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Helping others.

The other day I came across a piece of advice that moved me: 

Live your life with two hands outstretched. One, reaching for your next goal.
The other, pulling up people behind you.

At first, this reminded me of Crissy, a woman I met when I was sixteen years old and working at my first internship at an advertising agency. My job merely involved scanning images into the computer and mounting ad concepts onto presentation boards, but Crissy took it upon herself to be my mentor and teach me things about the business that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned. Years later, when it came time to pick a college major, her influence played a big role in my decision to study marketing. 

I’m also reminded of Mary, a writer I met last year at an author’s event, who’s been in the business for years and has a number of titles under her belt. Having only one book under mine, I was impressed by all that Mary had accomplished. She represented what I hoped to one day achieve. What impressed me even more, was the way she acknowledged my passion and took me under her wing. In the months that followed, she invited me to display at book festivals, got me involved with our regional publishers’ association, helped me brainstorm publicity ideas for Empty Arms, lent me research materials, offered me advice, and opened my eyes to a side of the business that I didn’t even know existed. 

Crissy and Mary are great examples of people who live with two hands outstretched. They reached for my hand and pulled me up, impacting my life more deeply than they know. And in the process, they’ve reminded me to extend my other hand too.

Who has pulled you up along the way?


Originally posted on December 13, 2010

On Saturday I met a young woman named Christina, who recently moved to Bethlehem from Italy. I was immediately fascinated by her story because I’ve always fantasized about one day doing the same thing…in reverse. Of course, I peppered her with questions about her journey: What made you decide to move here? Was it hard to leave your family and friends? What will you do for work? And the big one: weren’t you scared?

She smiled at all my questions and in her best English she replied, “I try not to overthink it. Living in the United States has always been a dream of mine, so I finally decided to move here and see what it’s like.”

I was stunned and inspired by her nonchalance. If I were in her shoes, I doubt I would have been as laid back. But her words reminded me how important it is to do the things we dream of and not over think them in the process. After all, it would’ve been pointless for Christina to do too much planning before her trip because she never would have been able to predict all the opportunities, people and experiences waiting for her here in Bethlehem.

We all have different journeys that we dream of taking, whether it’s relocating half-way around the world, changing careers, redefining our lifestyles or trying something new. The danger in overthinking the journey at hand is that all the unknowns can end up scaring us out of it altogether.

Like Christina, if we open ourselves to the experience and trust that we’ll find our way, we too can live our dreams with the freedom and flexibility to choose the path forward.

And really, what’s better than that?

Originally posted on October 30, 2009

Whenever I finish a book that I love, I scour the author’s bio trying to figure out what made him or her so amazing. I did this a few years ago when I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and, believe it or not, there was one line from her bio that I found so insprirational, I never forgot it: Elizabeth went to college in New York City in the early 1990s, and spent the years after college traveling around the country and the world, working odd jobs, writing short stories and essentially creating what she has referred to as her own MFA program.

From the second I read it, I fell in love with the idea of creating your own MFA program based on your life’s experiences. It got me thinking about self-education and how important it can be as we pursue our dreams. Too often people let fears of inadequacy and education scare them into believing that they need to invest their time and money into one expensive degree after the next in order to achieve their dreams. But in many cases, this is just an avoidance tactic that people use to delay taking action.

The concept of self-directed learning, or autodidacticism, is by no means new. In fact, some of the most influential people of the ages – Socrates, Descartes, Benjamin Franklin, George Bernard Shaw, Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, and Malcolm X – were autodidacts. Some were thrust into it because they couldn’t afford a formal education and others happened into it accidentally.

Business philosopher, Jim Rohn, says, ”Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”

Don’t believe him? Check out this list of some other self-taught legends:

  • Musician David Bowie
  • Magic duo Penn and Teller
  • Filmmakers James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, and Steven Soderbergh
  • Musician Frank Zappa
  • Author Terry Pratchett
  • Poet William Blake

Even author Mark Twain is known to have said: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Please understand that my purpose here is not downplay formal degree programs, just to remind you of the merits of self-education. As Elizabeth Gilbert and countless others have proven, self-directed learning can go a long way in helping you acquire the skills, knowledge and experience you need to follow your dreams.

So I ask you, what does your MFA program look like?

Originally posted on August 13, 2009

What does it take to be great? Why do some people seem to rocket to the top of their fields while others never make it beyond mediocrity? It may seem like greatness happens by chance – some reach it while others don’t – but the truth is, there’s a method to greatness. Whether you dream of becoming an entrepreneur, a doctor, an artist, a writer or an athlete, you can achieve greatness by following these four steps:

  1. Observe. Study those who have gone before you. In business school, we examined hundreds of case studies from Harvard Business Review. Doctors follow the leaders in their field. Artists study the masters. Writers examine the classics. Athletes follow the pros.
  2. Analyze. Dissect the greats. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? How did they get to where they are? When you understand these elements, your own formula for success will begin to reveal itself.
  3. Emulate. Build a solid foundation by honing the same skills and traits that helped others reach greatness.
  4. Personalize. Once you get the hang of the basics, add your own unique flavor. Find your own voice, style or brand of humor and bring originality to the profession you’re pursuing. The world doesn’t need another Oprah, Madonna or Shaq, we’ve got them…now we need you!

“I am always doing that which I cannot do,
in order that I may learn how to do it.” 

~Pablo Picasso

Believe it or not, Beyond the Gray is coming up on its THIRD anniversary! (I know, I can’t believe it either!) I originally started this blog to declare my writing dream to the world, hold myself accountable to my publication goals, share my work with readers, and inspire others to follow their dreams. The cool thing is, this blog has helped me accomplish all of that and more. So, while I’m away on vacation this week, I thought I’d do a little rewind and re-post some earlier entries as motivation for those of you who are new here and as a reminder for those of you who aren’t.

Without further ado, today’s rewind is…

Are You a Dreamer or a Doer?

Originally posted on July 24, 2009

  • Is your dream a priority in your life?
  • Do you do at least one thing everyday to work towards it?
  • Can you feel yourself inching closer to accomplishing what you want?
  • Do you have a clear picture of where you want to be in six months? A year? Two years?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, you may be a dreamer, not a doer.

It’s one thing to have dreams, most people do. But it’s another thing to be a dreamer. The difference between the two is action. Your dreams won’t accomplish themselves and no one is out there waiting to discover you. The only person responsible for making your dreams come true is YOU. So if you have a dream, here are three easy steps you can take today to begin working towards it:

  1. Write down your dream on a piece of paper.
  2. Identify three key goals you would need to accomplish in order to reach your dream.
  3. Break down those three goals into a series of smaller goals and tasks and do at least one of them. Tomorrow do another. And the day after that…another.

Every action you take and each task you accomplish is a small victory within itself because it puts you one step closer to where you want to be. Often times, dreams can seem so big that they feel impossible and out of reach. But everyone who’s living their dream has started exactly where you will: square one. Think about it, for every best-selling author there was the first word; for every rock star, the first note; for every race car driver, the first time behind the wheel; for every professional skier, the first run.

Everybody starts somewhere. Where will you?

I posted this nearly 3 years ago, just after I had made the life-changing decision to follow my writing dream and pursue publication. I’ve literally been following the above three steps every day for seven years now. Looking back, it’s amazing to see my transformation from frightened, insecure, wannabe writer to published author and award-winning blogger. It’s proved to me that even though my head is filled with dreams, ultimately I am a doer.