Last updated on July 5th, 2022 at 02:53 pm
I remember when I first found the apartment. I had looked at 33 other places in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, New York.
I had a feeling about Troy. I’d driven through it months before and thought, “This would be a charming place to live.” A friend had told me it was the hip, happening place for young people in the Capital Region, and that apartments were historic, lovely, and inexpensive.
I had walked through some apartments that had history and charm, and yet somehow just weren’t right for me. One, that was spacious, elegant, and beautiful with high ceilings and hardwood floors, with a large living room with a marble fireplace, and walls painted lime green, just didn’t “feel” safe to me.
I was a survivor of trauma, had been stalked by a man in the past, and still had panic attacks at night sometimes.
I was going to be living alone. I needed to feel safe.
More Than A Feeling
The apartment on Liberty Street just “felt” right. It had a large living room with an ornamental fireplace, high ceilings, and windows that stretched almost floor to ceiling. There was a full dining room, an eat-in kitchen with a breakfast bar, and three bedrooms.
The rent was $360 a month. That is not a typo. This was 1997, 14 years ago.
“Are you kidding me?” I thought. $360 a month for a three-bedroom apartment. I could have a bedroom, an office, and a den. I wouldn’t even need to have a roommate.
Uh, where do I sign?
Around The World and Back Again
Now, 14 years and 18 countries later, one marriage and one divorce later, one graduate degree and one book manuscript later, one dance career and several jobs later, and after countless global adventures, I live back around the corner from that same apartment, having come full circle. I still travel the world, from Troy, this home base where I started out more than a dozen years ago.
Then, I was 25 years old, and it was the first time I’d lived on my own. I’d moved to New York the summer before, but had a roommate in that apartment on a small horse farm in Saratoga.
Living on my own felt like freedom. I could sleep in, wear my pajamas all day if I wanted, clean the house wearing platform shoes and Daisy Dukes, and dance to ABBA, which I did sometimes just to amuse myself.
And To Think I Found Freedom on Liberty Street
At the time, I was working at a public relations job that I hated. I wanted to escape. Exploring my new neighborhood, one block from Troy’s historic Washington Park, I stumbled onto an arts organization located in the park just around the corner from me.
Lo and behold, they were seeking a marketing and public relations assistant. I loved the arts. I’d be working one block from my new three-bedroom apartment. I could walk home for lunch!
It seemed perfect. I made friends with the staff, volunteered at a gala event they were hosting, and of course interviewed for the position. I was determined to land that job!
Long story short, with relentless determination, and after turning it down three times when the nonprofit salary offered was not enough for me to live on with student loans and a car payment, I did!
Coming Full Circle
That was 14 years ago. Really, at the time, my heart’s desire was to be a writer. I’d always envisioned myself writing books someday. But I didn’t have the courage to do that yet. So I did some freelance journalism on the side, publishing articles in local and regional journals. It was fun. But work got busy, and I let life push my writing dreams aside for a while.
I worked at the arts center for a few years. Then I took a part-time job at a local college and started creating my own client base in public relations, marketing, and community development on the side. Somehow that led to me becoming a community leader. Somewhere along the way, I bought a house. Starting in 2001, I went out on my own full-time, launching my own consulting business.
I became a dance instructor on the side with my ex-husband, who was my dance partner and boyfriend at the time. We traveled around the U.S. studying with some of the world’s top lindy hop instructors and threw dance parties for 400-plus people in ballrooms in downtown Troy.
Back home in Troy, I also organized events for Hillary Clinton, who was our New York State Senator at the time.
And Yet More Adventures
In 2003, I got asked to run for public office in Troy. I didn’t feel “ready” to do it yet and took the responsibilities of such a position very seriously. So I went to Harvard to study best practices in local government, graduating with my Master in Public Administration degree in 2005.
I kept traveling, spending Christmas break in Argentina, and spring break in Puerto Rico.
My plan was to return to Troy and run for mayor. But right after graduation, I got hired by the Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, to write a strategic plan for the City and County of San Francisco. It was an exciting opportunity, and I felt I could not turn it down.
And Then the Inner Journey Began
San Francisco changed me. There were dharma talks and yoga retreats. I became a practicing Buddhist while living in SF. I cultivated a daily meditation practice.
And I took a few months off and traveled around the Middle East and Mediterranean Europe by myself, on my own “Eat, Pray, Love” journey when my ex-husband and I separated.
I had desperately wanted to find the “inner peace” that had eluded me for so many years, living with so much anxiety and fear, living although I didn’t realize it at the time with post-traumatic stress disorder after all I had been through in my early twenties.
Miraculously, with the help of my teachers and meditation practice, I found it. I could sleep at night. I started to learn to love and value myself, which I hadn’t previously, despite all the external accomplishments.
What Are You Waiting For?
I had lived so many dreams, and yet the big dream, of writing books, was still on hold. What, exactly, was I waiting for?
It took another move back to Troy, a house fire, and a health scare to make me decide to finally write the book I’d been wanting to write for years. It took a leap of faith because now I was finally doing what I’d always wanted to do deep down inside. And what if I wasn’t good enough? What if I couldn’t pull it off? What then?
I was scared to dive into writing this giant book, that would tell my story of recovering from trauma and building a happy life for myself. Other writers, editors, and published authors told me repeatedly, “This story needs to be told. Write the book.”
Last year, I managed to my own great shock and surprise to actually complete a 459-page manuscript, on time, on deadline, for my writing coach, based in San Francisco, who helped me along the way.
How did I do it? Page by page. Scene by scene. One day at a time. Really, one moment at a time.
The important thing was that I’d finally committed to doing it. So nothing was going to stop me now.
Commit To Making It Happen
I believe the first step to living our “big dreams” is truly committing to it, deciding that we’re going to make it happen, no matter what. Then, life somehow aligns to help us make it happen.
I love the Goethe quote:
“Whatever you can do, or think you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
In my case, I also built-in accountability structures: making my dream public, and hiring a writing coach. She set deadlines for writing 50 pages every two months. That’s less than a page a day. Surely, I could pull it off!
Somehow, despite how daunting it felt to finally “live the big dream,” despite the fact that it was also scary to tell my own story which I had kept secret for so many years, I did it. Now I just have to finish editing the book and find an agent. All very doable.
If I can simply take it one step at a time.
Life is About the Moments
I really believe this is the essence of life, although we make often it more complicated than it is. Life is lived moment by moment, each moment an individual shining jewel that we string together like pearls to make a life we love.
Looking back, I can see how all of the things I’ve done made writing this book possible. Every step along the way helped me become the woman I am today.
If we can simply do our best, moment by moment, we create a beautiful future, step by step. And, when we remember to be present and in gratitude, we can also love the now.
Easier said than done sometimes, right?
Taking The Next Right Step
Looking back, I can see now that despite my fears and anxieties, despite being in recovery from trauma for years, despite all that I had been through, I created a dream life for myself by simply following my heart’s desire, at that moment, step by step.
Of course, it still took me a while to work up my courage to live the “big dream” of writing my first book, which I am living now. Maybe you will find the courage to live your “big dreams” a little sooner than I did.
I did, however, live a lot of smaller dreams — becoming a world traveler, becoming a professional dancer, graduating from Harvard, making a difference in my community — along the way.
To live your dreams, here are my 5 recommendations:
- Invest the time you need to create a dream vision for yourself. What do you secretly long for? What are your heart’s desires? Those are likely pointing you in the direction of your biggest dreams.
- Once you know where you want to go, start taking inspired action, just one step at a time. See what happens when you move in the direction of your dreams. It feels amazing!
- Periodically check in with yourself to see if you are getting the results you want. Are you where you thought you’d be by now?
- If not, no worries, love yourself anyway. And reevaluate. What can you do now to achieve your dreams? Take more little action steps.
- Keep doing this until you are living your dreams!
Does this sound easier said than done, too? That’s because it really is simple, and just requires your courage, your attention, and your persistence. I have no doubt that you can live your dreams because I’ve done so despite plenty of fear, anxiety, and self-doubt along the way.
Lisa Powell Graham
Lisa P. Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, TED motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning in their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on her website or watch her TEDx speech on YouTube.
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