Build Your Dreams One Bite At a Time

A few weeks ago (Aug. 19th, 2019), my brother asked me to help him with an English assignment. I explained this more in my first article, “A Word For the Young and Young of Heart,” and in the second, “Identifying Your Brightest Talents,” so if you missed out, it can’t hurt to go back. His teacher gave him four questions that he had to pose to two people and then write a response to each of their answers. I was thrilled to help him out because, well, writing about how great people are is kinda my thing. What he didn’t tell me was that the paper was supposed to be 2,000 words long- total… I sent him 4,000. Whoops… 

Week one, we explored the first question he sent me, “What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are?” I shared the answer I gave to him with all of you. I then shared a bit of encouragement that I wish someone had told me when I was a teenager. Week two’s question was, “how do you think I can use my talents in a meaningful way?” For this one, we looked more at you, the reader, and walked through an exercise that I hope helped a few of you to become a little better intuned with your deepest passions and got you thinking about how to do something exciting with them. This week, we’re going to recall those passions and break them up into digestible pieces. Week four is when we’ll get into a more goal-oriented mindset, so make sure to check back next Monday (Sept. 16th, 2019). 

3. How do you see me contributing to the world in the future?
Whether you decide to pursue a path in video games or change course and go develop the next hot app, or completely shock me and get into plumbing, I know that you’ll be amazing. I bet, by the time you hit your career’s peak, tens of thousands of people will know your name, if not hundreds of thousands. Heck, maybe one day I’ll be the one writing the scripts for the games that you develop, and between the two of us, we’ll become more famous than J.K.Rowling. A girl can dream. 

When answering this question for my brother, I took a very straightforward approach. Now, several weeks later and after beating my head against this prompt trying to understand how to make it appeal to a broader audience than just my family, I decided to shift my perspective on this question. Let’s look closely at the “How” at the beginning of the sentence. I’m going to use my own goals as an example because they are the ones I’ve put the most research into and can, therefore, write about with more ease (given as I’m writing this the day before my deadline). 

I want to be a published writer, and I see myself contributing my works to the world and, hopefully, making a positive impact on how people view themselves and others, but how am I going to go about doing that? I’m going to take some advice from my girl, Rachel Hollis and her newest book, Girl, Stop Apologizing. In one of these many influential and inspiring chapters, Rachel talks about starting with the dream and taking one step at a time backward from there. 

This means if I want to be a successful and published author, my first step is, obviously, to get published. What do I need to do to get published? Well, this is a question that can be dumped into the search engine of your choosing, and the answers will be endless. For the sake of ease, let’s say I can either self-publish, which has a lower impact and lower chance of reaching the level of audience that I want, or I can find a publisher willing to pick up my as-of-yet unwritten novel. Choosing a publisher is the best bet for the goals I have in mind. So, on to the next question for the search engine – how do I get a publisher? First, I need to write a query letter. A query letter is basically a written, and formal sales pitch from you to the publisher that you have to make sure stands out above all the thousands of other pitches they receive every day of the week. Basically, it needs to be a diamond in the rough, so no pressure or anything. 

Another action one can take to help be noticed in the query letter is to be already published. I know, I know, it seems counter-intuitive, but there are ways of meeting this prerequisite. One could submit short stories or poems to literary magazines and cross their fingers and say a silent prayer until someone finally bites. Once that story is published, rinse and repeat until you have a decent portfolio. One could also amass an internet following through a successful blog (*hint, hint*). Anything you can do to earn a little fame going into the pitch. Oh yeah, and having a degree in some sort of English field helps too.

Circle this all back around, and you have where I am currently standing in my life: an aspiring writer, trying to hold herself to blog goals and deadlines. Adjusting to deadlines after never having placed any on yourself is way harder than all the self-help guru’s make it sound. On top of this, I’m also having to keep up with college life after eight years of being away from the school scene in the hopes of at least getting an AA degree so that I can say, “I gave it the old college try.” Yeah, I hated me for that joke too. 

So where is the relevance to you in all this jabbering? My point with this example is that it can help if you unpack your dreams the way I did and reverse engineer them. If you take this vast, explosively overwhelming dream that you have for your life and break it down into bite-sized pieces, it suddenly doesn’t seem so hard. I have also heard it phrased as, “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” If we learn to look at our goals as bites instead of the unreachable impossible, they suddenly start to seem less daunting. It’s not like anyone told you that you had to eat the whole elephant in one day! There is a reason they are called “life goals,” because it’s supposed to take you a lifetime to perfect and achieve them! You have more time to make these dreams a reality than you think you do. Breath, slow it down, and for the love of all that is good and beautiful in this world, enjoy the journey!

Again, good luck with those dreams. I hope this helped you start thinking about the stages of goal setting because next week we’re going to revisit the sage advice of my girl Rachel and set step-by-step goals for getting through each of those tiny bites in next week’s fourth and final question. Hope to see you there!

Next Week’s Question:  What advice would you give to help me achieve these goals?

Identifying Your Brightest Talents

A few weeks ago (Aug. 19th, 2019), my brother asked me to help him with an English assignment. I explained this more in last weeks article, “A Word For the Young and Young of Heart,” so if you missed out, can’t hurt to go back, though it’s not really necessary. His teacher gave him four questions that he had to pose to two people and then write a response to each of their answers. I was overjoyed to help him out because, of course, I was. What he didn’t tell me was that the paper was supposed to be 2,000 words long- total… I sent him 4,000. 

Last week we explored the first question he sent me, “What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are?” I shared the answer I gave to him and then shared a bit of encouragement that I wish someone had shared with me when I was a teenager. This week, we’re going to look at how to identify your talents and embrace them.

Question 2: How do you think I can use my talents in a meaningful way

This one is a very personal question. For my brother, I focused on his love and interest in computer programing, though my response still feels inadequate. Only we can know our real strengths. Only we know what talents and dreams whisper to us and call to us. I’ve been begging my brother to hang out with me so that I could explore this question with him in greater detail, but, naturally, he’s avoiding me at every turn (don’t forget, he’s sixteen. He’s allowed to get away with that and not hurt people’s feelings too bad). Since he’s decided to treat me like a violently contagious disease, I again focused on his love for gaming. It was vague, but I’m sure it’s still more than what 90% of the other kids got, so I feel good about it. Here’s what I said:

I think, if you follow this interest in gaming and programming that you can turn your gamer passion into a very profitable career. Computers are the future, and programming is the new global industry. Programmers aren’t just making video games, but security systems, mods, self-checkout registers, self-driving cars, Siri, Bixby, Alexa. You name it, and your future becomes endless. Follow your dreams, and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, you are going to leave your digital footprint all across the globe.

When I was in high school, my strengths were already readily apparent, I just hadn’t yet come to embrace them as the things that would define me in work as well as in my social circles. I was extraverted and therefore, always ready to engage in meaningful conversation. The stories of people’s lives have always fascinated and inspired me and my fiction. I have been utterly obsessed with storytelling since I learned to write, if not sooner, and wrote bits of fiction every time an excuse arose. I also had this deep-seated desire to paint pictures, even though I was shite with traditional media. 

I wish someone could have swooped in back then and given it to me straight, “Look, girl. You’re great with people. Quit wondering about what mainstream profession you’re going to pick up, and embrace the fact that you were born a saleswoman. The wealthiest men alive are businessmen, not doctors, so stick that to your family when they start in on you for being aimless. Next, you’re a writer. You always have been, you always will be. Now go paint your pictures with words and put down the acrylic, okay? You’re embarrassing yourself, and most importantly, you’re embarrassing me, so just let it go, okay?”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have this magical spirit guide to point this all out to me, and my family was hardly better. I suppose I grew up with a sense that my passions were “sweet,” or “endearing,” or “a phase,” that I would grow out of before I stepped into my true calling of being a doctor or an engineer or an accountant. Something respectable like that. No one ever sat down with me and asked what it is at this very point in my life that I love pouring my energy into, what gets me fired up and what do I genuinely get excited about and engaged in. No one ever made me take a pause nor asked, “What would your life look like if you turned that fire into a profession?” 

So, I’m going to ask you now. Stop what you’re doing (okay, finish this paragraph, then stop), close your eyes, and ask yourself these questions. What are the things in your life that set you on fire? Do you love hanging out with the guys or the girls and having drinks while swapping stories? Have you always longed to travel? Have you always burned at the thought of learning a new language? Do you love making things with your own hands? The list goes on, but you see where I’m going with this. Now, take those things, because I assume there isn’t just one, and visualize doing those things. 

Focus on your emotions right now. Are you happy? Is your heart racing with excitement? Now, imagine someone who does what you were just envisioning for a living. What do they do? Are they a developer? Maybe that person was a therapist or a child’s counselor. Perhaps they were running an Etsy shop from their home, or giving motivational speeches in front of a crowd?

Can you see this person clearly? Are they using one of your passions, or juggling many? Now, I want you to suddenly realize that this person has been you all along. Focus on this feeling. Let it wash over you. Amazing right?

Now, I can go on for another 400 or more pages about how to achieve these goals and make roadmaps, but let’s save that for some other time. For now, bask in the glory of this visualization. You were always meant to be more than the person you are today. Never forget that the only limits to your success are the ones you choose to place or yourself.

For now, good luck, and never stop dreaming.

Next Week’s Question: How do you see me contributing to the world in the future.

A Word For the Young and Young of Heart

Last Monday, my little brother asked me to help him with an assignment in his English class. I was so excited by his project and impressed with the finished work that I had to share it. Whether or not the final product was worth the level of self-importance I felt after completing my responses is neither here nor there. This feeling is what makes writing worth embracing, and it’s so exhilarating that it seemed selfish not to attempt to share it with all of you, so here it goes.

Before we continue, there are two things you need to know about my brother and I. The first being that he and I are twelve years apart in age. This means I spent the larger part of his life hating and resenting his very existence due to zero fault of his own. The second is that I have spent the last four years of my life absolutely adoring everything about that kid. You guys remember that little dog from the cartoons that always bounced around that bulldog who barely seemed to notice his existence? Yeah, that’s me around my brother, and it will continue to be me until the day he finally breaks down and agrees to be my best friend. The most significant event that brought about this change for me was getting away from my childhood home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom to pieces, but that lady craves destructive energies the way a zombie craves brains. Pinning my brother and me against each other was just one of the many ways she satisfied her drama quota.

I don’t have a lot of details surrounding the assignment my brother sent me, because it was all through a text, but it involved four “simple” questions. In fact, my brother’s exact words were:

“Hey Ashley i have some questions to ask you it’s just 4 questions and you don’t have to spend hours on it it’s for my english class.”

Oh, my dear, sweet, naive baby brother. You absolutely know that I don’t need hours to make this into a full-length novel. I am presently grinning a devious little smile as I imagine how priceless his teenaged reaction must have been to the two-page self-help novel I sent him via email. *Note: I have since been informed by my mother that the total word count, including his response, was to be 2,000 words. I sent him 4,000.

So, since my answers were long, and because I had so much more to say, I have decided to break the questions up over four weeks for a little #MondayMotivation. I also feel that these questions are a valuable exercise to perform with any minors in your life. It also seems beneficial for anyone you know who is struggling to find purpose or meaning in this hectic world, or even as a couple’s exercise. It’s always a shocking and refreshing thing to realize that other people see us. That they acknowledge and value our strengths, and recognize, as well as accept our weaknesses. Many times, the people around us see our potential a lot more clearly than we see it ourselves, and it can be really beneficial to have it pointed out. I highly encourage you to use these questions with the ones you love and see how it might impact them positively and encouragingly.

Question 1: What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are?

For my brother, I chose video games as his strength and his weakness. Here is what I wrote to him: 

Your strengths and your weaknesses are one and the same: video games. While some people complain and criticize the fact that you stay home all day playing video games, I see this as a lesser of potential evils. It is unfortunate that you are not getting the positive experiences that come with venturing beyond the home ( e.g., a taste for independence/ a chance to discover who you are separate from a parental figure/ the ability to make mistakes that turn into character-building lessons/ develope elevated social skills/ etc.). However, it does also mean that you are not experimenting with the life-ruining experiences that many youths your age choose to partake in. Many sixteen-year-olds in America are experimenting with hard drugs, entering into gangs, engaging in turf wars, having babies before they are old enough to understand what a mortgage is, and so much more. You have avoided this lifestyle by choosing safe, docile friends who would rather ignore the peer pressure of the world and unwind with some hard-core gaming. I’m sure, if you wanted to, you would have been more-than-capable of finding a “bad crowd” to fall in with. Instead, you chose a path that merely delays your social development until a time when you decide it’s of value to you. It will be hard, and not fun to play catch-up later, but it’s most certainly possible. I can attest to that. 

When I was his age – well, firstly, when I was his age, I was a punk-ass goth kid. Aside from that, I was a really good kid. I hung out with my friends. I wore all black. I cussed every third word. I wrote a lot of fantasy stories with vampires and werewolves that I’m ashamed to recall (because the writing was dreadful). I flirted with boys that I was too shy to do anything more than kiss, and even that I was probably too shy to pursue. 

I didn’t have my first alcoholic drink until my 21st birthday. I never in my life have dabbled in any kind of drugs, not even so much as a single puff on a joint (unbelievable, I know). I never had suicidal tendencies nor took up cutting, as a few of my friends had when the depression became too much to bear. I have never knowingly in my life committed a crime- and listen, stealing pattern blocks in Kindergarten doesn’t count. I had no idea what theft was back then, and I needed to show them to my mom so she would understand what I was so excited about every day!

All that said, I did miss out on a lot of learning opportunities. Our teenage years are a time when we are supposed to build a mental separation between our parents and us. Between who we’ve been told to be and who we actually are meant to be. It’s a time to make really stupid mistakes and to learn what doesn’t fit well with who we are becoming. It’s also a perfect time to get out all those really bad ideas so that they don’t sneak up on us later in life when they can cause more lasting hardships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying go out there, give yourself alcohol poisoning while snorting cocaine and waking up in a jail cell, but I am saying that it’s okay to live a little and go enjoy your last hurrahs as a kid! Go loiter in front of a sign that says “no loitering” or drink a soda while driving past a sign that says “don’t drink and drive,” or zoom by on a skateboard in a shopping center that says “no skateboarding,” you know, annoying things that don’t hurt anyone.

One of the lasting hurts of my teen years, one I still find myself subconsciously seeking validation for, is that I could have been worse, and not a single adult acknowledged that. With the exception of my therapist, whom I love dearly (obvs), the only feedback I received was from everyone that was going to “pray” for me, and how “shameful” it was that I wore black clothes and dabbled in the “devil’s lore” (vampires, werewolves, Harry Potter, anything popular that came out of Japan, etc.). I also was really into video games, though, granted, not as heavily as my brother. In spite of all the criticism, harsh looks at church and strangers hands on my arm as they told me, “The devil- is bad,” (No- seriously. That actually happened) I knew that I was a good kid, and I knew how much worse off I could be. Hell, I knew how much worse all my friends were! I simply chose not to tag along to all their after-school parties nor partook in their questionable pastimes. In retrospect, they must have been good friends, because they all loved me despite that, and never pressured me. They simply respected that I didn’t care for drugs and alcohol. 

My point here is that it’s important for my brother, and anyone who feels unheard, unseen, and unappreciated, to hear the words that I craved all through my high school years. Those words, are this: You are a good kid, whether you’re 10-years-old, or 100-years-old and the choices you’re making now are not going to ruin your life unless you decide they are. They are going to give you different experiences from everyone else’s unrealistic ideas of who you should be, and that’s absolutely, and unquestionably okay. Keep up the good work, and just be as aware as you can of the experiences you’re giving up as you continue to make the choices you are. If you don’t like something, or you’re depressed that you’re missing out on something, then it’s never too late to change it, and help will always be available to you as long as you’re determined to seek it.

Good luck, kiddos.

Next Week’s Question: How do you think I can use my talents in a meaningful way?