Doing What You Really Want to Do

There was a game we used to play in which we would buy a lottery ticket for a dollar, and then try to imagine in detail what we would do if we won. It was a dollar well spent, because it provided us with a concrete way in which to think about our goals. Would we go back to school, or buy land and build a house, or travel to some little-known island in the Caribbean?

We would play this game, mustering up as much imagination as we could, and then make a list of the goals that truly appealed to us, and we would rank them in importance.

The day would come when the lottery was held, and our number didn't come up. Too bad. But we had already learned something very important. We had freed ourselves from our normal routines and gotten a sense of the direction in which we would like to travel. It was here that the game started to become a reality. "How could we start trying to achieve our number one goal without winning the lottery?" we would ask ourselves, and with the limitations of time and energy and money that we faced, we would actually try to do it.

You should have your own wish list, and probably do. It is worth nurturing, and not immediately saying that its goals are impossible. The kind of goals we are talking about here have to be as healthy and balanced as possible. It is not enough to say, "I wish I had a million dollars," and let it go at that. Take the next step and imagine what you would do if you had enough money so that you didn't have to work for money anymore. How would you really spend your time? Do you have another life ready to take the place of the one you want to give up? That's the fundamental issue. You may not get the million dollars, but you can spend some time, energy and money trying to create the kind of life you really want to lead.

Let's imagine, for example, you want to be a writer, or an artist. But it appears that those kinds of careers are out of the question because you could never support yourself that way. That very well may be true. But what you can do is begin to rearrange your life now in order to give yourself time every day to write, or paint.

Sometimes, when we really look at our dreams, we begin to realize that they are symbols that stand for the more meaningful life we wish we were leading. That's valuable knowledge. And sometimes it only when we try to live out our dreams that we discover what it is we really want. In this whole process of dreaming about what we really want to do, we have to be as honest with ourselves as possible, and choose the dream that is the best for our whole selves.

What's your dream?

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Response in June, 2006

Wow. I just got through reading part of your Inner Explorations Page. I came upon your site when I googled "simple sunstainable living." I admire you guys. Your values, your determination, your bravery (bears!), your writing skills - I'm smitten. 
I live modestly in the wealthy city of Edmond, Oklahoma (near OKC). The average income is $72,000. The average home is probably 1700 square feet at least. Mine is 700. I live on the outskirts of the city on 5 acres. How I got here was due more to luck than intention. But I do love the peace, nature and all the living things in it. 
Professionally, I've been a therapist, an artist and most recently, a writer. I'm a single mom and have been really super depressed for years. I've worked, my god, so hard to figure out why, and to change it for good, but I think I just recently figured it out: I'm socially disenfranchised. My values don't fit in well in this part of the country. Although I've lived in Chicago and Seattle, my family is here. When I had my son I was drawn back home so he could have the benefits of an extended family.
I'm writing to thank you for your work and for sharing it. You are truly an inspiration to me. There isn't much of that around here. I don't strive for the same things as the mothers of the kids my son goes to school with. I'm a stranger in a strange land; ostracised, to a large degree (unfortunately this rubs off on my son). I've made really good money at times in my life, and they did not correlate with the happiest times of my life. I'm a thinker and a reader; it's important for me to stay educated on what is going on the world, especially relating to the environment. I just don't see others around me doing those things and I'm not the type to instigate a like-minded group.
I'm rather confused, flailing; trying to get a grip in our world that is hell-bent on destruction. I think it is no longer sufficient to simply strive to leave a small eco-footprint. I yearn for community and I think the majority of americans feel the same disconnect as I. I'm not sure what to do about it. Moving seems to be running away from and staying seems to be giving up to the numbed, self-centered consumerism that is others' primary preoccupation. The painful solution may be forced upon all of us, I fear.
I have no idea what you'll even make of all this. Actually, I have no idea why I went into all of this myself. You just seemed to be someone who might understand. I feel utterly alone, but I will keep educating myself and doing my best to prepare my little family -- and whomever else may listen. Sites such as yours help a great deal to focus and inspire me along this path.
Tamlyn Jordan



Another response


Yes, I've had dreams - two big dreams. And I've found dreams die - or are killed - in a world where only certain dreams are deemed valuable. I studied music composition in college. I had the dream of being a composer - like Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky. Unfortunately I live in a world where such work is not valued. A Philip Glass or two, that's enough. It's impossible to "be" a composer in this society without having another job, perhaps teaching music composition at a university to students who won't be able to use their "profession" in the "real" world, but could become teachers at a university... I could have gone for a doctorate and become a professor of music, but it was 1982, there was a major recession and no scholarship money... So that dream died and became the fertilizer of pain. Yes, I can still write music - but for whom? Myself? As a form of prayer to God? Is that enough? Or does it require, as part of its reality, communication with other people?

The other dream was to go to seminary and become a pastor (I'm Lutheran). I went, with my new family (I had just married a woman with a young son), and we thought we had enough money to get through. Unfortunately my wife had an accident and was out of work for six months, and my church, rather than trying to help, tried to find ways to decrease their financial support (I never received a single phone call or letter from my pastor). I could not remain at seminary; it was more important to see to my family's financial well-being.

I'm still active in the same church, and, with my two years' seminary experience, I can preach every few months, teach, etc. My ministry seems to be to work in the "real" world, know the experiences others experience in the workplace, and to think about that experience theologically. Where is God in all this? Where is my ministry in all this? I am reminded of what Jesus told Peter: you will go where you don't want to go. Dreams die - crucified - but dreams rise again - resurrected in the light and power of the risen Christ.

Question: given the death of dreams, how do we discern God's hand in it (as opposed to the killing action of sinful humanity); how do we reflect upon it theologically and rise from the ashes? Ken Fasano

 We can really relate to what you said about your dreams. We think many people are in similar situations. Our society is structured to funnel us into particular kinds of activities where we just use one part of ourselves. There is no easy answer to this since it is so wide-spread, and built in to the way the society works. But you can't really give up your dreams without losing touch with important parts of yourself. The dreams may have to take a different outer form, but it is important to try to keep their inner heart alive. You need to live out the dreams, even if it appears that nobody is paying attention. Who knows, but if you do that, then some day the various dreams can come together and they may even find some unexpected outer expressions. The Editors

 I think God has taken my dream of being a pastor and channeled it into a ministry which He believes to be of more use: for me to work in the workplace and reflect theologically on that work so that the theological reflection can be used to minister to His people. It is hard for me, though, to see the world falling apart around me, with its present (not future) overpopulation, environmental degradation, and people crying out for God's presence, and to be able to do little about it.

It is hard to realize that we will leave our children and grandchildren a world in worse shape than the one we were born into. This is our cross to bear. But what can any of us do (even the great saints among us) except point to Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, pray that God's will for his creation will prevail (i.e. that it will be one community united in love as the Triune community is), seek to live in His presence, and do the little mitzvahs for our sisters and brothers (people, animals, trees, etc.)?! This we can do in the workplace just as well as anywhere else. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone else who has had a similar experience and thoughts about workplace as ministry. Ken Fasano

A Response to Ken

Dear Ken,

I can easily identify and empathize with your comments regarding the death of dreams. In my own experience, my desires, my dreams, to become a musician-composer, writer-theologian were well formed within me before Christ and this spiritual journey had taken root deep within me. Hopefully, I have learned that what I might have desired, what I might have dreamed, just may not be the desire, the dream of God for my life. The musician, the writer remain within me, and I am sure that in some aspect they will come to their fruition as they should - perhaps not as I had envisioned - but as God would have them be.

When I finally determined to die to self so that Christ could be formed within me, my dreams, my desires, became quite secondary to the circumstances where God had placed me... I have also found that my best writing, whether in words or musical notation, is not the result of strenuous study, work or exercise, but come into being quite simply and naturally - hopefully by inspiration.

St. John of the Cross is quite correct when he urges us to forget ourselves, our dreams, our desires, so that we may be remembered by God and His vision, his desires for our lives may become our own. We cannot completely deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow the way of Jesus unless we are able to let go of everything - and this may well include our own vision, our own desires, our own dreams.... Peace.... Butch,   E-Mail Address:

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Another Response

I read the articles about following your dreams. Thought I'd share a bit of my own experience.

From 1982 - 1994 I worked in Customer Service for a major electric and gas utility company - 12 long years. I learned many things about myself and human nature in that context, however I always knew that it wasn't where I wanted to spend my entire working life. In fact some days I literally hated it, but I trudged along each day even having knocked, and knocked, and knocked on very many doors as I looked for an opening "somewhere". That opening never happened. A door never opened. I literally felt stuck. After 12 long years I had had enough. So, I jumped ship and didn't have a clue where I would go next.

I had always sensed a "call" but that call was so vague. I could not formulate what it meant, where it would lead, what to make of it, etc. It was simply there. All through the years I worked with the E & G company I knew the presence of that "something", that "call" deep inside. I came to regard it as a call leading me into the ministry. So, several months after jumping ship with my former employer I headed for college in pursuit of a BA and from there attend Seminary where eventually I would earn a M Div. and if God so led, become ordained as a Lutheran minister. I guess becoming an ordained minister was my dream.

Throughout this period I worked part time while attending school. However, my employer, in the context of periodic discussions we held would comment, "You don't have to become a minister to serve God". Guess he sensed in me what I really knew deep down but didn't want to admit to myself : that I really wasn't certain I wanted to become and ordained minister but was searching for my place under the sun nonetheless. I was uncertain about becoming an ordained minister but I had to explore the road, right?

I even gave thought - much thought - about becoming a monk in a Cistercian-Trappist Abbey. Strangely(?), on the very day I left my employer of 12 years, I "immediately" left from there and went directly to an Abbey. I had given no prior thought to this. Like the commercial that says, "Just do it"...well, I just did it ! This unplanned visit to the Abbey was an impetus to much deeper soul searching and also an avenue where I discovered much deeper meaning in the search for God and myself. Becoming acquainted with the monks who lived there and subsequent visits helped me in ways that healed and gave substance of which I lacked but was then ready to receive.

After two years of school I was offered a weekend job as a drummer. The money was better for two nights in comparison to one weeks wages of my (then) current earnings. Who could pass this up ? The plan was to begin attending school full time and work weekends. I thought the way was paved and set. One month after I had begun playing "the gigs" I received a phone call early Sunday morning. I was asked to come pick up my equipment and that I was no longer needed.

This was another blow among a series of blows in my personal life that had happened during the last 2 years. So I finished the semester, living at home with my father, no job, still clueless. At the years end of 1997 things were just too tense. I had to make a choice. And I did.

I moved to Kentucky with nothing but my truck, a few articles of clothing and the money I had in my wallet. I thought I would continue school, but I just didn't sense a pull in that direction. I began working on a Thoroughbred horse farm. Since then I have worked on three different farms. Is this my dream ? Job hopping, no. However, I have encountered persons along the way with whom I have somehow connected and in some way contributed something meaningful in their lives. I know this is no coincidence, yet it goes beyond any human vocabulary I know of to describe how it has all taken place. I simply "know" it has, and their lives have made a contribution in mine as well. I had one man tell me, "You came along in my life just when I needed it". Another woman with whom I became friends with on the second farm I worked on, left this life to be with Christ. Were our paths crossing in life, during that time, fate ? I have often had the thoughts that being here is akin to the Angel that Michael Landon portrayed in his once popular t.v. series. Maybe I'm on assignment for "The Boss" ! I have also gained a deep love for horses and enjoy being with them.

Being "green" in this occupation/vocation is no small undertaking. Yeah, I've definitely been laughed at, scoffed, ridiculed - part of the "new guy on the block" scenario in any context where your new at something and have to be "show the ropes". Sometimes I wondered, what am I doing here ? No, this isn't like "Frazier" being put in with a bunch of farm boys, but picture a guy who was raised middle class, in the suburbs, and has a little bit of education in contrast to guys who didn't grow up with some of the things I had or haven't been exposed to a divergence of cultural or ethnic experiences and you can form your own conclusions. I simply went into each scenario willing to learn and offer what I could. We always found common ground. I've lived with it, and I've learned along the way. At the same time I was told by the owner of the first farm I worked with that I am "a natural" with horses. Geez didn't I feel like Robert Redford! But, the horses love me - it's an innate sense.

I am more at peace now than I was a year and a half ago when I first moved here. It has been a transitional adjustment. Some folks are amazed that I once aspired to become a minister and now work with horses. Yeah, well, so am I ! Mucking stalls ain't my idea of prayerful meditation ! However, I have often heard the counter to the above statement when I have heard or read where others said something to the effect, "I never would have dreamed this. I once worked in a shoe factory - (or military, CEO, rodeo clown, etc.) - and
now I'm here in Mongolia as a missionary". It works both ways. God is able to guide and manifest Himself in ways that go beyond our finite comprehension.

At this point I am in between jobs again. I have searched my heart, listened to others, listened for that still small voice inside. I have done what I can do. I have an opportunity to work at the race track - Churchill Downs. Is this where I've been led because of my choices congruent with and resisting God's will along the way ? How much choice do I really have ? I ask this last question because the opportunity I am now faced with is challenging me. I feel as one of your writers has written where he quoted a verse about Jesus stating to Peter, " will go where you don't want to go". This verse used to come to mind just at the time I left the corporate job of 12 years and came to me often during the next two years thereafter. Then, I no longer had that thought....until I see it written in someone else's life story. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I feel a resistance inside.

I am not sure what my dream is now, or if I even have one. I know I am searching; searching for meaning, purpose, God, myself. I don't like this transition between jobs but I remind myself that life isn't everything that American culture says it is. Life doesn't have to be funneled into separate components of minuscule parts where atoms become separated and peered at under a microscope. We all don't fit the same mold. All of us don't have to work at Corporate America where you get all the perks, the 401k, a nice pension, all the while you get a nice salary and can keep up with the Jones'. All of us can't work there. Don't misunderstand me. All those perks are good in themselves - except for keeping up with the Jones'. Life is so much more though. Life is about integration, union, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Still, I'm searching for my dream...perhaps God's dream for me, whatever that may be and however it unfolds as time continues.

I write simply to share. Everyone has a story. God be with you.

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Another Response

For me that began by assessing what are the most significant things that make life meaningful. My conclusions lead me to observe that natural beauty, being able to enjoy creation, love for ones spouse, good friendships with others of both sexes, meaningful conversations that share other people's wisdom and knowledge, and having a place of reference are among the things that contribute to making my life meaningful. In looking upon such things I have noticed that these things are free in the sense that money can't purchase them. Yet their availability are tied to who I am and my willingness to be available.

In this context my work and what I may choose to purchase is focused upon gaining the time or assisting the context to be engaged in these relationships. Thus I am not occupied with things in the sense of aquiring them for their sake, but I am more concerned how they facilitate access to these opportunities. For example a home provides the context to engage in family and friendship relationships. But the home does not have to be expensive or large. It needs only to be hospitable and comfortable. Many things which might be available such as TV are not a necessity because owning one does not necessarily facilitate access to these relationships.

I hope you enjoy these thoughts. Feel free to add to them or share a different perspective.

Dick Ewing,

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A Response by Mark Douglass

Over the course of the past few years of trials and disappointments I finally hit the end of my endurance. I didn't know what to do or where to turn next in the natural world. I hadn't lost my faith in God, but I had lost my heart. In the effort to comform to the standards of my peers and succeed financially for my family, I was being choked by the cares of this world. I read a book called "Wild at Heart". I read it 5 times because it spoke to me on a heart level, and my heart was daring to live again. With that came some of the old frustrations, but it was worth it and I was determined to work through it. I remembered a vision (dream while awake) I had received a year ago. I was standing by a stream of water and Jesus came by. I could see the the lines running through him that held the firmament and all of creation. He was wearing only a cloth around the waist, seemed quite at ease and sat down on the bank dripping from the stream. I didn't know how to act or what to say. I figured honesty was the best policy and I simply stated, " I'm sorry, I don't know how to act." He responded, "Be yourself". Two words. Two very powerful words coming from the ultimate authority. I wish I could say that I experienced an immediate revelation, but I did not. It's been over the course of time and remembering that moment that I began to learn what He meant. Head knowledge does not equate to heart knowledge, and I am beginning to learn that my mission here on earth is to be the best me he created me to be. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't mean going off on some narcicistic naval gazing journey, but to stop worrying about how I measure up to the Jones's or the worlds expectations. I have learned to look at what I have instead of what I don't have. It is a powerful lesson and I am beginning to believe that destiny lies in what we have rather than what we don't have. The reason I could not find destiny was because I was always looking at the hole in the doughnut rather than at the doughnut. It's a journey, a river like in Ezekiel and I am not there yet, but I have more peace and I can trust God to lead me there.

I will leave you with this. An elderly wise man from Wales told me a story recently about his first american doughnut. At the World's Fair in the 60's he bought a doughnut from a machine. There was a little piece of paper with the doughnut that went something like this. "In your travels through this life my brother, where ever you may go, keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole!" I know it sounds nutty, but there is Truth in it and it makes it easy to remember when I experience a bump in the road and I am tempted to focus on what I think I need versus what I have. As a result I have begun to create things I never thought possible. I built a forge from scrap material and am learning how to make things to enrich our home and lives that I would not been able to pay for. I haven't spent hardly anything compared to what I am gaining and its because I have committed myself to living from my deep heart, and focusing on the doughnut. Hope this helps someone else along their journey. Mark Douglass

I was greatly encouraged by your story. It was in many ways confirming and validating. I am currently experimenting in building with Cob. I am building a Cob forge to start with. I read an interesting statement from a Blacksmith last night. He said that "invention was a combination of brains and material. The more brains, the less material is needed". I have discovered that I am often much more creative when my materials are limited. I know I'm a better cook when the cupboards are nearly bare than when they are full. My wife would argue that she's a better cook when we can get prepared meals from Sam's Club! I believe you have experienced what I am saying at a greater level. I am interested in more of your thoughts on creativity but I also understand you must be very busy! I will continue to check in on your website from time to time. Mark Douglas,


An update from Mark Douglass:

I few months ago I sent you an email in response to your webpage. I decided that in the spirit of "doing what is in you to do" it may be beneficial to someone to follow up. In any case you can get a charge out of the photos!

I decided to build a forge, but I had little money and no materials. At least no materials that I could see at the outset. Fortunately clay is abundant here in North Carolina. A couple bags of sand, some straw I found leftover from the last tenants and some sweat created a forge made from cob. I built a box bellows based on an ancient japanese design I found on the internet for air supply. The red color and roaring sound reminds me of a dragon and so I began building one onto it. You can see the abdomen and dragon feet in the photo.

The whole point is that there is no substitute for determination. Determination will aid vision. Vision brings hope/confidence to accomplish what you set out to do. The tongs in the photo are made from old black railings I found in the woods and are quite serviceable for what I am doing. I am making a heavier pair now, but these got me started. In time I will leave the rat race and forge for a living. It is the hottest, dirtiest, and most physically demanding work I have ever done next to carpet installing, but its not like work at all to me when I have created something out of nothing. Hope you enjoyed this little follow up!

Jun11#65.JPG (169607 bytes) tongs on anvil.JPG (135150 bytes)

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A Response from Miss Michelle D. Bainbridge,

I'm a single mom who has had her fair share of minor struggles in life, but nothing horrific. Sometimes it seems I've been alive forever, sometimes I feel I'm still just out of high school. But let me use high school as a jumping-off point in my contribution to the discussion on "doing what is in you to do".

I had no idea what I wanted to do after school, so applied for the first thing that caught my fancy, Food Technology. Six months into the course I discovered what food technology actually was all about, but I enjoyed my studies. I graduated with a small son in tow and immediately was offered employment on a wine/dairy/fruit farm as a cheesemaker - developing a cheese and butter factory from the ground up. I also got involved in the administration of the dairy. After 2 years the owning company of the place decided to cut costs - which meant cutting me out of a job and closing the factory.

My next job came along right away - lucky me! - with a complete change of scenery. Based on my administrative experience I was hired as a secretary at a private college. I've been here for nearly 8 years now, but 2 years ago was given my own office and a new title, heading up admissions all on my own. While all this was going on my parents moved from South Africa to Australia and spent a lot of time hinting that we should go too. Well, earlier this year, after a very bad experience at work, I made the decision to give it a try. I applied online for a job, was interviewed telephonically, got the job and started on the time-consuming process of collecting proof enough for the Australian government to let me in.

In the meantime I started getting really intolerant of being indoors, of stress and noise, of being chained to a desk all day long, when I longed to be outside digging in my garden, working around the house or spending time with my child and dogs. The only think keeping me sane was free and constant internet access, which I used to full advantage by researching everything under the sun that happened to interest me - and by which means this site came up! I've always longed to live off the land, get back to basics and be able to survive on my own. I want my son to grow up in the type of rural atmosphere I did, instead of addicted to TV and consumerism. It's always seemed an impossible dream - where would a single, unsupported woman with a child ever come up with enough cash to make it work? (We are though trying to live as simply and sustainably as we can where we are right now)

I've always been a huge day-dreamer. Perhaps it's a means to escape where you're at and imagine where you could be. And then things started to come together - dreams I had for years suddenly seemed to fit like puzzle pieces. I had wondered how I could homeschool my struggling-at-school son when I had to work all day. Suddenly the words "homesteading" and "homeschooling" seemed related! Not having to pay for formal schooling (and uniforms, and books, and....) means I don't necessarily need a formal income! I didn't know how I could afford land, but then my parents suggested we pool resources to buy a small farm together where they can retire. My experience as a cheesemaker may provide income along with my love of animals and growing things, my experience in administration means I have a good business background to manage that income. All I need to find a place for now is my experience as a worship leader and musician at church!:)

So at the end of this long story there's only one conclusion for me. Throughout life you have a variety of experiences and the chance to learn and develop skills. You pick up information on the way, you gather insight. Doing what is in you simply involves combining what you've learned and what you love into what you spend your life doing. It doesn't have to involve a career, it has nothing to do with material possessions. It has to do with lasting blessings - your skills, your family, your enjoyment of simple pleasures and your willingness to see things from a completely out-of-the-ordinary angle. Once you're willing to do that, doing what is in you comes naturally!

Michelle Bainbridge - somewhere between South Africa & Australia (


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A Response from Cathy Wilson,

I'm 52 and the mother of nine kids. I was in an unfortunate marriage for 24 years and I thought I could NEVER do anything I wanted to do! Ultimate frustration: barefoot and pregnant and nursing and always wishing, wishing. . .

Then at 45 I got a divorce; my youngest was 4; I had eight kids at home. I took a step out of the trap. As a single mother, I expanded my freelance writing/editing business so I could have enough money, and most of the time, I did. Still I was frustrated because all I did was work and take care of kids.

Then the magic! At 47 I met my soulmate. We married, the most delicious and happy experience of my life. And it turns out that my husband--like me--is a facilitator. When he sees that I want to try something, he makes it happen. He buys the woodworking tools, goes out collecting clay with me at streambeds, arranges weekends away for me so I can finish a book, and sets up the tiller so I can do the garden myself. I'm having the time of my life! All the can'ts have turned into cans! Why did I think I needed permission?

Actually part of the magic is having two incomes, so we can afford to try a few things. The other is letting go of have-to's: have to cook every day (we can buy tacos out sometimes); have to do all the housework (kids can do it, too, for heaven's sake); have to get everything done before I can watercolor or build adobe (let it go, for heaven's sake).

We found ourselves blessed with just the house and land we wanted; just the jobs we love (I teach in a detention center); just the schedule we would like. Who would have guessed? Cathy

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