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Learn from Barbara Sher, Barbara Winter, and me…


The Garden: Big Dreams Grow From Small Seeds

By Valerie Young

The analogy that perhaps best represents the process of changing course is that of a garden. Even the most die-hard city dwellers understand that there's no mystery to what makes a garden grow.

Wanting It With All Your Heart

Planting and maintaining a garden takes a lot of work. This is especially true if you've never done it before. Let's face it – it's a lot easier to complain about how your garden looks or to gaze longingly at other people's gardens than it is to dig in and do your own landscaping. That's why the first step in changing course is desire.

I'm not talking about wishing or hoping. I'm talking about a deep and insatiable longing for a more balanced, satisfying life doing work that feeds your soul. Without this profound hunger for a lasting change, you simply won't make the time to take even the smallest step to move beyond your current work-life landscape.

You'll know when desire hits because suddenly the idea of living the life you currently have and doing the work you're doing now is no longer an option. That's what happened for a delightful Texan named Linda. I checked in with Linda a few months after she'd returned home from the Making Dreams Happen ( retreat in Boulder, Colorado.

Had Linda created a web site, or designed business cards, or started putting money aside every week to help fund her dream? No. But still, something important was planted. "A door has been opened," said Linda, "so that possibilities can now come into my life. There's no question in my mind of getting there... it's now a matter of deciding how fast or slow." What Linda had planted were the potent seeds of desire.

Tend to the Soil

You don't get a lush, bountiful garden by staring out the window, wishing one would fall out of the sky. Similarly you don't tap into your calling, quit your job, and strike out to follow your bliss by sitting around hoping to win the lottery. Changing course, like planting a garden, takes a willingness to dig your hands in and make something happen.

There are many ways to tend to the soil. For starters, be kind to yourself, and your dreams, by tuning out distractions so your inner voice can be heard. Then, go often to the well of knowledge and information. Soak up everything there is to learn about starting a bed and breakfast, being a consultant, owning alpacas, getting paid to write or travel or create art, or whatever it is you'd love to be paid to do. Feed your dream of living a more purpose-filled life with regular doses of inspiration.

Plant the Tiniest of Seeds

The biggest plants began as tiny seeds. And so it is with dreams. It's all about small steps. There's no right or wrong way to plant a garden. If you already know what you want to do – great!

But what if you have no idea what you'd love to do? Just because you don't have a clear idea of what your garden will look like when it's done, doesn't mean you can't start planting seeds. The only way to get an idea of what excites you is to experiment. Read a book, take a class, talk to a stranger about his or her work... cast lots of random seeds out into the world and see what takes. You may be surprised at what pops up! The point is, don't fuss so much about how you plant your seeds that you end up planting nothing at all. Like any good action plan, your seeds will probably be planted neatly in a row, one seed after another.

Keep the Weeds Down

It's not always possible to actually "weed" people out of your life (you know how fussy loved ones can be when you disown them). You can, though, mentally root out the voices of those who belittle your dreams by making it a point to talk about anything and everything except your dreams. Reserve these conversations instead for people who understand and support your desire to change course.

Sometimes weeds come in the form of bad advice from ill-informed people who have never been self-employed a day in their life. Yet these same people are all too happy to share their "expert" advice on why your little business idea will never work. Despite the fact that your inner garden is dying a slow death, these nay sayers dispense fear-filled advice like, "What do you mean? You have a good job... you want to be happy too?"

Counteract this kind of "don't take chances" negativity by constantly reminding yourself of what you should really be afraid of... like living your entire life "in the weeds." If you really want to be scared, imagine what it will be like to look back at your life in ten or twenty or thirty years. Imagine nearing the end of your time here on the planet knowing that had you only let it, your life could have flourished beyond your wildest imagination. But it did not. Instead, reflect on the knowledge that you stood by as the weeds, and your own fear-filled lack of attention, choked out any chance of realizing the color, splendor, and bountiful abundance of a life well-lived.

Watch Patiently As Your Garden Grows

You can't rush your dreams any more than you can a garden. Some seeds won't take. You can get discouraged about that... or you can realize that those particular seeds weren't meant to grow and plant some different ones. Other seeds seem to take forever to sprout and even longer to bloom. Sometimes things happen so slowly you think nothing is happening at all. There will be days you'll be so discouraged you'll want to "throw in the trowel." That's usually right around the time you wake up to find a magnificent bloom. So hang in there. Patiently nurture those tender shoots and your garden will grow.

Repeat the Previous Steps

Cliché or not, the truth remains that changing course is a process, not a destination. The "get rich quick" hawkers out there want to you to believe that once you implement a few "simple steps" you can just retreat to your yacht and watch the money flow in. I could make a lot more money selling this fantasy, but the reality is it just doesn't work that way. It may not seem it, but that's actually good news.

As any gardening enthusiast will tell you, the goal is not to plant a garden and be done with it. It's like saying, "Well, I finished growing as a person now. What's next?" Rather, gardening is about the process of continuing to grow a more beautiful, bountiful garden. It's about coming up with ways to make the garden more interesting or fun or diverse. It's about redesigning the garden to come up with new ways to add value to those whom your garden serves. As Mirabel Osler observed, it is the ongoing work of gardening that brings the joy. She writes, "There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling."

Mirabel Osler's name comes up again and again in the world of gardening writers. So I decided to do a little digging myself. As I read Stefanie Hargreaves review of Osler's book, A Breath from Elsewhere, I could not help but think of its application to changing course: "Osler's argument – to break the golden rules, follow your instincts, and create the garden that you desire... effectively [draws] the reader further down the path towards the garden as refuge – a place perfectly suited for 'inspiration or freedom, for discovery or surrender.'"

A New Addition to Changing Course

I'm not one to let my own garden go too long unchanged. So, from time to time, you'll notice a new section of the Changing Course Newsletter called simply, The Garden. The Garden is a place to learn about, be inspired by, and celebrate the incremental growth of the dreams of real people just like you.

The idea of The Garden came from fellow dreamer and Work at What You Love seminar attendee, Joan McAndrews. Joan envisioned The Garden as a section that would "reflect the growth of business, based on the seeds you planted at your three workshops in the summer of 2006." There certainly were a lot of seeds planted this summer. But The Garden will be open to anyone, regardless of where their particular gardens got their start. I hope reading about the seeds others have planted will inspire you to get busy planting a few of your own.

Joan's Garden

It is only fitting then to share some seeds Joan herself planted following the mid-August workshop. She writes:

"I'm progressing very well, certainly for the first week!" In one week, Joan says, she got the funding she needed to purchase a Home Referral Business – basically a "business in a box." [Learn more at] And, to ensure there's some cash flow coming in while she builds her new business, Joan also lined up a small job doing some contract work for a former employer. The work doesn't end here. Joan is itching to spend a lot more time in the garden, adding "I have more goals set and action steps lined up from here."

Now that's desire in action!

Mark's Garden

A prolific generator of ideas for books, screenplays, cartoons and more... Northampton, Massachusetts workshop attendee Mark Tarrant's latest brainstorm puts together two unlikely, but highly imaginative, concepts – cowboys and vampires.

Within days of the seminar, a local newspaper featured The Blood Rider, the first of Mark's books in his Blood and Spurs western horror series. You can read the article at Better yet go to and reserve a copy of Mark's book.

And while you're there, congratulate him on this book and on the birth of he and his wife, Lisa's, first child, Haley Jadyn Tarrant.

John's Garden

"When John Bigenwald was growing up in South Buffalo and Hamburg during the 1960s and '70s, he says he set medical records at Mercy Hospital for the number of stitches he received. He was into sports, as well as other little-boy activities, and trouble just seemed to find him. Bigenwald is still passionate about sports at age 40, and now channels his enthusiasm into coaching his 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter in baseball and soccer in their hometown of Naperville, Illinois."

So goes the beginning of a recent article in The Buffalo News about Madison, Wisconsin workshop attendee, John Bigenwald's new "coach the coaches" consulting business. Unfortunately, the article is no longer available at the newspaper's site. But for a nominal fee you can still access it and other news at Or just check out John's new website at

My Own Garden

I've been planting seeds with the media for some time myself. Last spring Inc. magazine ( called to interview me on something called the Impostor Syndrome. Since I've been speaking on this topic for over 20 years (and am myself a self-described "recovering impostor"), it's a topic I know a lot about.

The article, "The Impostor Syndrome: Why Do So Many Successful Entrepreneurs Feel Like Fakes?" appears in the September issue. In it, entrepreneurs like Northampton, Massachusetts health food store owner Bud Stockwell, a Canadian CEO and others talk about not feeling deserving of their success. Instead, deep down, they believe they have somehow "fooled" others into thinking they are brighter and more talented then they believe themselves to be.  

Most articles on the Impostor Syndrome focus on women. There are good reasons for this. But in part, it's because it's harder to get men to talk about self-doubt – which is why executives, business owners, even a Canadian Mounted Police officer feel safer talking to me than they do their coworkers. Thankfully, this article features a number of men sharing their experiences with this little talked about, but surprisingly common, syndrome.

If you (or someone you know) experience chronic self-doubt, are plagued by perfectionism, find yourself crushed by even constructive criticism seeing it as "proof" of your ineptness... you may be experiencing symptoms of the Impostor Syndrome. If you'd like to learn more about How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are visit or visit my other website,

Writing in his book, In a Yorkshire Garden (1909), Reginald Farrer said, "I think the true gardener, the older he grows, should more and more develop a humble, grateful and uncertain spirit." I am both humbled and grateful that so many of you take the time to share with me the delights of what your small, but determined, seeds have sown.


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About the Author

"Profiting From Your Passions®" expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger's, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman's Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.

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