Living My Joy
I'm fascinated by tulips. Specifically, how once cut they begin to stand tall and open, and the next thing you know they're drooping. And just when you think they're on their last leg they close and stand tall again. Curious about this behavior, I did a little (very little) research. And now I know that my fascination with tulips is related to my fascination with trees, which I wrote about here.

According to ehow.com,

"As a cut flower, tulips have the distinctive characteristic of continuing to grow in the vase and stretch toward a dominant source of light. This trait can cause a carefully arranged floral bouquet to disassemble itself into something quite different as the stems may extend by as much as 2 inches, causing the blossom heads to droop. The flowers also open wide in bright light, sometimes exaggerating the drooping effect, although they usually close again at night if the room temperature is moderate to cool."

Much like a tulip, I tend to grow and stretch toward my source of light (God) when I'm cut (wounded). While I'm prone to self-examination even when all is well, I find that I tend to dig deeper when I'm "enduring" life's pruning process. And, sometimes, during that process, my countenance changes and my head and shoulders droop from the weight of the circumstances. But before too long, I start to see a bright light and open myself to the lesson. Although my head and shoulders may still droop, as I get stronger the temperature of the lesson begins to moderate and cool down. Gradually, the wound begins to close, I regain my composure and begin to stand tall again. Tulips (and trees)
. . . so reminiscent of my life.

Are you giddy with excitement? After all, you've done it . . . you've realized your dream. It's time to celebrate! Your dream has come to fruition, and it's now time to live it. Give yourself credit for your vision and making the journey. I hope you took time to enjoy the journey. In my case, the journey was as important as--and at times more important than--the dream itself. The journey helped me learn my capabilities and who I could count on for encouragement and support.

Living my dream helped me learn more about what I'm made of and who I am. Because living your dream makes you deal with the realities of the dream in context. And reality can bite. Sometimes the bites are nibbles; sometimes they create wounds that require stitches. Don't get me wrong, my life in Paris is rich--full of diverse experiences. I have wonderful friends, there's a rich culture, a diverse population, great food, art, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine River, Louvre Museum, Opera Garnier, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, and so on and so on. But, like life, it's not always sunny. As a matter of fact, it rains quite often. And the only time birds have pooped on my head (and face) has been in Paris. It's become fairly routine. I mean, really, is there a message?! There are issues with unbelievable bureaucracy, daily life, etc. And my life in Paris revolves around my illness. Unfortunately, the realities of life don't take a vacation because you're living your dream.

What I've learned, however, is that it's all in how you cope. If/when the tough times come, it's paramount to be more focused on living (enjoying) your dream than surviving it. For example, when I'm faced with challenges unique to being in Paris, I take time to walk along the Seine River, look up at the Eiffel Tower if it's near and, more often than not, savor a macaron or other yummy pastry (that I ordered in "Franglais"--my combination of French and English). I've been through the fire and had to wing it in the midst of struggles while living my dream. But it's been worth it. I have no regrets. The Paris I see now--my Paris--is more beautiful than I imagined because it's touchable, relatable. I've learned to appreciate it despite its imperfections, which I see more clearly now. While it's often true that you can't know what you're getting until you get it, what you see when you take off the blinders and the rose colored glasses (the fantasies of your dream) can be a beautiful blossom. It may require a shift in your thinking, but learning to see things, people, and situations for what they are rather than what we want or imagine them to be, is one of the greatest lessons we can learn in life. Living my dream has taught me as much about life and myself as it's taught me about life in Paris. No matter how difficult, it's been a joyous, enlightening, and enriching experience.

Very few things in life are as perfect as we imagine, right? With that in mind, you may need to remind yourself a time or two that this dream is what you asked/worked for. As with anything else, you must take the good with the bad. And no matter how living the dream turns out for you, bear in mind that it took a lot of effort and courage to get where you are. Even if it turns out to be something less than you envisioned, don't overlook the blessings/advantages. You now know you're capable of doing something of this magnitude, and you'll always be able to say you lived your dream. No one can take that from you. And you don't have to live this dream forever. There's no shame in deciding you've had enough of the dream. Others may view it differently, but it was your dream and you fulfilled it, so you've succeeded in what you set out to do. And that means that if you're so inclined, you can plan and live another dream. You are strong, capable, and courageous. And even if you don't know it, you have inspired others. I applaud you. Bravo!

One of the greatest blessings of living my dream has been the ability to use the experience to help others. It would be a hollow victory if I were the only person served by realizing my dream. I pray that sharing some of my experiences has been a blessing to you. It's been a joy for me.
Now that you've made it through the planting season, it's time for the seeds of your dream to grow. Realization of your dream requires faith, gratitude, confidence, and perseverance. Because even after you've done all that's possible for you to do, your first steps toward realizing your dream will be taken without knowing how things will work out. You must have faith that they will. Will there be weeds along the way--obstacles, naysayers, critics, etc? There will always be weeds. See them for what they are, deal with them, and move forward. Envision yourself "giv(ing) 'em the Gabby."

Gratitude that you've made it this far and that your dream is coming to fruition is important. I believe in being grateful before I actually receive my blessings. That's how I activate my faith. And I find that the more grateful I am, the less I focus on obstacles. I don't ignore them, but I keep them in the proper perspective. And while I'm not happy about them, I try to be grateful for the obstacles knowing they serve a purpose.

Confidence in your plan, hard work, and abilities will help. Remember that you're already a winner. Many think about doing something . . . you actually did it. That itself is to be celebrated.

Finally, perseverance is important at this point. You didn't come this far to give up now. As for how long you should persevere, only you can determine what works best for you. I like these quotes: 1) from Josh Billings: "Consider the postage stamp; its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there"; and 2) from Jim Rohn: "Some people plant in the spring and leave in the summer. If you're signed up for a season, see it through. You don't have to stay forever, but at least stay until you see it through." 
After you've prepared for the planting season, it's time to plant the seeds for your dream. By gathering the information necessary to formulate your plan and analyze your circumstances, you've had time to consider the amount of work involved. Now it's time to move from thinking to doing. The planting season is when your commitment to your dream will be tested. Because if you've truly prepared for the planting season, you're intimately familiar with your weeds (your baggage). It's time to start pulling them. Are they emotional, spiritual, financial, physical? And only you know the best approach for addressing them. Is it counseling, therapy, forgiving, releasing, asking others you believe are successful to mentor you, etc.? If you don't pull the weeds by this stage, you take the chance that they may strangle the shoots of your dream. At a minimum, they could significantly decrease the joy of realizing and living your dream.

If you've determined you don't have the necessary professional and/or interpersonal skills to realize your dream, this is the time to close that gap. It might be through volunteering with an organization that does what you're dreaming of, attending classes--whether in-person or online, networking with others via social media, or good old-fashioned face-to-face connections, etc.

Whatever your dream, it's time to put your plan into action--file the applications, apply for the license, the loan, find your office, house, purchase your airline ticket, etc. And while there's often a natural order to things, it's the nature of life that some things happen before you're ready or think you're ready. The question is whether you take the leap and move forward or wait until you feel prepared. Sometimes, it's an opportunity to stretch yourself; other times, it's testing your willingness to wait for the right timing. It's important to catch opportunities when you can, but it's also important not to jump too soon. Either way, there's a lesson involved, and only you know based on your individual circumstances which risk(s) you're willing to take.

I believe it's important to envision yourself actually living your dream. In my case, I don't think I could have made the leap to move to Paris if I had not envisioned myself there. My circumstances were such that it didn't seem possible, even though there was no doubt in my mind that I had to go. But it's also important not to throw caution to the wind. There will be flags. Some mean move forward, some mean stop, some mean proceed with caution. Rather than moving forward with reckless abandon, see the flags for what they are and be grateful for them. Perhaps there's more work to be done, or the timing is off. Or, maybe they appear because of your doubts and fears. Just don't let them paralyze you. Otherwise, they'll steal your blessing(s).

Finally, the planting season is an opportune time to allow for and make revisions to your plan. It's important to leave a little room around your seed for it to grow. If you hold on too tightly to your original plan, you may jeopardize the health of your seed. Make room for mistakes, setbacks, discouragement and disappointments--they will occur. Try to see them as opportunities for growth. If you're committed to your dream, you'll find the courage to face them and make the soil for planting the seeds of your dream healthier. Utilize your support system for encouragement as it's important to water/nurture your soil.

Is it possible to realize your dream without taking the aforementioned steps? Some people do. But a strong, firm foundation certainly helps when you're trying to maintain what you've accomplished. As in life, there are no guarantees. Bear in mind that weeds will sprout from time to time, but if you nurture your soil, you'll be more likely to battle the weeds successfully. If you remain grateful, optimistic yet realistic, committed, and tenacious, with proper preparation and action you should be well on your way to determining if the seeds you've planted will take root and grow into the realization of your dream. Enjoy the journey!