Have you done absolutely everything you can to reach your dreams?

A few nights ago, I sat in bed working on my laptop while Andy and Riley slept soundly next to me. That night, “working” meant catching up on a bunch of reading I had been putting off, including this 2-part personal essay by wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. (Formerly with the Cincinnati Bengals, currently with the Cleveland Browns.)

You guys, this essay wrecked me. I sat there in the dark, tears streaming down my face, sympathizing with every struggle, every doubt, every hope in Andrew Hawkins’s words. Because I have felt those exact same things on my writing journey. I still feel them. I’m still striving.

In spite of his talent and his drive, Andrew Hawkins was too short. Too small. He had to find unique opportunities for himself — or make them. He caught a couple good breaks, but a lot of bad ones too. Two steps forward, one step back. For years. But he didn’t quit. He had faith and patience. Perseverance. Passion. Now he’s finally where he wants to be, and it means everything to him.

It means a lot to me too, to read about it, because his story basically asks, Have you done absolutely everything you can to reach your dreams? I want my answer always and forever to be yes.

Part 1: “Coming Up Short”

What would you do if someone told you couldn’t have the life you wanted? What lengths would you go to to prove people wrong and live your dream?

Part 2: “Whatever It Takes”

It was creeping up on the fall of 2011, almost four years since I stood on that scale at 161 pounds and told myself I could make a run at the NFL, and I was back to square one without an NFL contract. I didn’t even last one day in the league. And during my pursuit of that dream, life started happening around me. My girlfriend was pregnant. Now, with a baby boy on the way, it wasn’t just about me.

I still cry before every game. I wish I could put those feelings into words, but I can’t. As the tears run down my face, I think of everywhere I’ve been, everything I’ve overcome and everything God has brought me through. Now, I’m able to provide for my son in a way I never thought I could. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, despite the impossible odds, I achieved my dream.

Stuff worth reading (YALSA interview edition)

Today I stumbled upon a treasure trove: the “One Thing Leads to Another” interview series at YALSA. Already the series has talked with some of my favorite Young Adult authors. Reading about their journeys — through life, through writing, through publishing — just fills me up with awe, kinship, and inspiration.

Rainbow Rowell:

The big shift for me was fiction-writing, because it was the first time that I was writing for myself – writing what I wanted to write and not getting paid for it,  at least not immediately. That was a very scary thing. And it took an entirely new type of discipline. I had to learn to write even when I wasn’t on deadline.

Maggie Stiefvater:

The most difficult experience I had as a teen hit when I was 17 or 18 — I was suicidal. My family was great, school wasn’t difficult, I was working and managing my time well. But I looked at the adults around me and thought that I didn’t see a single one that I wanted to be when I grew up. I did, however, see a lot of people I didn’t want to be. So I just decided, logically, not to grow up. I know, I know.

I can’t tell you how much it moves me now when teens tell me they see me as a role model, or that they didn’t realize that adulthood could look like this, or that they didn’t know women could act like me.

 Shannon Hale:

Humans tend to make hierarchies out of things. Masculine is better than feminine. See how girls are praised for pursuing traditionally “masculine” things and how boys are shamed for pursuing traditionally “feminine” things. The point of feminism should be that girls can choose how they want to be and not be trapped into a few limiting roles. Feminism loses power if we shame “girliness” or “girlie girls.” If you want to wear pink ribbons or love fashion or want to be a mom more than anything or devour romances (vampire or otherwise), feminism should say, go for it! Just as much as it should encourage the girls who go out for lacrosse or follow car racing or dig technology.

You don’t have to be flashy to shine

Several weeks ago, Andy and I had the pleasure of seeing Sara Bareilles in concert. I confess, I’m not always one for live performances, because I dislike sharing the experience with a crowded mass of drunken boors and flash-happy tweens. Fortunately, Sara’s fans were a calm, courteous lot, and so I was able to enjoy her tremendous vocal talent, along with her clever, heartfelt lyrics.

sara bareilles concert 001

To be honest, she didn’t “work the crowd” the same way I’ve seen Ed Sheeran or the Spice Girls do. But Sara engaged us by being a storyteller. She shared the inspiration behind her songs. She revealed personal triumphs, struggles, and future aspirations. She took us back to her roots with a special a capella performance. She even gave us a sneak peek of her work-in-progress.

(Did you know that she’s doing a musical adaptation of Waitress? OK, I know nothing about the movie besides what Sara told us, but her song “She Was Mine” was soooo good.)

sara bareilles concert 002

Moved by her artistry, I shed a few tears during the concert, and at the end of the night, I walked away with a feeling of warmth and genuineness. From Sara, and from her music. I was reminded that you don’t have to be flashy to shine. Find your passion and share it with the world. Focus on what you’re good at. Connect with others, heart to heart. That is so much more than enough.

Just for fun, here’s a brief clip of Sara singing one of my favorites, “Gravity”:

sara bareilles gravity

(And here’s the link for anyone who can’t see/play the embedded video.)

Soul-searching and sketches

As I mentioned, Spain and I have a history. So on this most recent visit, I wasn’t surprised to enjoy the parks, the architecture, the food, or the street life. But what I didn’t expect was the Picasso Museum. Or rather, its particular effect on me.

(Especially because I’ve been to the museum before.)

The Picasso Museum is tucked into the alleys of Barcelona, nearly hidden within a tall, narrow labyrinth of cobbled stone. When I first went 6 years ago, the wait was long, the rooms were crowded, and the art was — honestly — underwhelming. So much so that I only remember a certain room from the Blue Period, and only because it was full of… awkward sexual stuff.

Anyway. This time. This time was different. This time, Picasso reminded me of how to be an artist.


The collection was curated to show his evolution. He’s most famous for his distinct style of simple lines and colors, his distorted geometric interpretations of the world — but it turns out that in his youth, Picasso was quite traditional. Like all artists, he started at the beginning, with drawings, studies, copies. He learned to imitate the techniques of the masters who had come before him. Most importantly, he sketched. Constantly. Everything.

Daily life didn’t bore him. It captured him. And in turn, he captured it. He rendered it. Faithfully at times. Imaginatively at others.

As I walked through his museum, as I followed along with young Pablo’s journey to becoming the Picasso we all know and admire, I was inspired. I was reminded. That my daily life isn’t boring. (Or doesn’t have to be.) That I need to “sketch” more. That I too am on a journey.

Thank you for visiting my museum. There’s more evolution to come.

Your work is a gift

Reminder: Comment on the August giveaway post to win THE HYPNOTIST by M.J. Rose and/or ON MAGGIE’S WATCH by Ann Wertz Garvin.

In college I was a design minor, and as such, I was always trying to be as cool and artistic and fashionable as the design majors around me. I failed, miserably, but like the baby sister, I felt special enough just tagging along and being included.

One of my more memorable tag-along experiences was a talk by designer James Victore. He had a raspy voice and a no-nonsense philosophy. He was honest and inspiring and funny. At the end he gave out posters that he had designed, and I took my favorite one home. It currently hangs on my bedroom wall.

Six years later, he’s on YouTube. Every Tuesday he answers questions about the creative life, using that same raspy voice and no-nonsense mentality. There are 33 (brief) videos so far, and I caught up on all of them yesterday. Here are a few highlights:

‎”Success doesn’t always look like what it looks like on the menu.”

“Part one of Inspiration is Work.”

‎”Stop asking permission.”

“Your work is a gift. And if you start thinking like this, start believing this, it actually changes your attitude about your work. And it radically changes what you create.”

“Complaining is not conversation.”

“You’re not lost; you’re searching.”

“Jump, and make it beautiful.”