Follow your dreams, before it’s too late

Just today, I was having coffee with a friend of mine and we got onto the topic of just how important it is to do something you love. I mentioned that doing the ‘wrong’ thing, for me, led to chronic fatigue syndrome. And my life changed. Here is a piece I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 urging us all to try to find some space to do exactly what our soul calls us to do, before we’ve lost the chance.

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It’s 6.45 am, our toddler is in the bath and my laptop is perched on a sliver of the kitchen bench because, frankly, it looks like we had an out-of-control party here last night. Meanwhile, the dogs are trotting muddy paws across the floor, and my husband is nuzzling my neck.

If I died right now, I would actually die all over again of shame, knowing that someone would find me in this disaster. But then I’d get over the fact that the cat is eating out of the cereal bowl and there’s the smell of something rotting in the air, and I’d only be sorry I hadn’t got more books out into the world.

Because that is my calling in life: to write. It’s a calling I almost missed while I was busy leading the wrong life in the corporate jungle. But I didn’t truly start to listen to what I had to do until I had chronic fatigue syndrome and couldn’t work any more. Until the eczema spread all over my face and I couldn’t ignore it when I looked in the mirror.

So many women have amazing creative skills and yearn to leave their “day job” in favour of this passion. There’s a sadness that can’t be healed because that passion, that thing they want to do more than anything else, is also the thing that will, ultimately, make them happy.

I used to be one of those women, leaving for work and getting home in the dark, marching in silence with the hundreds of other rats racing through the tunnels on our way to the towers of soul-destroying “real work”, numbing ourselves with earphones in an attempt to ignore the fact that our true selves, our innate creative selves, were dying inside.

Some women love that life and if that’s you, I’m happy for you, truly. But for me, that life nearly destroyed me.

Unlike a virus that knocks you down for a few weeks before you start to recover, chronic fatigue doesn’t just get better. It takes time, lots of time, with an unknown finish date. Time I didn’t have. I had bills. I was a freelancer. I was a single woman. I was stuck in a horrible cycle of knowing that I needed to invest money in myself to get better, but not being able to make money to do that.

I accrued enormous debts, treading water until I could earn more money, believing one day I’d wake up and be better and everything would be fine. Eventually, I had to accept that I might not get better, that this might be as good as it got. And if that was the case then I had to start living the life that brought me joy.

It was like that saying – people work hard all their life to be wealthy, then retire and have to spend their money to save the health they ruined by working hard. Except I was only 29.

I made tough choices and changed lots of habits, not least of which was learning to accept myself rather than striving for (imagined) perfection. I had to learn to lower the bar. Do less. Expect less. Earn less. Work less. And then I had to start doing more of what truly nurtured my body and soul, even if it was by taking just one tiny step at a time.

Western medicine said it couldn’t offer me much, except perhaps for cortisone, which I didn’t feel was right. I couldn’t afford the plethora of complementary medicines being pitched my way. But I had to keep eating, so that was where I started – with food. Organic farmers’ markets became the place where I began to, finally, invest in myself.

None of these changes happened overnight. You can’t steer a ship in the wrong direction for 30 years and then expect it to turn on a dime. It’s an ongoing process.

We’re always waiting for the perfect time. And we bargain with ourselves by saying we’ll just be happy when we’ve paid off the bills, finished that degree, got that promotion, had three kids, got a cleaner, got a new car … whatever. And yet we all know the truth: there is only the now. And you can’t be temporarily unhappy to be happy.

Deep down we know this, yet we find myriad ways to delay our dreams. We think creativity is something separate from life. But it is life, not something you do for an hour on a Saturday afternoon. We’re running ourselves into the ground with pie charts and timetables and life coaches trying to find the work-life balance when there is no such thing. There is only life. And you only have one of those.

I want everyone to have what I have now – a career that fulfils me and financially supports me. One that gives me energy, not takes it away. I know that seems rare. But it doesn’t have to be. You can have that too. I honestly believe that. You just need to start and keep going. Don’t worry about how long it will take you, because you’ll still be the same age whether you do it or not. Don’t wait for the perfect time because that time is here, right now, messy kitchen and all.

A Writer’s Year Plan

It’s been a great year for me and it hasn’t been by accident. At the end of last year, I wrote down my reflections of the year, I pinpointed the things that went wrong and wrote strategies for how to avoid them or deal with them if it happened again. I wrote down all the great things that did happen and all the things I wanted to change. And I mapped it all out, both personally and professionally and then I executed it, month by month. And I did it all in Leonie Dawson’s Create Your Shining Year workbook.550x381_AffiliateGraphics_2016

You know how they always say that when you write something down it’s more likely to come true?

That is the value in year planning.

In my last post, I introduced you to the year planner that changed my life in 2015. In this post, I want to tell you about some of the things I wrote down in my year planner that came true, even when I thought they were just fanciful, fun dreams.

The funny thing about writing these things down was that, for the most part, I completely forgot about them. And then months later, when checking in, I stopped and went, wait a minute! I just did that! Better than that, often what I wrote down came true, yes, but in a way that was even BIGGER and BETTER than what I’d written.

Here’s some:

  1. Get new author pics. I was lining up a friend or my sister to do this for me and then about two weeks after I wrote this, my publisher emailed out of then blue me asking if Allen & Unwin could organise this for me, with a professional photographer and a makeup and hair person. Whoa! Yes please! Thank you, A&U, you are generous and wonderful and make me look much better than I feel.
  2. Do yoga. I wrote this down, thinking I’d like to do a class. But you know what? We did better. My husband and I decided we needed a private yoga teacher and it was possibly one of the best things we’ve ever done for ourselves.
  3. Fly to Sydney to see my publisher and agent (for no other reason than to see them). I did this and it was great not only to catch up when things weren’t so hectic but because EXTRA things came directly out of the fact that I did that: (1) totally unexpectedly, I was invited to submit a manuscript for a children’s book that I’d been scribbling away on; (2) I got a new title for my next book, The Beekeeper’s Secret (thanks, Tom); and (3) I booked a flight to the UK! (see next point)
  4. Fly to the UK. I did it! That one was totally a ‘wish list’/ ‘in your dreams’ thing and yet… it came true!
  5. Pay off the mortgage. Okay, this one was also an ‘in your dreams’ thing. But the thing with this one is that I didn’t specify which house to pay off. In my head, I was thinking our family home. But what has happened is that our beautiful tenant has left our other property (our family home before this one), so we put it on the market and we’ve just got a contract for it and that will pay it off. So it’s all good.

I also invested in my business systems.

  • I changed my focus from social media and began a quarterly newsletter, and when I mentioned it to my publishers, they offered to help out with some prizes for some issues. (Did I mention how great they are?)
  • I made a book trailer for The Chocolate Promise / The Chocolate Apothecary.
  • I got a personal assistant. This was also an ‘in your dreams’ thing (almost laughable). But guess what? I did it! Only for a couple of hours a week, sure. But it is a great move and I’m so pleased I’ve done it.
  • I invested a lot more time into my financial bookkeeping systems, spreadsheets of what contracts are where and when reporting periods happen, actually went and found all my contracts (I know, I know). In other words, I really took the legal/financial stuff a lot more seriously and set up processes to help manage the growing correspondence about this. (Truly, I’ve no idea how authors who have ten or twenty books all published in different regions and with translation rights keep on top of it all. But since I do hope that will be me one day, I guess it’s best I try to figure it out now.)

The other great thing that happens when you start writing down not only what you want to happen, but also what does happen, and what unplanned successes came along, is that you get into the FLOW of synchronicity and more and more good things come your way.

Great surprises and beautiful blessings for the year of 2015

  • A New York agent took on The Chocolate Promise and is hopeful of selling it.
  • I have contracts for The Chocolate Promise to be translated for the German market!
  • Kim Wilkins (Kimberley Freeman) gave the most beautiful speech about me and my book at the launch of The Chocolate Promise this year and it will stay in my heart forever.
  • I received an ABIA nomination for The Tea Chest and my publishers flew me to Sydney to attend the awards.
  • I got to take my sister, nephew and Dad with me to the UK, for fantastic family support on my research trip there. Lots of gorgeous memories were made and I even got to tick off another of my year’s ‘fanciful’ things to do… play Canasta!!! (We are Canasta tragics in our house and spent many hours laughing ourselves silly over the cards in the Cotswolds).
  • I have learned so much about myself as a writer, woman, mother, creative and human being this year (and I’ll get to another post about that soon).

Leonie Dawson’s 2016 Shining Year Workbooks  are on sale now but stocks are already running low. I cannot recommend them enough. You can choose just the personal life book, or the business book, or both, and you can get them in digital and print copies. They are a small investment in what could be a huge return on your dreams.

Leonie’s books get right to the heart of what it means to live, of what it means to have a business (the big ‘why’ of why we do what we do), of what it means to be alive and have dreams, and then grounds that in real visionary activities. I can’t wait for mine to arrive and to dive into planning the next beautiful year of my life.

What if following your dreams causes pain?

This was an excellent question posed by a reader of my Dream time article in Sunday Life magazine last weekend.

images-3Opal from Twitter asked said, “I know someone who is so angry they can’t get £ for their passion. Bankrupt over it & dragged his kids all over the country chasing the dream for 20 years. When dreams hurt, I say stop!”

This comment had me thinking for a long time and I decided there was so much in it that I would need to write a whole post on it to reply.

So firstly, I have to say that of course I don’t know anything about the specifics of the person Opal is talking about so I am not making any comment there. And I also have to say, straight up, that if you have small children then your first priority, always, is their welfare, no arguments about it. So if your actions are hurting your children then yes, stop right now.

However, I feel there is always a way to nurture your dreams. Okay, you might not be able to pack up and head to New York or to live in an ashram. But you still have choices. And sometimes, especially when we have human responsibilities (like parenting, taking care of elderly parents and, in my case, a lifelong commitment to more than a dozen animals) that might slow the pace of our actions, but you can still chip away at your dreams one tiny drop in the vast ocean at a time.

I’d also like to suggest that this is closely related to another comment from a reader, this time from Owla on Twitter who asked, “Can we all earn from our passion thou? What about the crazy X factor ppl who want to be popstars?”

Great question. Obviously not every contestant on a talent show is going to win. This doesn’t mean they’re not meant to have a career in music or as a singer. Those careers take many forms and those dreams evolve over the years as we get to know ourselves. Putting yourself out there in a forum like that can be a really powerful life changing experience for many people, despite the fact that they may not make it past the first round. And that could even be the fact that they realise that particular career path is not for them. They may go home with an epiphany of another road to take, such as music for children, composing, leading a church choir, whatever.

I think the real key to all of this is to look for signs that you’re on the right path. If I look back over the twelve years I was writing seriously, and NOT making any money from my work, there were STILL signs that I was on the right path. Little moments here and there, little cracks in the chaos that shone through and said, there! Keep going! For me, if I am constantly banging my head on a wall until it bleeds and there are NO signs that the universe is supporting those attempts, then I need to bail on that pathway. (Again, it doesn’t mean the whole idea is wrong for me, just that chosen expression.)

A very simple example: When I start a new book, I ‘listen’ for the story that wants to be told. And I follow it for a while with research. And while I’m following that trail, I wait for signs that is the way to go. With my third foodie fiction novel (following the first book centred around tea and the second around chocolate), I was very interested in coffee for quite a while and did a lot of research. I was intellectually fascinated about the world trade and export and growing of coffee, the history of it in Australia, and all the cultural associations. But I had no fire for it. I didn’t have the passion in my belly that I would need to sustain it for years.

So I dropped it. Just like that. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be writing another novel. It means that story wasn’t the right one at that time.

Then I found my next subject and I began to see signs everywhere. I saw movies, pictures, events. I met a local primary producer who invited me (quite spontaneously, since we’d only been talking for a few minutes) to go to his place to see what he did. I looked on ebay for something totally unrelated and the first image that popped up with to do with my book. And I felt the fire–the heat in my belly that would sustain this book for its lifetime.

Opal and Owla, I hope some of this rambling is coming together for you as to my response to your excellent comments. We need to be wise to our journeys, to know the difference between struggle and pain, to watch for guidance to the next step forward that supports us and our loved ones.