, big goals and dreams take courage. You’re holding yourself up on the high bar, arms quaking under the strain of desire and fear, and you have a choice to make. Will you cast, or will you jump off the bar?
Maybe you cast and you don’t get all the way up. Maybe you even fall. That’s okay. Cast again. And again. And again and again and again.
Because one day, after all that casting, you will manage to push into the handstand. You’re heart will thump with adrenaline as you teeter high above the ground, and you’ll realize that all that casting was worth it.
Accomplishing goals takes courage, yes. But it also takes hard work and perseverance. You have to look at your dream for what it is – a bar high above the ground, and it begs for you to swing.
[Tweet “Dreaming is scary, yes. But then again, anything worth pursuing will require courage. “]
So what are you waiting for? Take the advice of my tenacious nine year old with the big dreams. Remind yourself that you just have to keep trying, and climb back up on the bar. Because you can do this, friends.
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both you elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right… or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? Or go around back and sneak in from behind? Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.
NO! That’s not for you!”
Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Let me tell you a little story about what it’s like to write and launch a book.
It’s a process filled with waiting places – places where you can choose to sit back and hope good fortune stumbles over you, or where you can take matters into your own hands and walk to the good fortune.
The beginning of this journey is filled with excitement. You head down these long wiggled roads at a break necking pace, and it’s exhilarating and terrifying, and you sort of stumble your way through the process until you reach the other side. Finished. A completed manuscript in your hands.
This is when you enter the first Waiting Place.
You hold in your hands a tiny piece of your heart, and you have to decide if you’re going to let anyone read it. So you timidly hand it over to strangers, hoping they like it. And you wait for the “Yes” amidst a whole lot of “No.”
If you’re not content to stay in that waiting place, you persist and push through all the “No.” Because eventually, with a little dedication and refusal to give up, you find your “Yes.” Someone agrees to bind up that piece of your heart, and put a title to it. This, it turns out, is where the real work starts.
Launching a book is like running a marathon in the dark. You sort of stumble along pitch black roads, feeling your way toward the finish line, hoping you don’t peter out and die before you get there. That’s where it’s imperative to have running partners by your side.
Last weekend, I headed up to Greenville, South Carolina for the Allume conference. This is the third time I’ve attended this conference, and it holds a special place in my heart. This is the place where I found my running partners.
There’s a confidence that comes from being with a group of people who understand this crazy journey of publication. They understand the rejection and the fear. They understand the extreme exhaustion that comes from pouring your heart out on the page, and the utter terror that you feel when you must submit those pages to be judged.
The first year I attended Allume, I went all alone. I had the unedited manuscript for my novel tucked away in my bag, and I met with several agents, all of whom loved the concept, but “fiction is a touch sell,” and on they went.
Except for one.
She agreed to at least read the first 50 pages and give feedback. “It’s too long,” she said, and she was right. 150,000 words was a ridiculous length for a debut novel, so I spent the next year editing, and cutting, and shaping it up.
I went back the second year with my edited novel, but I was also joined by Wendy, and together we had a proposal for a new book – a book for creative moms, meeting them right there in the mess of motherhood.
I went to Allume this third year with two books in production, and the weekend was spent trying to learn the ins and outs of marketing and launching. It’s intimidating and overwhelming. I’m running a marathon in the dark.
But at least I’ve got running partners by my side who are cheering me on. Several of them have already walked this path, and so they offer advice and wisdom, lighting the road before me just slightly.
It’s exhausting and overwhelming, this journey I’m on. But I’m glad I pushed myself out of the waiting place and onto this path. Dr. Seuss was right – waiting isn’t for me. The journey is so much more fun when you move forward…even if you’re moving in the dark.
So, what are you waiting on? What’s stopping you from moving forward?
I was young, maybe nine or ten, when I first saw The Secret Garden. Upon finishing the film, I immediately traipsed out into the Wisconsin woods behind our home and looked for the perfect tree in which to sit and read. The trees were romantic and mysterious then. I wanted to soak up the rustle of the woods and see what kind of magic I could find.
I grew up, and we moved away from Wisconsin. No longer did I have the whimsy of the forest in which to explore my imagination, but the fanciful longing for a secret garden has never really left me. And I still find a sturdy branch the best place to read a book.
In college, I found a great tree with a low lying limb tucked back in Waco’s Cameron Park. On pretty spring days, before the oppressive Texas heat threatened to melt off my face, I’d go to that tree with school books, certain that studying in that place would result in all A’s.
There may have been something to my theory, because my last two semesters of school I landed on the Dean’s List.
And now here I am, living in Florida, surrounded by beautiful trees, but not one worthy of a good climb. I still wish for a secret garden to call my own – a place where dreams come alive in the quiet serenity of nature.
Granted, I’d probably need a gardner to tend to that magical space as I’ve proven to be much better at writing about gardens than growing them.
Dreaming is possible without a garden, though. Sometimes I still find myself lost in a moment of daydreaming, although those moments are fewer and farther between now than they were before. Life has simply grown too noisy and busy. And it makes me a little sad that my kids aren’t growing up with the whimsy of the trees.
The last couple of weeks have found me in a funny place: Often sad for no reason, and terribly overwhelmed in situations that don’t normally phase me. I’m blaming hormones, the end of summer, and a lack of quiet.
The funny thing, however, is that I don’t want to be alone. I want my husband and children with me, which seems to contradict my longing for quiet spaces. I long to escape, yes, but to a place where there are no sports, no schedules, and no electronics to distract us.
I want to kick those kids outside and see them explore.
I want them to climb a few trees.
School starts in two weeks, and while I feel a sigh of relief escape my lips as I type that sentence, I also feel a small pang of regret and sadness, because it’s over. One more under our belts, and life keeps trucking along without sign of slowing down.
I don’t have a secret garden in which to sit and reflect, and the quiet spaces I long for are likely mythological. But I’ve discovered over the years that these moments of overwhelmed a lot-ness (totally a word) are not the be all-end all.
There may not be magical stretches of quiet time, but there are slivers of time that are magical enough.
We kept all electronics off last night, and the kids went for a swim as the sun sank down below the horizon. I sat in a chair next to the pool, and I just watched them play.
I listened to the hallowed sounds of their laughter, taking in all the sounds, none of them quiet, yet the entire event feeling like a hushed song of praise. We were in the moment, all of us. Them in the pool, and me taking it in, and I knew that this was the moment I was longing for.
A moment to just be free.
A moment that says “This is enough.”
A moment in which I could breathe.
I was happy last night, despite my lack of a tree, a book, and a magical garden. Maybe someday there will be a time and a place for that sort of living again. Today, though – today was for popsicles and blue waters. Today was for giggles and flips in the pool. Today was magical with just a touch of whimsy.
Turns out the secret garden was here with me all along.
Tell me moms – how are you doing as summer winds down and school days ramp back up? How are you holding up?
I work in a profession that requires thick skin. I put my heart out there, tapping each beat to the rhythm of my keyboard, and I hand it to a friend, an editor, the world via a blog post, and then I wait for the feedback.
I learned to accept criticism in college. My senior year, the class Writing for the Popular Market would be the training ground for giving and accepting constructive criticism.
That was also the year that I began to associate editing with coffee.But that’s a different topic for a different day.
Once a week, my classmates and I, along with our professor, sat in a circle in the local coffee shop, or on the couches in the room above The Sub, and we’d dutifully hand the ten pages we’d written in our novels that week to the person sitting just to the right.
Then we’d sit back, sip our coffee, and read one another’s words.
There were only six of us in the class, and by the end of the year, we each had a completed manuscript. This would be the first draft of my novel. It was the beginning of learning to communicate through story.
I’m grateful for the lessons learned in that small class. I’m glad I learned to hear someone criticize what I wrote, and not take it personally. It’s a necessary skill, and it’s one that’s served me well over the last fifteen years since I graduated.
When I shared the news that my novel would be published last week, I received so many wonderful, encouraging messages and comments from all of you. And I cried a lot as I read through them, because fifteen years of waiting and dreaming of seeing this book published suddenly took a realistic turn.
I received a lot of rejection letters for the various drafts of my novel. For a long time, I kept every rejection letter I received. After reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing, the notion of a stack of rejection slips seemed almost romantic.
[Tweet “There is a refining power in rejection. It either makes you, or it breaks you. “]
See, when I started the process of trying to get my book published (an earlier version of it that is nothing like the one coming out next spring), I did it the old school way. I mailed letters – actual letters written on paper.
I sent query after query in the mail, along with book proposals and sample chapters. And I included in each stamped envelope, a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) for the publishers to send me his response…which was usually a big, fat no.
Every once in awhile, though, there would be a glimmer of hope. A note, scratched at the bottom of a form letter from the editor encouraging me to keep writing.
Those rejection slips went to the top of the pile.
I tossed the folder of rejection slips when we moved, because I was over the romanticism of it all by then. And the world had moved on to email, so now I had the privilege of receiving electronic form letters, and that felt a little less nostalgic. I wish now, though, that I had that stack of “No’s”
Because I’d love to see it dwarfed next to the contract that says “Yes.”
I haven’t really minded all the rejection, if I’m honest. I’ve been impatient at times, of course. And there were days when I’d feel terribly discouraged over it all. But in all the years of waiting and hoping, it never occurred to me that I should give up on the book.
There are some stories that just get under your skin, and this story that I’ve written is one of them. The characters crawled into my very being, and I knew that someday I’d see them really come to life in print.
So I waited, and I pushed, and I simply refused to take no for an answer.
[Tweet “Rejection doesn’t mean the end of a dream. Rejection says you’re on the right track.”]
If you’re in a place where “No” is the only word you’re hearing, can I just urge you not to give up? Sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of “No” to get to “Yes.”
And when that happens, you’ll find that the “Yes” is so much sweeter after the waiting.
I have this image of a younger version of myself – ten, maybe eleven – and she’s tramping through the field behind our Wisconsin home. Just beyond the line of tall grasses that liked to tickle my waist stood the forest, thick and green, and begging for adventure.
This little girl me loved to walk through those weeds, stepping high to avoid ant piles and other potentially hidden creatures. I loved to run my hands over the tops of the orange grasses, and step into the clearing of the woods where the cool air would nip at my skin.
There was a half built tree house there, a long ago abandoned project that was no more than a platform high in the trees with a few boards nailed into one of the trunks for a ladder. I’d scramble up to the platform and sit close to the edge, my feet dangling over the side, because I liked the feeling of emptiness beneath my swinging feet, and also because the boards in the middle of the platform were beginning to rot and I was never quite certain they would hold.
That girl had a lot of imagination. Great stories were acted out inside the canopy of those trees. And many days were spent up there with a notebook or journal and a pen, writing down all manner of thoughts and desires and dreams.
After watching The Secret Garden for the first time, I imagined that place in the woods to be my own secret garden. It wasn’t a well-kept secret given that it was the neighborhood hang out, but when I was there alone, I let my mind wander.
Sometimes I wonder what I would tell that girl if I could go back and visit her. Would I warn her of some of the bad decisions she would make and tell her to avoid them? Maybe, but probably not. Bad decisions are character building, after all.
Would I tell her to just enjoy every moment, because it all goes by so quick? Would I tell her not to take advantage of loved ones being near, because in a heartbeat life can change, and loved ones can leave your side? I might tell her these things, but it probably wouldn’t matter.
That girl was fanciful and imaginative. She was idealistic, and the innocence of youth followed her like a breeze. She would have heard me, but she wouldn’t have understood.
I don’t know what I’d want to tell that younger version of myself. Hold on to your dreams no matter how long it takes, because you never know what’s going to happen?
I think that quality was knit into the fiber of her being – of my being.
Yesterday, I was cleaning out a book shelf and I found a recordable book that we had his dad read last year. It wasn’t working well, I’m hoping it’s just in need of new batteries, but when I opened it up and his voice rang out strong and clear, my heart skipped.
Sometimes I miss those days in the Wisconsin woods when all that complicated life was the requirement that I make my bed daily. But really, despite all that life has brought our way, it’s only sometimes that I miss those days.
Because the girl sitting high in that unfinished tree house with the rotten boards had no idea what was waiting for her. She couldn’t even dream it up. She didn’t know the love that waited in the wings, or the laughter. She didn’t know that dreams would come true, and that one day she’d grow up to have so much more than a Secret Garden.
She didn’t know that with the sting of death came the reality of heaven, and the sweetness of living with both of those realities was something almost indescribable.
I think I’d leave her alone up there in the trees. I’d give her the dreams and the dancing visions of fame and fortune. I give her the peace that she so loved sitting on that platform in the sky.
The girl in the trees is still here, all wrapped up in my memory. She’s still a little fanciful at times, and imaginative, and perhaps even a bit idealistic. There’s no more innocence of youth, but there’s the wisdom that comes with age.
I like how the two versions of myself have merged.
When I graduated college, I really believed that I was on the path to a huge career. Early on in our marriage, Lee and I sat down and wrote out a list of 100 dreams – because those are things you do when you’re young and married and feel certain that the world is yours for the taking.
My list included such items as:
“Backpack across Europe with Lee” (should’ve taken care of that one before kids came along…)
“Go on an Alaskan Cruise” (should’ve done that when we had income to spare, and practically no bills, and no kids…)
“Own a boat” (we’ve learned it’s much better to be friends with people who own boats…)
“Have 4 kids” (hey look! dreams do come true!)
There were also a lot of ridiculous things on the list – things like, “Be in a commercial, live in the Bahamas for a year, and own an island.” You know, like I actually wanted to buy an island.
It’s actually really hard to come up with 100 dreams if you think about it, and for good reason.
This life is so much more than simply living out our wildest dreams. That’s not to say I’m against dreaming. But when you set a task for yourself to write down 100 dreams?
You’re bound to let yourself down.
My career dreams were even more ambitious than my life dreams. I wanted to write and publish ten books and be on the New York Times Bestseller List before age 30 (again, I may have wanted to edit this list when kids started showing up at age 25).
I was going to do all this with my perfect, angelic children by my side. And somehow my life would be spotless and easy throughout the process.
In short, I believed the biggest lie sold to women of my generation – the lie that said we could do, and have, it all.
I watched this video today, and I found myself nodding so ferociously that I thought I would get whiplash. It’s time more women stood up and acknowledged that having it all is just a myth.
I loved when Ally said, “You may have it all, but it will be in different season.”
Ladies – Moms – Life is messy beautiful. Motherhood is messy beautiful. Careers are messy beautiful. Marriage is messy beautiful. But you know what? Dreams are simply beautiful.
When we dream, we don’t see the messy. We only see the beautiful. And then the messy shows up, and the dream gets muddy, and we miss the beauty, and we wonder why it’s so hard to do all the things we dream of doing.
That’s because we can’t do it all – not all at the same time.
Everything we do – every choice we make – will require sacrifice. Motherhood will require a sacrifice of time, of brain power, of focus, of sanity. In the early seasons of motherhood, that sacrifice will be huge. But as your children grow, the sacrifice lessens to a degree, leaving space for new experiences.
Chasing a career will require sacrifice. It will require a sacrifice of time, of brain power, of the freedom to get up and go. And if you’re pursuing a career with young children at home, that sacrifice will be greater for a time. But as your children grow, the sacrifice lessens to a degree.
Do you see a pattern?
We can’t have it all at once, ladies. And if someone tries to convince you that you can, you should kick her in the shins and flee.
Make no mistake, that woman you’re watching – the one that you think has it all and balances it so perfectly – is making a sacrifice. She is sacrificing something, and that’s okay. We can’t judge one another, because we’re all doing it. We’re all sacrificing in some area of life so that we can provide in another area of life.
That’s what makes womanhood, motherhood, life in general, so beautiful. And so very messy.
So can you have it all? No, you simply can’t. Not all at the same time. But string the years together and walk faithfully toward the things set before you in each moment, and you just might be surprised when you get to the end and look back and see that you had a great many things.
You may even see that dreams you never dared to dream came true.