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Posts from the ‘Writing’ Category

The Power of Three (3)


If you’re like me, you set aside time at the end of last year to review your 2015 goals and set new ones. It’s now February, and you’re either moving closer to your goals or you’re discouraged and wondering: What am I doing wrong?

I understand, because I used to find it hard to achieve my goals. That’s until I stumbled across a strategy that transformed the way I think about my life—and work. I call it the “Power of Three.”

It all began when I started looking for a new day planner. My old one was okay, but I didn’t use it consistently. I wanted one that would not only keep me on track, but also be fun to use.

That’s when I ran across Donald Miller’s Storyline Productivity Schedule (a free, downloadable PDF). Like me, Miller struggled with procrastination and focus and had difficulty sustaining mental energy.

“I went from writing a book in six months, to writing a book in a year and then it began to take two years then three years and so on. I thought for a long time the problem was me, in my inability to write. But in researching writers block and procrastination, I realized the problem was in how I was structuring my day.”

– Donald Miller, NY Times bestselling author and founder of Storyline

After he had created the productivity schedule, he finished his next book in four months. Yeah, that got my attention, too.

I downloaded the schedule and used it for 30 days. In the process I realized what I’d been doing wrong. I’d been making “to do” lists with more tasks than I could possibly accomplish in 24 hours. This new schedule allowed for just three goals a day, with a separate “to do” list. The goals were my biggies—working on my book, blogging, daily social media posts—non-negotiables. My “to do” list consisted of just, well, things I needed to get done if I had the time after my top three.


This new method was revolutionary. After three days of focusing on just three goals, I was working in a new way. I was happier, more rested, and more productive. I quickly came to believe that setting just three goals a day was the key to a more productive life.

Action Point #1: Write down your goals

Platform author Michael Hyatt says, “A goal without a deadline is little more than a dream.” He also say the reason so many people fail to reach their goals is because they fail to write them down.

If you haven’t already written down your top three goals for 2016, take time to do so. If you’ve already written down your goals, take a moment to review them. Are you making progress? What’s working? What could you do differently?

A written plan is essential. But you also need to be specific.

Action Point #2: Be specific

Instead of setting a vague goal like “finish my memoir” why not say “work three hours a day on my memoir or write 1,000 words a day?” Specific objectives are measurable, so there’s a greater probability you’ll actually finish what you set out to do.

Action Point #3: Set a deadline

Lastly, make sure you set a deadline. Without an endpoint, there’s less likelihood you’ll accomplish your goal.

I know I work more efficiently when I have a self-imposed deadline. Whether it’s a smaller period of time like “walk 20 minutes each day” or a larger time frame like “run a 5K by May 1,” having a deadline minimizes procrastination and keeps me on task.

Keep track of how much time you spend on your goals each day. That way, even if you don’t meet your daily goal, you’ll know you made progress. And that counts for something.

What tools have you discovered to increase your productivity? Please feel free to share in the comment section, below.

Author’s Note: A big thank you to Michael Hyatt and Don Miller for introducing me to these tools and inspiring this post. 

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!


Surprised by Joy


Joy is in the business of surprise.

I went through a very difficult parting of ways yesterday with the person, next to my children, I love most on earth. I’d seen it coming. And not coming. But it came nonetheless.

I went to bed feeling sad, angry, hurt. I woke up knowing it was for the best. An opportunity for discovery and growth, and perhaps, one day, a deeper, more lasting connection.

As I stepped outside this morning, I saw a robin. Spring, I thought. I looked up at the sky, pastel and full of promise. I heard birds chirping. Not the usual Muzak twittering, but a lilting prayer.

And then I felt it. Joy.

5705397960_65628d1826_zWhy is it that joy so often surprises us? I believe it’s because we walk around expecting bad things to happen. Things like break-ups, a cancer diagnosis, a hit-and-run. We expect to be blindsided at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday. And, often, we are.

But we don’t expect joy. It frightens us. We’re afraid it will sneak in the back door, give us a momentary glimpse into Glory, and then leave just as quickly as it came.


And we just can’t afford to let that happen. Are you kidding? More pain? So we keep up our defenses. We guard against vulnerability. Vulnerability will chink our armor, and, if we’re not careful, leave an opening for joy to enter in.

Yep, you’d better watch out for joy. It’s sneaky. And terrifying.

In this interview with Oprah for Super Soul Sunday, Brené Brown talks about “foreboding joy” and why, she believes, it is the most frightening of all emotions:

So now I understand my “joy moment”. It broke in because:

I loved with my whole heart.

I am grateful, so grateful, for this person and all we have shared.

I confess it’s not easy to write about this very personal thing that happened yesterday. It’s not easy to write, period. It means being vulnerable and keeping a lookout. For joy.

Have you ever been surprised by joy? I hope you’ll share your story, below.

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.

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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