Pursue Your Dreams
When I was small, I hung out in my library’s children’s section, reading picture book after picture book. Then, I’d go to the card catalog – remember that? – and flip to where my name would be if I had written a book.
As I grew older, I branched out and read all kinds of books. But, I kept reading picture books, hoping I’d write one someday.
I wrote my first picture book draft in college. My family liked it. But, I didn’t know what to do next. I sent it to one publisher, chosen at random, got a rejection and didn’t try again.
So, I wrote in other ways. As a newspaper reporter. A magazine editor. A public relations employee. And, I was always reading to myself or my daughters.
As my 40th birthday neared, I was happy. I had a family I loved. A job I enjoyed. Good health. But, I finally acknowledged the truth. If I didn’t try – really try – to publish a book, I would regret it.
I also realized something obvious. To publish a book, I had to write one first.
So, I got busy. I stopped watching TV and wrote every night when my kids were asleep. I read more books, focusing on how they were structured and what made them work. I spent weekends reading everything my favorite authors had ever written.
I joined critique groups to get feedback and attended conferences where my work was evaluated. And, finally, I learned to properly submit work to publishers.
When I thought I knew enough and was good enough, I sent stories for consideration. I quickly found I wasn’t ready. Even though I’d been paid to write for much of my adult life, I got form rejection after form rejection.
I didn’t give up.
I kept writing and reading and learning. Almost every moment I wasn’t working or parenting or sleeping, I was trying to be a better children’s writer.
I began seeing hopeful signs. Notes written by real editors scrawled on a form rejection. “Cute, but not for us.” “I’d be happy to see more of your work.”
But, still, always a “no.”
I didn’t give up.
I revised existing stories. I wrote new ones. I listened to published authors speak and took copious notes. I improved my stories and sent them to more publishers.
And, got more rejections – 126 in all.
Then, one day, my phone rang. The caller ID said, “Random House.” The voice on the other end said, “Pat? This is Anne Schwartz from Schwartz & Wade.”
It was the moment I’d imagined. Anne wanted to publish my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH.
From there, things took off. I got a literary agent. She helped me sell three more books in fairly short order. SOPHIE came out to positive reviews and more acclaim than I ever could have imagined.
Now, I have a family I love, a job I enjoy and something I’ve wanted since I was small – a picture book with my name on it.
Card catalogs have gone away, it’s true. But, seeing SOPHIE’S SQUASH listed online is equally satisfying.
And, who knows? Maybe somewhere, someday, a child will read my book and think, “Hey! I could write one of these.”
Editor’s note: Meet Pat and hear her story at an exclusive DreamBank – Madison event Thursday, Oct. 10, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. RSVP early to receive a free copy of her book, Sophie’s Squash, and secure your seat for this inspiring evening at American Family's DreamBank in downtown Madison, Wis.
I procrastinated on this blog for a long time. I guess I didn’t have a plan. Yet, the importance of a plan is what I’m going to share.
On May 15, 2010, I graduated from Concordia University, in Mequon, Wis. I was selected as one of two students to speak in front of a packed fieldhouse that included my family and friends.
I had been working toward my bachelor of arts in business management with a minor in human resources. Although the university offered programs and classes online, I preferred the traditional instructor-led courses. So I carried an attaché case with a heavy book, three or four weekly paper assignments and occasionally a laptop to take notes as I attended a four-hour class after a long day at work.
I learned. Yes, from the classes, but I also learned about myself. Specifically, about setting goals and having a plan.
Before graduation, a co-worker asked how I could work full time, go to college in an accelerated program and still have the ability to function. At the time, I really didn’t have the answer. However, the following is a summary of the speech from the commencement ceremony, which provides the answer.
The presentation focused on an acronym: PLAN. PLAN is applicable to all aspects of life, business, work, home and community activities.
P – Purpose: Consider what you find interesting. Or the energies that motivate you. A company’s mission is a purpose. Consider your personal mission, such as preparing for a marathon, remodeling a home, or volunteering at civic and non-profit organizations. Some other common activities that would benefit from PLAN include: A rollout of a new program or project, educational courses, an exercise program; or simply organizing a cluttered room in your home. Your purpose is what you want to accomplish.
Purpose is using your personal talents to benefit others. Your purpose requires you to experiment to determine where your talents can be of the most value. Consider that you don’t craft a piece of wood or knit a blanket without experiment. It’s only after you experiment will you find your purpose.
As you experiment, you will struggle. You should also begin to be in the next letter of PLAN.
L – Learn: As you struggle while you experiment, you should learn about yourself. And you should learn for fun. Wouldn’t you like to read a book and not have a test afterward? (That comment brought some nice laughter from the audience.)
Learning means more than taking a class or being on a project team. Learning is talking to others, determining the best approach and then understanding you may need to change or clarify your direction.
Once you know your purpose and you learn about yourself, you’re ready for the next letter.
A – Action: Action is the connection between your purpose and your learned knowledge. Action requires you take those energies that motivate you and transfer them to activities and others. In this stage, you’re adapting to new ideas, such as the change in direction. If you didn’t see results from walking 10 minutes a day, the change may be to 20 minutes of walking.
Taking action can have challenges, but action should be fun. If you enjoy baseball, coach a Little League team. If you enjoy horseback riding or four-wheeling, volunteer to help those less fortunate to experience those activities. Action involves connecting with other people.
It’s hard work to find your purpose, learn about yourself and take action, but once you do, you’re ready for the final piece of PLAN.
N – Note: This is probably the most important part. It’s also the most relaxing. As the word implies, take note of your goals and analyze them. What works? What could be better?
This is a time to reflect. Strive for a sense of calm. It may be the celebration of a successful project, reaching an educational milestone, or the peace of knowing you attained your ideal health. When you take note you put the purpose, the learning and the action into perspective.
If you take Note of the Actions you have taken, you might Learn your Purpose.
That’s a PLAN!
How do you plan in your life?
My experience as a child growing up in the Chicago suburbs on Lake Michigan provided casual family bike rides on paved trails, go-at-your-own-pace and feel the wind in your hair – before helmets were necessary.
However, my husband likes riding across the state of Iowa in RAGBRAI or the length of Wisconsin in the GRABAAWR (each about 500 miles in 5-6 days). So, you might guess our family bike rides are more than around the block.
Our daughter has been zipping along more than 15 miles on average per trip, at speeds of 12+ mph over the rolling hills of Wisconsin before she even graduated from training wheels. We’ve ridden the Sugar River Trail in New Glarus, Wis., the Ice Age Trail loop at Devils Lake State Park, and Glacial Drumlin from Cottage Grove, Wis., to Deerfield, Wis. (for the ice cream…) and back.
She enjoyed it more when she could be dad’s riding buddy traveling in a trailer bike attached to his road bike.
Through the years, one landmark trip was the 24-mile round-trip adventure to Crystal Lake in northern Wisconsin. We were dripping with sweat and tired when we arrived – so the crisp, cold water of this crystal-clear lake near Minocqua brought a welcome refresh.
Weaving through country roads from our cabin in Boulder Junction, we biked with anticipation with our snorkeling gear in tow. We explored the lake and swam across. While not the same as our Caribbean adventures, this trip “up North” provided our only clearly visible lake bottom view.
We set a new milestone in family biking adventures with our now 18-year-old daughter on a recent vacation to California. The 12+ miles up and down hills in San Francisco to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, Calif., blew us up against the rails of the bridge with blustering winds around the towers, and provided grand views worthy of post-card status.
The spiral downhill ride into Sausalito led to a final ferry ride back to the city. The sore muscles and numb fingers gave way to new bragging rights for literally crossing a new bridge in our family’s bike riding resume.
Where’s your favorite biking destination?
The best experiences are the ones that aren’t planned. They simply happen.
Like dropping everything to follow a hot air balloon. Or having a front-yard conversation evolve into a backyard campfire with friends.
My favorite family memories involve spur-of-the-moment decisions to get away – to simply pick a spot on the map, plug in the GPS coordinates and hit the highway in search of adventure.
No agenda. No timeline. No constraints. Just some salty snacks and a thirst for adventure.
Through this ad-hoc approach to travel, my family has discovered unfamiliar aspects of familiar locations. We’ve found new attractions by accident (especially after a wrong turn or two). And in almost every case, we’ve unearthed hole-in-the-wall restaurants whose cuisine and character far exceeded their outwardly appearance.
Yup, I love the road trip – and I bet you do, too.
That’s why I’m excited about American Family’s first e-book, Dreaming of the Road, to be released this fall. This digital publication will feature lots of practical tips for planning your next highway or back road adventure, and feature lots of personal road trip tales.
Here’s the best part: American Family wants your stories for possible inclusion in the book!
To share a tale, simply complete our online form. Just for contributing, you’ll be on the list of those to receive the e-book first.
I bet you have lots of great ideas. I look forward to reading them.
See you on the road!
My life is a series of different-sized screens. From a 3.5-inch smartphone, to a 55-inch flat screen TV – and all dimensions and devices in-between – I spend much of my day focused on a digital reality.
When I need to flee the screen’s electronic grip, I head outdoors. Often times, the simplest escapes involve a quick trip to the backyard of my suburban home in Wisconsin. It could also be a bike ride or a visit to my state’s plethora of parks.
But I’m most happy anywhere I can find the familiar tan and forest green logo of the National Park Service. Officially created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, national parks – and their idea – have been around much longer. President Ulysses Grant established Yellowstone National Park in 1872 – the nation’s first national park.
National Parks are part of our country’s fabric – and were established by visionaries who believed in the power of nature and the importance of preserving it – forever.
Indeed, they’re our best idea.
However, growing up my friends had different summer dreams – of baseball stadiums, big cities and beaches – not national parks. My family’s compass almost always pointed to the West, where interstate highways led us to less glamorous places with names like Badlands, Little Bighorn or Bryce Canyon.
I was a child of the National Park Service, and I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned in some of its 51.9 million acres.
Last summer, I gave my kids (10 and 12) a similar education, going on what they dubbed “The Great American Road Trip.” OK, that’s a bit cliché, but we did have a fantastic, 3,800-mile journey through South Dakota and Wyoming.
Everywhere we went, so was the National Park Service. We saw (and smelled) mud pots, bison and geysers. We tent-camped in national forests and parks, paying a penance to sleep under billions of stars in lieu of cushy queen beds and free WiFi.
We ate and slept among nature – not protected from it in some stuffy, air-conditioned hotel room. Our dinners were on wooden picnic tables that thousands of other campers like us used before. We disconnected from reality for two weeks, and it was hard to come home – back to our screens. Back to reality.
But we returned recharged. And my kids learned the lessons of my youth - the ones only nature can teach: appreciation of life’s simpler gifts.
John Muir – a pioneer of national parks – said it best more than 100 years ago:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”
― John Muir, Our National Parks
Editor's note: We want to hear your favorite summer escape. Leave a comment or visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page throughout the summer. Join the conversation by checking out the #30DaysOfSummer hashtags on Twitter and Facebook.