How I knew I should follow my dream and the power of self-imposed exile

Embracing a dream isn't for the faint of heart. See my new blog post. Link in my profile. #dreams #goalsetting #mariaslaby

How I knew to follow my dreams and my self imposed exileGetting away alone, completely unencumbered by daily tasks and distractions has been a fantasy I’ve carried in my heart for years. Anyone with a bigger list of To Do’s than Already Done’s can probably relate to this. If only I could run away to escape all the noise and chaos of my everyday life, I could make x, y or z happen. If only I had no one to fix, help or answer to for just a day (or even more!), I know I could move mountains. If only . . . .

As a mom, I think this perspective is pretty universal, but, really, you don’t have to be a mom to be walking in similar shoes. In our modern world, we have gained an amazing ability to multi-task and become a jack of all trades, master of none. Our ability to do more has resulted in a lot less; more projects started, fewer completed.

It seems like our mastery at efficiency has been gained at the expense of our deeper thinking and doing muscles. Whatever the task, there’s probably an app for it, and if not now it’s in the works or being beta tested. And in the google age, there’s really no need for wonder. Just google it. Someone’s done it, thought it or is selling it. We can find or do anything in a snap and don’t even need to retain it.

Yet with all of that ease, we have Pinterest boards leading to nowhere, unread ebooks stacking up and an dizzying collection of digital photos begging for attention, just for starts. The power of potential hangs within our easy grasp only to torture us with more undones and incompletes.

Too much of a good thing is never a good thing.

For me, I knew it was time to do something about it. My deep thinking and doing muscles were atrophying. Daily disruptions at home gnaw and frustrate me and make me feel I’m only scratching the surface on everything, all the while never really mastering any of it. Years of that gloom hanging over my head had begun to weigh heavily.

I finally decided not to wait ’til my world calmed down to get in shape. Jump starting my thinking and doing with a trip away was my solution.

Over the last 20 or so years of being a mom, I’ve never really embraced this opportunity. Shame on me. I should have done this years ago.

Actually, my whole life, I’ve never embraced being alone for long. I’ve taken a day or two here and a day there, which has been great, but committing to six days alone, in a cabin in the woods, with no landline, no cell phone connection and only sketchy internet connecting me to the rest of the world was completely unprecedented.

And scary.

And amazing.

And lonely.

And productive.

And lonely.

And perfect.

I took a trip up to our cabin. More than 500 miles away, it was far enough away that there was no danger of me being summoned back to pick up someone here or there, or hunt for a birth certificate or passport. They would have to fend for themselves, the kids and their dad. It wasn’t that I worried that they couldn’t manage, but maybe that’s because the kids are older now and more independent anyway, but it did take me a couple hundred miles down the road to vanish those ties that bound me, if only temporarily.

I set out on this trip with a purpose, as I generally do with anything. I’m not one for wanting to go away to be alone just for the sake of being alone. I don’t roll that way. It’s like when I go on a bike ride. I like to have a reason for going whether it be going to drop off some mail at the post office or to watch the sunset with my husband Mark at the Fourth Avenue docks. When I have a reason in mind, I feel better.

My reason for this trip was two-fold. We rent our a cabin as a vacation rental and it’s getting to be holiday time and I always like to put the Christmas decorations up. Last week was the only time that I could do it before the season kicked in. The second reason was my dream. I have been hanging onto a dream for the last seven years that I just can’t shake. I needed to get away from all my distractions to buckle down and face it once and for all.

Into 2008 I started a magazine called The Bunk Room. It’s a magazine written entirely by kids. While homeschooling our kids, they inspired me to take their creation to another level. Try as I might to deny making this dream a reality, I jumped in with both feet anyway.

Since then I have been plugging away at this dream of making The Bunk Room a household name. I have made lots of progress, but I’ve made lots of mistakes as well. As with any business, the pace of two steps forward one step back challenges our psyche to proceed.

Over the years the magazine has gone from a simple publication that we printed on our laser jet and handed to friends, to a national magazine in several markets throughout the country. In the last year I’ve taken a step back to reassess my progress and decide if this is really something I want to continue and if so, how that would look.

Many times this last year I’ve nearly abandoned the project entirely. So many choices, so much work and so much fear. Mark, my biggest fan, suggested I put it on ice, rather than totally abandon it. With his encouragement, I felt relief. I took that sense of relief as a sign that I should not do The Bunk Room anymore. I thought if I felt that much relief about setting it aside, maybe that was a sign I should stop.

But out of the mouths of babes, our 15-year-old daughter, Annika, shared with me her wisdom in such an innocent, matter of fact way that it was hard to deny. She said just because I felt relief at the thought of putting the magazine on ice doesn’t mean I should stop pursuing my dream.

She compared it to ballet. Annika loves ballet more than anyone I know. I’ve never seen a child with so much consistent dedication to a dream. When she was just three years old she was already asking to be in ballet, from which I assumed was just a little girl thing. But as the years have progressed, I realized it was so much more than that to her. (See her website and you’ll get a feel for what I’m talking about.)

So when Annika gives me advice about Following a Dream, I pay attention.

“The feeling I get when I know I have a night off (from ballet) is so exciting! When you were surprised that I was excited about having a night off from ballet when I love it so much, I told you that just because I look forward to a night off doesn’t mean I don’t love ballet. It just means I feel like I need a break,” Annika explained.

“You need a break, Mom. Don’t let your need of a break crush your dream. You need to do The Bunk Room. It’s an amazing magazine and it would be sad if you let it die.”

Wow. That really hit me. Such simplicity and wisdom. Just because I felt relief at the thought of setting aside The Bunk Room and all the work and challenges I face with it, doesn’t mean that I want to abandon it entirely. It just means I need a break.

All year, as I diverted myself to different projects, The Bunk Room and all its potential, kept knocking at my door, reminding me not to forget it. After a couple false starts back at it, I finally figured out my plan.

Now with a plan in place I needed action, but all year I’ve been in constant struggle with distraction.

That’s what fueled my trip to the cabin. If I couldn’t make a good start on my plan 500 miles away from home with no distractions, that would prove to me that I really wasn’t into it. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it and mean it.

I’ve gone through years and years and years of massive productivity but this last year has been so disjointed. I haven’t felt like I’ve accomplished much. Lacking direction, I’ve lost my edge.

Here’s what happened.

There’s something unfamiliar that goes on when you spend an extended period of time completely alone (when you’re not used to it). The first day I was shocked by all the tears. I don’t generally randomly cry, but that day the tears were welling up inside my eyes all day long, seemingly coming from nowhere. Even as I plugged into the busyness that I anticipated for Day One, I couldn’t hold them back.

Most of Day One was spent doing house stuff and running around town getting this and that to help our housekeepers with the decorations. Getting the house ready for the holidays was part of my reason for being there, so I wanted to get this big task out of the way first thing.

What’s different this year was that I decided to have our perfectly capable and willing housekeepers do this task that I felt I’ve needed to do for years. Weird how liberating it is when we let go of things. I’m so thankful for Tracy and Carolyn. They were awesome and the house looks great and we were able to get it all done in just one day rather than my several.

By Day Two, it was as if the rain had passed and I felt strong. I was ready to begin.

It was now or never. I couldn’t make any more excuses. If I really wanted to make my dream come alive, I had to start. I was in the perfect setting. I had no distractions. I had everything I needed in front of me. If I didn’t embrace it now, I never would.

That’s when I realized how scared I really was.

That’s what solitude does. It smacks you in the face with Here Ya Go. If you don’t jump now, you’re the only one to blame.

The war of the mind began. And in that Power of Now, in my quiet place with no escape, I faced it with the only thing I knew that would put me back in the driver’s seat.

I called in my dad and all my angels.

Since my dad died in 2009, I’ve always had a sense of him alongside me, guiding and directing me in my craziest of days. And when I’m quieted enough, I’m always visited by a random butterfly on my front porch, signaling me that Dad is always near. Real or imagined, I care not. It’s what brings me strength when I need it most. My butterfly friend who often flies straight into my face, does not doubt me, nor do I him.

Deep breath in that morning of Day Two and it all began. I started small, notebook and pencil in hand. Laptop closed. Phone set aside. I made no requirements of myself. I decided to just dream through that brand new legal pad.

Suddenly the tears from Day One were nowhere near my newly found indomitable spirit. Each new idea spurred even more. My energy ignited. I was back.

The next three days I spent in planning mode followed by lots of writing. Transitioning from planning to writing was another big step. For anyone who’s faced that blank page, canvas, screen or stage, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The circling around the commitment to create oftentimes debilitates.

I would have none of that this trip.

Well maybe I had a little bit of it.

When I get shaken by those pages of blank, I always pull out my Make It For Someone game. I tell myself to just create this Whatever It Is, for someone specific rather than for the something big it really may be.

If I’m making something for someone, I have all the inspiration and energy I need, but if I have to make it to sell to the world, I freak.

So with this blank page, I decided to make my first e-course of The Bunk Room Academy for my daughter Annika, who inspired me to keep my dream alive.

Without a pause, break or false start, in a matter of days I had not only written the first three of ten modules for my e-course, I had created a strategy that would extend far beyond my original idea.

My thinking and doing muscles were brought back to life and making magic.

Now I know where I’m going. All I have to do is just keep doing the work. Rinse and repeat.

One trip of self-imposed exile to the cabin did more than get me back on track toward my dream. It shook me up to face some of my darkest fears of worth, strength and loneliness, and prove to me that I can prevail.

My Rx to Recharge Your Thinking & Doing

Get away all alone. Regularly. Check out from your family. Don’t wait for the years to creep up on you while you wait for your life to calm down. Even if that just means a day away in town. Go to a park, library or coffee house. Plug into a brand new legal pad and arm yourself with a pencil and a big eraser. Pencils are far less scary than pens. And a big eraser eliminates any fear of commitment.

Rx For Knowing if You Should Follow Your Dream

If after a break, it keeps coming back to haunt you and you just can’t put it down. If tears out of nowhere pool up and flow. If your blood boils with joy with the hope that lies ahead, go follow your dream and don’t look back.

Let me know about your dreams and what makes you leap, in the comments below.


Annika’s blog

The Bunk Room

About The Author

Maria Slaby

I'm a lot of labels, not the least of which is a mom / wife with four awesome kids and an amazing husband. My lifelong love of making cool stuff with an eye on our humanness has also turned me into a branding and publishing specialist. I love helping others bring voice to their passions in this wild and tangled digital world. Catch up with me on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram @mariaslaby.