Put Your Passion to Work

 11-23 One to Grow On

You may have heard exhortations to follow your passion to guide decisions about the type of job to pursue and even the organization with which to work. This advice is well-intended but at the same time can be misleading, if not dangerous. Finding a job that relates to your passion sounds like a dream come true. After all, if you do something you love it may not feel like work, right? Oprah Winfrey said “do what you love and the money will follow.” If that is true, scores of people should turn in their resignation today from the job that drains energy and enthusiasm from them and do work aligned with their passion. Yet, we know that is not going to happen. Why?

The Role of Passion

Passion has connotations with eliciting strong emotional responses such as excitement or love. However, the origin of the word passion can be traced to the Latin “pasi” which means “to suffer.” Whoa! Does this mean you should be searching for a job or employer that will make you suffer? Of course not- a deeper interpretation of passion is that it is linked to something for which you are willing to invest heavily- time, effort, and yes, suffer through occasional adversity and disappointment. But, because of the intense emotional connection you have with something for which you are passionate you will go through tough times to enjoy the pleasure and satisfaction derived from the endeavor.

Think of passion as the fuel for your purpose. Your values and motivation are energized when connected with passion. In the context of personal branding, passion can be defined as the sources of happiness that energize the work you do. The impact of passion is not limited to work you do through carrying out job duties- it is evident in the volunteer work you perform, conversation topics in which you engage on social media, and the hobbies or outside interests you enjoy. All of these non-job aspects of your life play a part in defining your personal brand. Thus, recognizing your passion is vital to personal branding success. The challenge is how to channel passion to strengthen your personal brand while enjoying the synergy of a career in which your passion figures prominently in your work.

Passion First

If you subscribe to Seth Godin’s view that passion should guide your work, a great deal of anxiety can be eliminated. Rather than seeking a job that is a match with your passion, look for opportunities to allow your passion to be introduced into your work. For example, if you love writing poetry but come to the conclusion that you cannot earn an income to meet your financial needs as a poet, do not stop writing poetry. Instead, look for ways to inject your gift for creative writing into a job in which that skill is valued. Similarly, if you find fulfillment in crafting objects out of wood, put the ability to make a useful object from raw materials to work in other contexts such as product design.

Take the Easy Route

Perhaps the most compelling reason to follow the advice of transferring your passion to your job is that it is easier than the alternative. It is much easier to energize your work with passion that flows from your purpose rather than shopping around for a job comprised of tasks that are a match with your passion. Put your passion to work… whatever your work might be.

Whose Life Is It Anyway When Serving Others?

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Sign the form. Reply to the email. Approve the request. Take the meeting. Answer a question. Listen to a rant. Deal with a problem. I could go on, but you get the picture. A day in the life of a role in which others count on you requires complete attention to their needs. That focus could require your own needs, goals, and priorities be tabled in order to serve others. A shift in my job responsibilities had led me to reflect on just how I should approach my new leadership role. The above quote from Albert Einstein is an idea upon which I will focus this week to give clarity to what can be a frenzy when serving others.

Shift Value Perceptions

Do we tend to be selfish by nature? As I read over the list of ways others seek my time I cannot help but think about how it takes away from my time- the reading I want to do, social media interaction that has to wait, and writing that becomes less frequent than hoped. I want my life back to do the things want to do!

At the same time, a huge red flag is raised when I encounter complaints that include frequent mentions of “my,” “me,” or “mine.” That skepticism extends to my own language. I realize I need to reframe how I define value. It is not dependent on how much “me” time I get but rather the impact can I have on persons who depend on me- family, coworkers, and students, among others.

Kid’s Play

If you are put in a position of service to others, avoid the temptation to think about how to get out of the situation or what it would be like to not have those obligations. You are there because you are needed. Replace “obligations” with “opportunities” to clarify your purpose.

Einstein’s statement seems strong- is a life lived for others really the only way to attain a worthwhile life? As I reflect on some of the most meaningful experiences in my life, I realize the answer is “yes.” And, I can thank a group of four-year-old kids for one of the most poignant life lessons I had.

When my now 20-year-old son was four years-old, we signed him up for his first soccer team. I was excited when the phone rang and the league president was on the other end of the line, calling to tell me about Sidney’s team. He told me that there was no coach for Sidney’s team, and if a coach could not be found… there would be no team. You can probably guess who became coach. My qualifications were puny. Although I am a lifelong sports fan I never played soccer nor knew nothing about it.

I not only got through the season, the joy those kids experienced playing soccer gave me more joy than they will ever know. It would have been easy to say “I can’t do that,” but it would have denied me the opportunity to stretch my comfort zone and the resulting thrills of coaching a youth soccer team.

Grow Up, not Give Up

This week, embrace the possibilities for growth by looking for ways to live life for others. What you are most likely giving up, your “me time,” is limited in impact compared to the difference you can make in the life of others.

Be Thankful for Your Critics

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Here’s a sobering thought to begin your week: People dislike what you do, how you do it, or why you do it. Your work is not done the way they would do things. Fortunately, not everyone around you falls into this category. The reality is you have detractors. It can be comforting to remember the words of Zig Ziglar who said “There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.” However, Ziglar’s statement is not our revenge against critics. In fact, you should embrace criticism and use it as fuel to energize your personal brand.

Why You Have Critics

If facing criticism is a given, then it can be helpful to understand its sources, or why you face criticism of your work. Among the possible reasons are:

  • Different approach- Your way of doing is different- not wrong- just different from how others would perform in a similar situation.
  • Envy- You are doing something others want to do but are unwilling to attempt.
  • Spite- Some of your detractors simply want you to fail; better you than them in their minds.
  • Encouragement- Some criticism is actually constructive; following it will serve you well.

It is tempting to dismiss critics and criticism for the first three reasons cited above. Recognizing when criticism is a form of encouragement to improve makes it worthwhile to process all criticism directed at you.

A Different Take on Criticism

Rather than allowing criticism to deflate you or hurt your feelings, resolve to make criticism work for you. For each of the reasons for criticism identified earlier, translate the criticism into how it can help you grow:

  • Different approach- In many situations, there is more than one right way to do things or reach an end goal. Be receptive to the ideas and experiences of others.
  • Envy- Recognize that criticism driven by envy may be coming from someone who has never been in the situation you face. He or she does not fully understand your situation or the variables that influence your decisions or actions.
  • Spite- Accept that some people may want to see you fail and that their criticism is not input for improvement but piling on any time a perceived misstep or mistake happens.
  • Encouragement- This form of criticism should be welcomed and acknowledged. When someone offers constructive criticism, it is often coming from his or her own experience. The feedback given is an attempt to help you not make similar mistakes made when facing similar circumstances.

No Statues

There are no statues erected to honor a critic, nor are there statues erected to honor someone who puts down a critic. Be open to receiving criticism, process it to separate useful feedback from noise, and be thankful that some people care enough about your development to give input that could positively shape your brand.

Inferiority : A Self-Diagnosed Condition

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Do you struggle to make distinctions between optimism, pessimism, and realism? When it comes to your professional life, you want to subscribe to the “I can do anything” mindset but easily become defeated by setbacks, disappointments, and even failure. Negativity can put a damper on your quest to achieve, and “being real” often means you lower your sights for outcomes that may be attainable but are beneath your capabilities. What is the cause of this act of self-sabotage?

Inferiority Unleashed

This week’s One to Grow On quote is one of my favorite quotes because it reminds me I am in control of my thoughts. And, that reminder is needed frequently as we can be led to believe we are unworthy of being, doing, or having what we aspire to achieve. Do the following observations sound familiar?

  • I’m too young (or too old)
  • I don’t have enough money
  • I did not go to a prestigious college
  • I lack experience
  • What do I have to offer
  • Why would people want to connect with me?

 I’ll stop here as I realize the list could become very lengthy! But, you get the point- we can talk ourselves down a few rungs on the ladder, closer to the ground where it is “safer.” If safe is your goal, you are set. If growth and achievement are goals, you realize you are taking steps backward that put you farther away from where you aspire to be.

You Are in Charge

You may be risk averse by nature or concerned with how others perceive you and your capabilities. Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote serves as protection against others asserting themselves as being a cut above you (and thus you being inferior to them). Are there others around you superior in terms of experience, rank, status, or wealth? Absolutely! Does it mean you are inferior to them? Absolutely not! They differ from you because of different life circumstances and journeys. They are not better than you (nor you better than them); you are merely different. You are in charge of discerning between real and perceived gaps between you and others. Recognize that different perspectives or backgrounds is just that- different.

Do not mistake this call for self-assurance with arrogance or creating an inflated ego. Respect must be earned and value must be demonstrated, but the good news is both of those things can happen. Back up self-confidence with performance.

This Week

You will encounter people who appear to be unique, superior, or better than you. In turn, you may feel unworthy of being around them. You may even resent their position and perceived superiority over you. Don’t take it out on them as you are the one allowing yourself to feel inferior to them. Replace feelings of inferiority with recognition of differences, appreciating the opportunity to learn from those different than you (remember they are not superior). Most importantly, remember that no one can make you feel inferior unless you allow it… so don’t allow it.

Create Separation along the Extra Mile

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The news stopped me in my tracks. A very influential voice in my personal and professional development (and for thousands of others over the past forty years)) has been silenced. Dr. Wayne Dyer passed away over the weekend at age 75. He publicly acknowledged he was battling leukemia, but he never used his illness as an excuse to slow down or deviate from the message of body, mind, and spirit existing together in harmony.

Dr. Dyer’s work has touched me for the past twenty-five years, and it is only fitting that this One to Grow On post be a positive message from him.

The Journey of the Extra Mile

“Going the extra mile” is a timeless expression encouraging us to go beyond the minimum required to complete a task or meet a commitment. It is more than we have to do, but going the extra mile often delivers added benefit in the form of higher quality work or more meaningful service to others.

Buying into the idea of going the extra mile can be difficult sometimes. After all, it is extra- not traveling that last mile will not harm us, get us fired, or otherwise have negative effects. And, it is easy to not go the extra mile as we are adept at talking ourselves out of it. Perhaps we want to save gas (“I’m tired”). Or, we do not want to wear out the equipment, our mind and body, by delaying the journey (“Maybe I will do it tomorrow” or “No one else is doing it”).

Unfortunately, when we talk ourselves out of going the extra mile we can deny ourselves the joys and benefits of what we can experience once we have traveled it. It is highly unlikely that a family headed for a vacation at Walt Disney World would turn around and go home because of heavy traffic on the last mile to the front gate. Yet, when we talk ourselves out of going the extra mile we may be shutting out opportunities to meet interesting people, learn new skills, or gain valuable experience.

Eliminate the Extra Mile

So, how can you become a more seasoned traveler and make the journey of the extra mile? As I see it, there is no need to go the extra mile when it is not extra- it is simply part of the trip you take to the desired destination. For example, if you are in a position of serving other people you consistently treat them with respect, promptly resolve problems, and strive to be a valued resource. It is not extra; it’s part of your product design. However, it will look like you go the extra mile in the eyes of others who too often interact with people who slam the brakes before going one inch along the extra mile.

I am grateful for the encouragement of Dr. Wayne Dyer to go the extra mile and the many other words of wisdom he shared in his books and presentations. His physical presence has ceased to exist, but his influence will live on.

Don’t Wait for Permission

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A phrase that I heard in childhood that had a stickiness to it is “you are what you eat.” It was a message intended to influence dietary habits. Its significance was not as great when I first heard it in grade school as it is today when every extra calorie seems to linger as a vivid reminder of that statement.

A similar line of thought is found in this week’s One to Grow On quote from Brian Tracy as he suggests you are what you believe. What an empowering idea! You do not have to wait for permission from someone else to think or live your belief system… within limits, of course. I would not encourage my 15-year-old son to take this quote literally, for example. Similarly, you still follow norms and rules in the workplace and in the community. But, when it comes to making choices about your values and how to position your personal brand, it is unnecessary to have those decisions imposed on you.

From Amateur to Professional

Reading Brian Tracy’s quote reminded me of the inspirational story of Nancy Frates shared on the TED Radio Hour podcast recently. You may not recognize her name, but you surely have heard about a cause with which she is closely associated: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Nancy’s son, Pete, turned his ALS diagnosis at age 27 into a force for change by enlisting family members to help raise money for research to take on this horrible disease. There was only one problem- Nancy Frates knew nothing about the online communication channels crucial to the success of her son’s ambitions. Nancy did not even have a Facebook page, but she did not let her limitations be an obstacle nor did she wait for someone to grant permission via training or a degree to begin using social media in pursuit her family’s philanthropic goals. Nancy just did it, and the efforts of the Frates family have been instrumental in raising more than $115 million for ALS research. You can see Nancy Frates’s inspirational Ted Talk below.

Believe and Act in Order to Be

Thankfully, Nancy Frates did not do things by the book. If she had, she would have not taken the leap to the epicenter of her son’s crusade to fight a disease that is slowly taking him away from her. She did not have the preparation to take on the role of nonprofit marketer, but the lack of credentials did not dissuade her from pursuing what became a family priority overnight.

“Whatever you believe with feeling becomes your reality” should be amended to “whatever you believe and do with feeling becomes your reality.” The proper mindset is a necessary starting point in order to grow, but belief is not enough. For example, many people may claim to be a writer/author (belief), but they do not practice a daily discipline of writing in which many professional writers engage. The difference is in the actions- one believes it, the other believes and acts on those beliefs. Complement beliefs with actions to achieve the reality you desire.

Be a Genius- Be Adaptable to Change

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Change is a dominant theme for me this time of year. As an educator, August has as much significance for ringing in a new year as January does for most people. A new beginning in the form of meeting new students, teaching new classes perhaps, and implementing new initiatives or policies are part of the way of life in academia. And, change brought about by a new school year impacts anyone with school age children. Kids make new friends, meet new teachers, and even find themselves in a strange place if they are in a new school. The adage “the only constant is change” is evident this time of year.

Change is Tough

Change may be prevalent when you embark on a new year, endeavor, or project, but just because it is expected or common does not mean it is easy to handle. Change is not only hard to handle, it is too much for some people to deal with. The result is they do not adapt to change and struggle to keep up as the world moves forward without their buy in. Why is change difficult to embrace? Three barriers to embracing change are:

  1. Disturbs our comfort zone. Change can elicit a negative response because it is just that- change. We have to do think or act differently than normal, and normal may suit us just fine. We have a comfort zone in which we exist and operate. It is called a comfort zone for a reason- it is comfortable! But, comfort and growth are often incompatible conditions. The photo below was taken at Middle Tennessee State University’s commencement ceremony recently. The message is powerful. I hope a lot of graduates were able to see that message!
comfort zone
Photo Credit: MTSU
  1. What if I fail? Related to the notion of upsetting our comfort zone is that change brings risk that we are subjected to if we fail in adapting to change. Could you get fired if you do not meet expectations in a new position? Yes. Could you go bankrupt if your business venture flops? Yes. Could you stub your toe when you walk across the room to sit on your sofa to spend an evening watching television? Yes. Risk is ever present, but it should not keep us from doing something that we need or want to do.
  2. What if I succeed? This barrier might seem odd given that the objective for trying something new is to succeed at it. If so, why would the possibility of success make us resistant to change? The answer goes back to the comfort zone in which we reside. Success in a new job might mean more responsibilities, greater demands on your time, and even travel that physically takes you out of your comfort zone. You may have heard the saying “be careful what you ask for- you might get it.” That sentiment applies here. Change can result in success that can bring about even more change that you must be prepared to handle.

Adapt to Change

This week’s One to Grow On quote spoke to me when I encountered it. I was not seeking out words of wisdom to deal with change; it fortuitously crossed my path. However, it could not have been timelier for me as a new academic year is around the corner, my department is going through a reorganization, and I have taken on a new role as interim department chair. Change is going to be a theme for me in 2015-2016, for sure! When change unfolds, we can try to resist it or modify it to suit our personal agenda, or we can embrace it and adapt so that we not only survive change but thrive from it.

I am not suggesting to blindly accept and go along with change when imposed upon you. In some instances, standing on principle and fighting for what you believe is the right thing to do must be done. But, do not confuse those behaviors with defensive responses that fall into the three areas described here. Consider Stephen Hawking’s words that infer a link between intelligence and adapting to change. How you approach dealing with change and leading or working with others through change can result in the impact on intelligence that Hawking suggests.

Avoiding the Double-Life Lie in Personal Branding

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One of the most daunting aspects of developing your personal brand is figuring out how to progress on the journey from where you are now to how you want to be perceived. This challenge can be further complicated by comparing our current state to others who have “arrived.” They have the success we aspire to attain, enjoy the benefits of position and influence that we long for, and in general have made it to where we believe we want to be. Looking to others as examples can be motivational, inspiring us to work harder and be more persistent. It can also be soul crushing, discouraging us because we cannot imagine ourselves worthy of the trappings of success.

Living an Illusion

Returning to the point about personal branding being daunting, comparing ourselves to others whose brands are far advanced in development can lead one to conclude that personal branding is an illusion. In other words, to become the brand we want to be and have, we must act differently than who we are. Could you imagine a product brand conducting business in this manner? A brand whose words and actions are inconsistent with how it sees itself is a recipe for failure. Branding is not a role play exercise, nor is it an endeavor in putting on a desirable face or appearance to please others. It is an ongoing management of your professional identity; there is no beginning or ending. Thus, you cannot engage in short-term behaviors that might serve your brand well but that are incompatible with how you see yourself.

Your Own Worst Enemy

As I reflect on the evolution of my brand, it is clear that one adversary stands above the rest in holding back my development: Me. Inconsistency between how I see myself and where I want to be often keeps me stuck right where I am. Perhaps you know that adversary, too. Fear, self-doubt, and lack of confidence can thwart well-conceived personal branding strategy faster than a weak economy, strong competition, or any other external force. The threat to our growth is looking at us in the mirror, becoming our own worst enemy.

Strive for Congruence

Take the One to Grow On quote personally this week- I am. Make it a point to achieve consistency between the personal and professional growth you desire and self-concept. Don’t let the “stinking thinking” that Zig Ziglar talked about (e.g., “I’m unsure if I can close this huge deal” or “I can’t be any more successful than where I am now”) drive a wedge between performance capabilities and the heights to which you want to take your personal brand.

One to Grow On: Content Creation with Purpose

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This week’s One to Grow On quote is more practical than philosophical, and it is advice anyone who is tasked with being creative on the job should take to heart. The source of this advice is someone who knows a thing or two about creating content. Ann Handley is a writer (author of Everybody Writes and co-author of Content Rules) and Chief Content Officer at Marketing Profs. In marketing, the shift toward content has been swift and dramatic. Brands and individuals alike recognize the benefits of leveraging content channels to build a community, educate customers, and yes, even generate revenue. Recognition of why you should be concerned with content creation is the easy part; implementing a system to plan, conceive, create, and distribute content is where most of us are baffled.

Start with Motivation

If you find yourself struggling to create content in any form (photos, video, blog entries, articles, social media posts), a logical question to ask is why do you want to create content in the first place? Perhaps your employment security depends on it, meaning that content creation is in your job description. While that is true for many people, even more people realize content could make their work more distinctive and make their personal brand stand out. Start with the why of content creation to make the what and how easier to answer. Consider these motives:

  • Create to help others. The best content is based on what recipients consider useful to them. Does you content solve problems? Teach a skill? Give people comfort? If you are driven by a desire to make a positive impact on those who consume your content, you will find instances of “writer’s block” or its equivalent diminishes as you are inspired to create content that benefits your audience. The information or education benefit for the audience could in turn become an economic benefit for you if people are moved to buy from you or your company based on the utility of your content.
  • Create to help yourself. A funny thing about content creation is that when you set out to help others, you often help yourself, too. For example, I began blogging in 2007 because… well, no particular reason. However, I soon discovered that the exercise of writing blog posts strengthened my writing and editing skills. My confidence increased the more engaged I was with the craft. Audience metrics? I did not look at them for years because blogging was more therapeutic and recreational than it was a commercial endeavor. I write for others’ consumption as well as my own release, and if the former does not occur the latter still does.

From Work to Want

Whether you are motivated to write to serve others or for self-fulfillment, you may still be challenged in finding how to put joy in creating content. Based on the external/internal motivations discussed earlier, joy in content creation can come from the following sources:

  • Being a resource. If you enjoy helping other people, consider how you can use content to make that happen. How-to videos, best practice articles, or step-by-step blog posts are examples of information that could benefit your audience.
  • Making a difference. You may go beyond merely providing helpful information to content that could be life changing in some way. An open discussion on a sensitive topic, being willing to be vulnerable and share your own stories of mistakes and redemption, or providing encouragement to people who need it could give wings to any content creator in search of ideas.

Regardless of the scope of impact you seek to achieve with your content, when you are driven by wanting to do something for someone else (educate, inform, or inspire) or for self-improvement your outlook changes from “have to” to “want to.”

Go Forth and Create

Online channels give everyone a voice today. You have a platform; the choice is yours whether you step up to the platform and use it. It is a privilege prior generations did not have as content creation and distribution was reserved for people who had access to mass media outlets- TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and books. The goal is not to become the next celebrity; it is to impact your network in a positive way.

One to Grow On: Eating Elephants

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Dreams are essential to our existence because they inspire us, breathing life into taking on new projects or forcing us to go beyond our comfort zone. We imagine possibilities for our life that stand to make us happier, wealthier, healthier, or wiser. Dreams can be the catalyst of growth, but our dreams can end up overwhelming us if we are apprehensive in pursuing them.

When Dreams Remain Dreams

A dream can be little more than an unfulfilled longing if not acted upon… and if we could stack all of the dreams left unacted upon they would likely touch the stars in the sky. If dreams reflect a wonderful state we would like to reach, why do they often go not only unfulfilled but untouched? Among the most common reasons that we fail to take action on our dreams are:

  • Fear. You may have heard that fear can be thought of as an acronym for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” In other words, most of the fears that we feel are not actual dangers or risk to us. But, if we perceive danger or risk it is real in our minds, and the antidote for our fears is to avoid whatever it is that causes them. “What if my business idea fails and I go broke?” “What happens if I apply for the promotion and get passed over?” Why would anyone want to invest in my venture?” These negative thoughts are dream killers, even if based on false evidence.
  • The wrong dream. Sometimes we never act on our dreams because the outcomes we want may be wrong for us or are based on someone else’s dream. When I was a young boy, I thought about becoming a lawyer when I grew up. The reason was that all of the lawyers in my small hometown seemed wealthy and successful to me. If I wanted to be wealthy and successful then being a lawyer would be the ticket, right? Thankfully, I was able to shake that dream on my own, recognizing it was not my dream but the dream of others. Unfortunately, too many people become lawyers, accountants, engineers, or some other professional because it was the dream of their parents or someone else influential in their lives.
  • Lack of an action plan. Even when you defeat fear and have the right dream, you could remain stuck in dream mode if you do not have an action plan to turn your dream into reality. In most cases, I don’t think it is laziness or indifference that is creates this roadblock to pursuing a dream. It is lack of understanding about the route to take to get there.

Small Steps on a Long Journey

The lack of an action plan to act on a dream could be due to fear or that the dream is not energizing because it is not our own. Often, lack of an action plan can be attributed to a simple reason: We have no idea where to start or how to plan. The task of moving from point A to point B seems overwhelming. Perhaps it is here that fear is fed and becomes a convenient reason why not to pursue a dream.

Rather than being overcome by the enormity of the requirements of fulfilling a dream, we should heed the advice of General Creighton Abrams. He (along with many other people) have used the illustration of eating an elephant one bite at a time to make the point that grand undertakings are completed through a series of small steps. Recently, I had a dream for a book I wanted to write to help people transform their personal brand over the course of a year. The challenge: Writing 52 essays, with each essay being 600-700 words, and write them by the end of October. It would have been easy to stop right there and blow off the dream as unattainable (I know that because I have done so many times in my life). Instead, I broke down the project to pinpoint the number of essays I would need to write each week to be finished by the target date. To my surprise, I realized the goal could be achieved if I stuck to the plan I devised. I am pleased to report that I met my writing goal for the first week. The feat must be repeated over the next twelve weeks, but the combination of having a plan and evidence that I can do it is energizing me to keep building momentum.

Are You Hungry?

This week, take General Abrams’s advice and eat the elephant that is your big dream or project one bite at a time. When you go to a restaurant and the server brings out a plate filled with generous portions, you probably don’t say “take it away- I can’t eat that much food.”  If you are like me, you dive in and take one bite at a time, enjoying the moment. Do the same to make your dream a reality.