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Posts from the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category

6 Quotes to Help You Embrace Small


When I started Defying Small three years ago, I wanted to bring together an online community to help people live bigger, more passionate lives. Why? Because none of us wants to come to the end of our life and regret that we didn’t pursue the things we were created for.

Over dinner one night my boyfriend (now husband), Stephen, looked at me and said, I get Defying Small. But why aren’t you also writing about Embracing Small?

Embracing Small seems counterintuitive in the “Super-Size Me” culture we live in. But there’s a movement under way that’s all about Embracing Small—people downsizing and opting for tiny living spaces. Others who are getting rid of “stuff” so they can travel. They talk about how freeing it is. And there’s a reason.

Defying Small always begins with Embracing Small. No matter who we are, no matter how ambitious our dreams, we must start right where we are—with the gifts, talents, and resources we’ve been given. We have to embrace our small beginnings. Only then can we begin Defying Small, moving step-by-step towards our biggest life.

A few days after my conversation with Stephen, I changed my tagline—and the title of my book—to Defying Small, Embracing Small. That also changed the focus of my Defying Small Manifesto (click here to get the free, downloadable PDF).

As I pondered the idea of Embracing Small, I began finding quotes that inspired me. Some of them may be familiar. Each of them talks about the importance of Embracing Small. Please enjoy and share!







Note: I love the photo above, taken when I was in Rwanda. My friends and I ran across this amazing group of women who had started their own micro financing co-op. Each woman owned a goat and was working towards purchasing a cow. Talk about Embracing Small!

How are you Embracing Small in your life? Feel free to comment, below.




An interview with Dr. Julia Burns: Defying Small through art

img_0098-224x300I recently had the privilege of talking with Dr. Julia Burns, a psychiatrist who has helped children, adolescents, and adults for over twenty years. When she is not working with patients, she enjoys painting, blogging, and spending time at the beach. Dr. Burns lives along New Hope Creek in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband, Andy. They have three grown children.

In this interview, Dr. Burns shares insights into Defying Small through her “healing meditations.”

Q. You call yourself a healer/artist. How did you come to see yourself in that way?

A. I stopped working as the Medical Director of a child welfare agency in 1998, and I started writing a couple of months later, and painting a few months after that. I used my artistic work to create a healing space for myself from all the trauma stories I had heard. I also painted for my patients and my friends.

Q. How have you grown artistically over the past sixteen years?

A. I wrote my first poem in the middle of the night. I was working with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and praying for a way to heal others and myself. And I wrote a poem, “I Sing a Song for the Abused Child,” the song no one wants to hear.

I kept writing and writing, and I continue to write. I may meet a person in the airport who tells me their story. I write these stories, and then paint a picture over the story of the trauma they tell me. It can be the moon rising over a lake or a beautiful scene at the ocean or the mountains. I call them “healing meditations.”

8-julia-07-2013If someone has a physical illness like breast cancer—and I happen to be working through that now myself—we might draw their breast on the paper and write affirmations of their healing. Their children might write on it.

One client picked the 23rd Psalm and so we painted the view from her lake house in Canada and wrote the 23rd Psalm lightly over the water. If you’re a couple of inches away, you can see the writing. But if you’re across the room, it just looks like a painting of the lake. And that’s how it’s evolved, and that’s how it continues to grow.

Q. It sounds like you draw a lot of your inspiration from nature. Is that true?

A. Absolutely. All of my art comes from my relationship with other people, people I that love or animals that I love. And also from my relationship with nature. We bought a house on the New Hope Creek in Chapel Hill and I did a series of paintings from my backyard called “New Hope.” I have a place at the beach and I’ve done a lot of paintings of the beach, as well. Those places are meaningful to me.

Q. How do you nurture your creativity?

A. The most important thing for me is to have a lot of time alone—in silence, meditation, and discernment with God. And then to actually make sure that I go into my studio. A friend who helped me learn how to paint told me, “Go into your studio everyday, if it’s only to sharpen your pencils.” And I try to remember that. My studio is in a loft. And I find the inertia comes from just climbing the stairs and getting started. But once I get in there, two or three hours go by and I don’t even know it. And that’s what I love about it. It’s very meditative.

Q. How do you practice gratitude in your life?

A. I do practice gratitude in traditional ways, where you get up and go, “Wow, great shower and cup of coffee! Yahoo! I’m in the top percentage of blessed people on earth!” (laughs)

I was raised by very demanding parents, so it’s easy for me to fall into that. Right now I’m working on affirmations for my upcoming surgery. And one of the affirmations is, “I let go of any harsh judgments and criticisms of myself and others, allowing my heart to soften, knowing that brings healing to myself and others.”

I’d say that’s a constant challenge for me, because in my family we really loved each other, but there were very high expectations. So I have to guard against that as a standard for others. And I really believe that people are in different phases of their journey. And what looks like a baby step for one can be a giant step. We have to suspend judgment. Always.

You can’t be gracious and grateful if you’re critical and harsh. And so that is how I constantly practice gratitude. I’d say I’ve learned even more about that in the last two or three years. I’ve changed the system of therapy I’m working in and that’s been a big leap for me.

Q. Where are you most happy?

A. At the beach.

Q. Tell us about your series “Louise and the Lewis Sisters.”

img_0421A. I don’t call them paintings; I call them “The Girls.” And it’s my mother, who was the youngest of seven, and her six sisters. They were very strong women and I had a close relationship with each one. The oldest sister lived to be 100. She started the first library in Pitt County (NC) and was the mayor of Farmville from age 65-73. They all worked and they all raised their families, some of them by themselves. Again, there were high expectations. But they loved me and gave me this wonderful feeling of support, a sense that I was put in the world to make a difference, to make a mark.

Louise was our housekeeper who was with us every day of the week. I absolutely worshipped her and loved her. What I admired most was how loving, calm, and accepting she was, no matter what the situation. My sister was always losing her library book and it was always a catastrophe, a huge whirlwind of crying and angst. We’d be running around the house looking for the book and Louise would say, “Now Jamie, I want you to just think where you were the last time you had that book.” And Jamie would mumble something and Louise would just walk over and pick the book up.

When she died, I wrote a poem about her. I wanted to know who was going to plait my hair and scrub my ribbon red knees, because I was always falling down and she was always picking me up.

Q. You’ve just created a new series of paintings entitled, “What Were They So Mad About?” What compelled you to create this series?

A. The series is based on five artists that used their childhood trauma to catapult their creativity and inspire them to make the world a better place. I got the idea from my assistant, Eileen. Virginia Woolf is my favorite.









I remember years ago when Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, came out. It’s a movie about 24 hours in the life of three women. Nicole Kidman played Virginia Woolf and it was amazing. I had read the book a few years earlier and I was looking through the bibliography and it mentioned that it drew from her memoirs and her sexual abuse by her brother. I was shocked. I had studied Virginia Woolf in college and I was a psychiatrist and took women’s studies courses and I had never heard that she was sexually abused. I had heard that she was bipolar, schizophrenic, bisexual, borderline—all these diagnoses—but I had never heard about her sexual abuse.

It inspired me to do a painting of her and write a poem, “What Was She So Mad About?” and they’re both featured in the show. I actually sent the portrait to Michael Cunningham and he said he put it over his writing desk to inspire him. That made me really happy.

In addition to Virginia Woolf, we also picked Tyler Perry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey. I believe the inspiration also came from Maya Angelou’s death. Each one has a quote from their life about how they’ve used their inner experience to write their stories.

Q. How are you Defying Small in your life right now?

A. There are two things that come to mind. The first is when I was the Medical Director of a child welfare agency. I had learned nothing about child sexual abuse in my training. To become a child psychiatrist, you have to do a four-year residency in adult psychiatry and a two-year fellow in child psychiatry. You would think that I would have had a half-day seminar on child sexual abuse, because 80-90% of children who are institutionalized in childhood are sexually and physically abused.

So when I took that job, first, I didn’t know I was going to see so much of it, and secondly, I didn’t have a clue how to treat it. And boy, was I defying small every day when I got up and went to work. The children told me their stories and I believed them when no one else did. And I learned how to try to help them. And then when I stopped in ’99, I learned how to help myself by telling the world the stories of the children through my art. So that’s the first way that I defied small, and I do that every day for the children I love and take care of.

The way I’m defying small now is that I’ve just finished 24 weeks of chemotherapy and I’m getting ready to have surgery. I’m going to defy my survival statistics by living—and living well—with great health, vitality, strength and courage. So I think that goes back to what I said about my mom and her six sisters: They all defied small and I had great mentors. If for some reason things don’t go the way I want with this cancer, the way my family wants, I’ll still defy small. I know I will. I believe in living like that. It’s something that comes naturally to me.

Julia’s art show “What Was She So Mad About?” is on display at Caffé Driade in Chapel Hill, NC, through October 31, 2014.

You can follow Julia’s blog at

10 Beautiful (and Inspiring) Travel Quotes

I have wanderlust. Big time.

No matter how many great places I go, I’m always thinking about my next adventure.

I just got back from a weekend in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Next month I’m headed to Italy (keep an eye out here for photos and posts).

I’m also excited to have recently become a guest travel blogger for Paul Steele, aka The Baldhiker. Paul is a world class traveler and a great guy. If you aren’t already following him, you should.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be sharing how travel can inspire you to live your biggest life. To kick that off, I thought I’d share a few photos from my travels along with my favorite travel quotes. Please enjoy and feel free to tweet, post or pin!

Do you love to travel? Why? Where would you like most to go? I’d love to hear your thoughts, below.











Defying Small: A Manifesto


I have spent the past two months writing, editing and designing my Defying Small manifesto, a free, easy-to-read, 22-page, downloadable e-book. In it, I share ideas about how to defy small, embrace small, and begin living your biggest, most passionate life.

I hope you will:

– read it (click here)

– share your thoughts below

– share it with anyone you think might enjoy it

– share it on Facebook and Twitter (using the hashtags #defyingsmall    #defyingsmallmanifesto)

– consider exploring the principles of Defying Small in your daily life.

I hope Defying Small encourages you to take that first (or next) step. I enjoyed writing it and am excited about sharing it with you.

After you read it, please let me know what you think. I’d also appreciate hearing your stories of how you are Defying Small. To those have already done so, thank you! If you haven’t and you want to get in touch, my email is

I am now getting back to work on my book Defying Small, Embracing Small: How to Live Your Biggest, Most Passionate Life. If you’d like updates about my book, as well as inspiring articles, blog posts, and quotes, please join me at Defying Small (Facebook) and Twitter (@defyingsmall).


Share the Love and be the first to get my Defying Small Manifesto!


Want to live a more passionate life but don’t know where to start? In just a few weeks, I will release my Defying Small Manifesto, a free, downloadable PDF that will show you how to DEFY SMALL by helping you:

– choose yourself
– overcome your fears
– make an action plan
– take that first step (or keep going) towards your biggest, most passionate life!

Take a moment and share this Valentine with your friends on Facebook. Tweet it to your followers on Twitter with the hashtag #sharethelove. Then email me at to let me know you’ve done that. In mid-March, you’ll receive an email with a link to a free, downloadable PDF of my Defying Small Manifesto (before it’s available to the general public). It’s that simple!

Thank you for your support of Defying Small. And thanks for Sharing the Love!


10 Quotes from Alice in Wonderland That Can Help You Defy Small


In honor of British novelist Lewis Carroll’s birthday on January 27, I thought I would share a few quotes and my reflections about defying small from Alice and her adventures in Wonderland.

#1 “When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!”

You know you’re living your dream when you wake up and can’t imagine doing anything else. If you’re not there yet, don’t lose heart. Just take that first step and, slowly, but surely, you’ll get there.


#2 Alice: “Where should I go?” The Cheshire Cat: “That depends on where you want to end up.”

Have a plan (life plan, business plan, book proposal, etc.) Without one, you might eventually get to where you want to go, but you’ll waste a lot of precious time in the process.

 #3 “Be what you would seem to be—or, if you’d like it put more simply—never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others.”

Be authentic. You won’t please everyone, so don’t even try. Build a tribe of faithful followers and just keep doing what you do best. Those faithful few will show up and bring new followers along.

#4 “You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

Sometimes you’ll think you are crazy to pursue your dream, whether it’s starting a new business, writing a book, or traveling around the world. Other people will think you’re crazy, too. Personally, I’d rather be creative and crazy than do nothing and live a life of regret.

#5 “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Be curious. When I want to master a new skill, I do my research and delve in. Take a risk and dare to try something new.


#6 “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

The more passionately you pursue your dream, the more demands you’ll have on your time. Make a choice to get off the hamster wheel. This is your dream, after all. Slow down and enjoy the journey.

#7 “Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I am most creative in the early mornings, so that is when I write. It’s also when my thoughts are most fluid and when the best ideas come to me. Find your prime time for creativity and guard it with your life.

#8 “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

Once you decide to pursue your dream, there’s no turning back. You may be successful. You will probably fail somewhere along the way. If you are open and vulnerable, you will grow. But you will never go back to being the person you were before.

#9 “If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much!”

See #4.

#10 “If you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”

Find a tribe of people who believe in your talents and abilities. Find a mentor to guide, empower, and encourage you. Show gratitude by believing in and encouraging those who believe in you. At the end of the day, it’s connection that counts.

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Which is your favorite quote and why? Feel free to share your thoughts, below.

Living in the Tension (or what to do when you’re terrified)

fearI hit a wall this past weekend. I was plugging along, working on my goals for the new year, and, suddenly, I became frozen with fear.

What if I don’t accomplish everything on my list? Or even half my list? Or, worse, what if I actually do all of these things and fail?

Have you ever felt that way? It happens to all of us from time to time. We’re taking a risk, pursuing our passion, when we find ourselves gripped with fear. Fear of ridicule. Rejection. Or failure. We set the bar so high (overachieving), or so low (underachieving), that it’s impossible for us to climb over or under. We get stuck and we do what is possible. Nothing.

Fear is a given. It’s inherent in anything that pushes our limits. Yet each of us is surprised when it appears out of nowhere and draws us into its icy grip.

So how do you become unfrozen? By living in the tension. That’s right. Sit in it. Feel it. Embrace it. Have a little faith. And then push through it.


I know how difficult this is to do. I have a huge fight and flight response. When I’m threatened by fear or discomfort, my first impulse is to run and hide. But with increased self-awareness and lots of practice, I’ve learned to recognize and name what I’m afraid of. Often what I think I’m afraid of is only the symptom of a deeper fear. For example, I may be afraid to write a blog post. But my greater fear, if I stop and ponder it, is that I won’t write well and that people will respond negatively or not read it at all.

A trusted mentor taught me a great technique for facing my fears. First, think of what it is you’re afraid of. Then imagine the worst thing that could happen if your fears are realized. Then ask yourself if you could survive. The answer is, of course, almost always yes. This little exercise has helped me over the years to push through my fears and move past them.

When we face our fears this way, they diminish, and we see them for what they are. They may be real, but we only give them power by holding on to them.

So the next time you’re caught in the grip of fear:

  • name it
  • imagine the worst possible outcome
  • realize you will survive it, and perhaps even learn something from it
  • push through it by doing the next thing.

If you’re on the path to pursuing your passion, you will meet up with fear along the way. When that happens, remember to live in the tension. As writer and blogger Jeff Goins reminds us, “The cost of not pursuing a dream is greater than the cost of failure.” So release that grip and get going!

How do you overcome fear? Feel free to share your thoughts, below.

Perfectionism: A Killer of Dreams (or what I learned from dinosaurs)


Illustration by Charmaine Olivia

I’ll never forget waking up out of a dead sleep when I was in third grade. I bolted upright in bed in a cold sweat. I was having a panic attack at the age of nine.

For weeks I had been researching, writing, and illustrating a report about dinosaurs. I’d drawn my creatures with colored pencil precision and meticulously penned every word.  My report was, well, perfect. Pleased with my finished product, I put it in a clasp binder, decorated the cover, and went to bed.

Fast forward to my panic attack. No, those paleontological beasts weren’t haunting my dreams. What was terrifying me was the thought that I might get less than an A+ on my report. I turned on the lights, retrieved my magnum opus, and flipped through the pages. Was Triceratops’ head too large? Was Brontosaurus the wrong shade of brown? Suddenly, my dinosaurs were all wrong and I was out of time.

Photo: Marlia Cochran

I am happy to report that I am now a recovering perfectionist. It took me years and a lot of failure and not doing much about a lot of things to realize I wasn’t perfect. Of course, everyone who knew me already knew this, but it’s something I had to learn.

So I’m here today to talk to you about perfectionism and why you need to ditch it. In the past 24 hours I have read not one, but three, blog posts about perfectionism, and I knew it was a sign that I needed to write about this great Killer of Dreams.

The first post was from thought leader, Seth Godin, entitled “No one reads a comic strip because its drawn well.” He closes by saying this: “As creators, our pursuit of perfection might be misguided, particularly if it comes at the expense of the things that matter.” And what matters is that we create. That we do the thing we’re passionate about to the best of our ability and let the rest go.

The second post from Brain Pickings was sent to me by friend and fellow writer, J. Dana Trent. It was a reminder from Anne Lamott about why perfectionism kills creativity:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft . . .

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

When one of my kindergarteners messes up a picture they’re drawing, I refuse to give them a clean sheet of paper. “You didn’t mess up,” I tell them confidently. “You just have to figure out how to make something wonderful out of what you have.” And they do, and soon they are all smiles because they’ve learned an exciting truth: every mistake, every failure, every misstep is an opportunity for growth.

Which leads me to the third quote from our old friend, Mister Rogers:


And that’s what growing up is all about. So, as we face the coming year with all of its perfectly terrifying and exciting challenges, let’s defy small by stomping out perfectionism. How?

  • Do your best.
  • Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short.
  • Pick yourself up and keep going.

Because that is the perfect solution for making your dreams come true.

Presents? Or Presence?


The Whitfields: Jimmy, Annie Laura, Horace, Laura, Lawrence

School is out, my girls are home, things have slowed down a bit, and my thoughts have turned to presence. That’s right. Presence, not presents. While everyone else is rushing from one thing to the next, I’m thinking about the importance of being present. Here. Now. I know, the holidays are upon us with all of their crazy scurrying about. But, perhaps, that is when we need to be present most of all.

I got an email on Friday that kicked me in the solar plexus. No need to elaborate, but it could have ruined my day. I was about to begin Morning Meeting with my kindergarteners and wondered just how I could do that with composure. I took a deep breath, lifted a Help! prayer (Anne Lamott-style), sat down in my teacher’s chair and began.

First, I took a moment to look at the faces staring back at me. I pondered what I loved about each face, each personality. I drank in the fact that they were sitting there, literally looking up to me, waiting for me to reveal some new truth or teach them some new thing. My thoughts drifted for a moment back to the email. “Be present,” I told myself. “Don’t go there.”

santa3And, so, I did. Stay present, that is.* And I began to read Santa’s Favorite Story. It’s the book I read at the birthday parties for Jesus we held in our home each December when my girls were young. The story goes like this: Some animals find Santa sleeping in the forest on Christmas Eve and are worried that there isn’t going to be any Christmas. Santa tells the animals that Christmas doesn’t have anything to do with him, and he tells them the story of the first Christmas. He finishes by saying, “It’s my favorite story because it reminds me why we are so happy at this time of year. Love was the gift God gave to us on the first Christmas, and it still is, you know. And this love is far better than any presents I can deliver.”

There’s a lesson or two (or three) here, people.

One: Being present means taking care of yourself. The Big Guy is taking a nap on Christmas Eve. It’s his busiest day of the year and he’s practicing radical self care. Whoa. When you’re overwhelmed, stop and listen to what your heart (and body) are telling you. Then do at least one thing to take care of yourself. It’s amazing how it will energize you for the tasks ahead.


Our Christmas tree

Two: Being present means focusing on the people around you. As many of you know who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I’m addicted to social media. I could spend hours tweeting and posting and forgetting about everything and everyone around me. But my three beautiful daughters are here for a brief visit this week and I’m aware that our time together is precious. So I close my computer, turn off the ringer on my phone, and sit down with them to watch “Elf.” In minutes, we are laughing and quoting lines and being present with each other. I look at them sitting on the sofa, heads in laps, all beauty and light, and I fall in love with them all over again. So love the one(s) you’re with. Which brings me to my third, and last, point.

jan48xmas_largeThree: Being present means opening your heart to loving and being loved. I know, we’re all in pain. Someone we love is sick or dying. We’ve been wounded by our parents or our spouse. Our children are ungrateful. We’re out of money, time and patience. We’re a mess, we’re feeling vulnerable, and to heck with everybody. “I’m not going to let one more person in just to let them hurt me,” we mutter to ourselves. And right there is the very reason we should. We need love and we need to practice love. It’s what we were created to do.

Oh, yeah. That photo at the top? That’s a picture of my family taken at Christmas when I was about three. Of the five of us, only my brother, Horace (left) and I are left. I miss Mama and Daddy and Lawrence, especially at Christmas. But missing them reminds me of who I do have in my life and how rich it is and how blessed I am. And that is being present. And it’s the best gift ever.

*  It turned out to be a great day.

An interview with Jesse Ruben: Defying Small through song


Last week I had the privilege of sitting down with Jesse Ruben when he was in town for his “We Can” tour with Caitlin Crosby. Jesse is a Philly-bred singer/songwriter currently living in Brooklyn, NY. He has independently sold over 10,000 albums, had song placements on TV shows such as One Tree Hill, Degrassi, and Teen Mom, and toured with some amazing artists, including Jewel, KT Tunstall, Rick Springfield, and Hanson. His song “We Can” is in regular rotation on the XM/Sirius Coffeehouse channel, which called him “the next generation of singer/songwriter.” Ruben has sold out venues across the US with deeply personal performances that combine well-crafted pop songs with the stories they came from. Beyond musical endeavors, Ruben is involved with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the largest non-profit focusing on spinal chord injury and paralysis. He is a co-chair of their Champions Committee and has represented them three times in the NYC Marathon.

Here’s my interview:

Q:  Many writers have said they knew at the age of 10 that they were born to write. Did you have a defining moment like that and how old were you?

A:  I was 16 when I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I was always pretty creative, but I didn’t start playing guitar until my junior year of high school. My dad was a big electric guitar player—Clapton, Hendrix, Cream. The idea was that I would get an acoustic guitar and learn the basics and then he would buy me a Strad and we would shred guitar solos on stage together. And so he bought me this knock around guitar and I sat down with it and the only way I could describe it is that it was the first time my life made any sense. And I started writing that day.

I love language and I always wanted to be a novelist. But I’m a fourth generation musician. If you take literature and music and combine them, what you have is songwriting. When I listen to a song, I want to feel like I’m a different person at the end than when I started. I want it to transform me. That’s what I always try to do when I write.

Q:  Musicians and songwriters are an especially vulnerable lot. Basically, you open your heart and bleed. Researcher/storyteller Brené Brown talks a lot about countering vulnerability with gratitude. How do you practice gratitude?


A:  I love being vulnerable. In every song, there’s a little bit of me there. The reward is in that the more generous you are with yourself, the more vulnerable, the more honest you are, the greater the impact. So I could write a bunch of meaningless pop songs and people would still like them. But I wouldn’t get emails from people thanking me for saving their lives. And that’s why I do this, so I can make an impact on people. Because songs saved me. I don’t know where I’d be without them. It seems the more you put in, the more you get back.

Q:  Where are you most happy?

A:  On stage with a group of committed listeners who are just so psyched that I’m there. There’s nothing like it in the world.

Q:  How do you nurture your creativity?

A:  I find that when I’m not writing—if I’m stuck—it’s because I haven’t been listening to music. What I listen to most these days is on vinyl—Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, the Beatles.

You have these pop songs now that are really popular, but nobody has any emotional connection to them. They’re really fun, you can dance to them. But, for instance, James Taylor, “Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone / Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you.” That song is 50 years old and people listen to it all the time. And Joni Mitchell, “Just before our love got lost you said I am as constant as a Northern Star.” Nobody listens to that and says, I wonder what she’s talking about? “I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet.” Nobody’s going, What does she mean? 

When I sit down to write a song like “We Can,” for instance, “It doesn’t matter if they don’t believe / It doesn’t matter if they do not understand / Cause every dream that I’m trying to achieve / I can, I can, I can” I’m not leaving any room for interpretation. The old songs tell us what happened, beautifully. And I miss that. That’s why I wake up in the morning. That’s what I love.

Q:  What spurred your involvement with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation?

A:  My friend, Zack, who broke his neck years ago. It was a really intense experience and I wrote a song about it on my first record called Song for Zack. I sent it to the Reeve Foundation because he had been working with them. They loved it and I’ve been involved with them since.

It gives me something else to talk about besides something as small as “How many iTunes singles did I sell today?” If the work that I do with the Reeve Foundation speeds up the cure for paralysis by ten minutes, my entire life will be worth it. I think the work they do is incredible. One thing that motivates me to be more successful is being able to bring more people to the cause.

Q: Thought leader Seth Godin wrote a book called, Poke the Box, which basically says stop waiting for a roadmap and draw your own. How have you “poked the box” in your own life?

A:  My whole job is asking for things: tours, shows, money, studio time, meetings. And most of the time when you’re starting out or when you’re on your way up, all you hear is, no. Or nothing. When I first started, it used to drive me crazy. I was losing sleep over no. Now no is a very comfortable part of my day. It’s just part of the job.

Q:  What advice would you give to people who have a dream and are afraid to take the first step?

A:  You can either be afraid and comfortable or uncomfortable and move forward. It becomes what’s more important. Getting what you want? Or not being afraid? What is being afraid? Being afraid is just a feeling. Being brave is not about having no fear. Being brave is being terrified and moving forward anyway. I’m terrified every day. I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I’d like to be financially comfortable. I’d like to travel all over the world. I’d like to think that people still care about songs. But I don’t know. What I do know is that if I had gone to a liberal arts school and gotten a degree in psychology and done that, I’d have been really good at it. And I’d have been really unhappy. It’s not why I’m here. I’m here to do this.  It’s what I’m best at in the whole world. It’s the way I’m best able to impact people. Nobody writes the songs I write. I’m here to do that. And if I don’t do it, nobody will.

My advice to people who haven’t taken the first step yet is, What are you waiting for? Stop waiting for permission. People have a lot of opinions when you start out as a musician. Are you sure you can do it? Do you have a back-up plan? No, I’m not sure. I have no idea. But I know that I’d hate myself if I didn’t. I only get one shot to be here and I’m not going to waste it. Don’t listen to other people when they disagree with your dreams. It’s really easy to put down somebody else’s dream. It’s really hard to go after your own.

Earlier this year Jesse challenged school children in Canada to do something to make the world a better place. He wrote the song, “I Can,” which inspired those children and continues to inspire others to defy small and live large. Enjoy!

Check out Jesse’s website, like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter @jesseruben!

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