Category Archives: Meaning in the ‘Burbs

When Overthinking Destroys Your Dreams

I am a great believer in signs, but I’ve learned that we increase the likelihood of spotting them when we’re moving down a path, not waiting but expecting. -Paul Boynton

Creative Commons. Copyright Nate and Tilly Ritter.

Creative Commons. Copyright Nate and Tilly Ritter.

During a meeting on an empowerment program that I am piloting this fall (based on the work of the What’s Your Brave project), our conversation turned to the dreams of the adults in the
room. As often happens, one of the grown-ups sheepishly offered that they are still figuring it all out.

To which, I said:

Thank God!

Me too!! Awesome!

This means you and I are still growing and discerning how to achieve meaningful work and life and how we can best impact to make this world a better place. This is so alive and the alternative is to be a spectator in your own life.

Here’s where most of us go wrong.

When my five siblings and I were growing up, one of my mother’s favorite mantras in exasperation was:

You think too much.

As the ultimate overanalyzer, I was indignant that she would minimize the importance of considering issues from all vantage points.

But my mother was right. Many of us want to analyze and think our way into our dreams and goals. Reflection and planning will save you time, heartache and money, but it will only take you so far.

It’s embarrassingly obvious, but without action, you won’t progress. Action builds momentum. Overthinking destroys it.  

Listen to my mother (who is now in her 80’s)! You can’t think your way into clarity and progress on your dream; you grow into it through action.

Take 5

There is no actual risk in taking one small action toward your dream today. Not sure where to start? Do the thing that is at the core of your boldest dreams. Want to be a writer? Write (and read) every day. Painter. Paint. That’s where the magic will happen.


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Sometimes the Solution is Easy

The most effective way to do it, is to do it. – Amelia Earhart

It’s September and for me that means reflecting on what I have achieved thus far and what I want to accomplish in the next year. Recently, I was complaining  sharing with a friend about my lack of time for writing in the midst of growing a new company and family. Life is busy, incredibly so for those of us (which is most of us) juggling work and family and kids’ commitments…and then there’s sleep.

But I stopped myself because sometimes the solution is easy, as is the case here. And so I am taking Amelia’s advice and choosing the most effective way to do it by doing it. For this year (Wait! What?! That’s a lot of public practicing.), I will be blogging five days a week on creating meaningful work and life in the ‘burbs – keeping it real and sharing my own personal experiences on building a purpose-filled business. Asking big questions, providing research-based practical tips and case studies, inspiration, and working hard to focus on what matters most.

Take 5

How about you? Is there a goal or a dream that you don’t think you have time for? I hope you will join me in taking Amelia’s advice and do it. Start by subscribing using the link below.

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What to Follow When in Search of Your Purpose

Untitled designA couple of weekends ago, my daughter and I took a very casual peek at a couple of colleges. As cliché as it sounds, it is such an exciting time of possibility, when there is literally a world of opportunity waiting for her. Being a witness and supporter in the process is especially poignant and joy-filled for me given my early life circumstances.

We checked in at a shady three-star hotel and drove to the local 99 restaurant for dinner, near the school that we planned to visit the next day. The walls of the 99 had photos of elite college sports teams and other college alum from decades past to present. The host, a man probably in his late twenties, greeted us, 

“How are you?”

“Great and you?”

“Awesome,” he said. “Living the dream,” he said.

“Just living the dream,” he repeated as he whisked passed us and one of the black and white college photos.

I wondered how many times he had said it before. To how many moms and dads with their high school students visiting from out of town.

“This way, please.”

Everyday pleasantries returned.

Maybe he loves his work and was just having a bad day or he hates his jobs but is funding his real work with its paycheck… or maybe this is his second job, supporting a family, working hard to make ends meet…or maybe the heaviness of his dreams unrealized particularly weighed on him in that moment. I have my theories (and sometimes think I am a mind reader), but what’s true and real is that I will never know for sure.

Whether imagined or not, the thought of his unleashed potential dying a little bit everyday broke my heart. Broke. My. Heart.

Looking for your calling? What breaks your heart? Follow that. Find a way to change that.

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Why Hillary is in My Dreams

You can be what you can see. -adapted from Marian Wright-Edelman quote

I don’t often have vivid dreams, but this one felt so real that it stays with me two weeks later.

In the dream I was attending a business event in a swanky hotel’s  ballroom, similar to ones I have been in many times. I was sitting in one of many rows of chairs set up for a workshop due to begin soon.

As I was waiting for the session to start, I noticed that the hotel staff was busy setting up chairs for a second event on the other side of the ballroom. I knew immediately that Hillary Clinton was coming to speak. I also knew that although my event would be fine (and ordinary and perhaps  flat) that I was called to the other side of the room where the excitement was palpable.

Without hesitation, I moved over to the other side of the room.

(Too typical I know), but I looked down and realized that I still had my pajamas on and immediately bolted home to get dressed.

After being temporarily distracted at home, I hurried back to the event, worried that I was too late, that I had missed the window of opportunity, and then looked down seeing that I was now only half prepared (as I was still wearing my pajama pants!)

But it was too late to return home and finish getting ready.

And with that I ran back to the Hillary event, snagging a front row seat and founded myself surrounded by several other women, ranging in age from twenties to seventies and beyond. As we waited for HRC to take the podium, I huddled close to these other women; our emotions palpable as we shared why we were there. Hillary Clinton did arrive in the end and it was just as spectacular as I imagined.

Politics aside, the symbolism of this dream is almost absurdly personal as I have been struggling with whether or not I should respond to a particular calling.

Do I stay where I am (the fine, but ordinary and flat side of the room)? Or do I take it up a level, where there is excitement, but risk? Can I do this? Am I ready (No. Definitely not, but perhaps, half ready. See pjs). And the most sobering question of all… Is it too late? 

When I awoke, I was inspired and clear-headed. After her defeat in 2008, like many, I assumed that Hillary Clinton’s window of opportunity to become the first female president had closed and now, here we are in 2016, it is once again a possibility as she has just made history as the first woman to be nominated for President of a major political party.

I know how HRC’s historic rise impacts my daughter and son and a generation of girls and boys across the United States who are watching a 240 year barrier lifted. (You can be what you can see.)

But, what moves me just as much, is that I also see the significance for a generation of women and men in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond. Women, who for a variety of societal and personal reasons, started toward a bold dream late or perhaps are ready for a new vision and calling.

No matter your political views, I hope that Hillary’s nomination serves as a powerful reminder, that despite defeat and obstacles and yes, age, that it is not too late to pursue your dream, to answer a bold calling…

That all of us, can do and be whatever we want starting today even if we begin only half ready with our pajama pants on. 

Do it. Take the risk. Began today. I sure plan to.

xo Paula

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Being the Mama That You Really Are

uniquemama1It’s not hyperbole to admit that I am more comfortable giving a speech in front of hundreds of people, than I am putting my daughter’s hair in a bun for her annual dance recital. This year I was rescued by a smart mom armed with her super-weapons, a hairagami, a sense of humor, and just the right dose of sarcasm (For those that are uninitiated, hairagami is a brilliant invention and has saved countless hours of needless mother-daughter angst – look it up).

Maybe it’s because my daughter is now officially a teenager. Or that I still feel a little bad that she taught me how to make a French braid. Whatever the reason, I have become even more reflective, than my normally introspective self, about my experience of motherhood. So it is not that surprising I have been thinking a lot about my own mom’s mothering.

Domestic Diva

My mother never attempted the hair bun, but she did bake a near perfect tollhouse cookie. In the working class city neighborhood that I grew up in, that made her a domestic diva. It was pre-Martha Stewart, after all. As a young child, I adored this about my mother. Primarily because it gave me a ton of playmate power – a request for her to whip up a batch was enough to keep friends at my house as long as I wanted them there.

The cookies were great leverage, but like many adults turned parents, what I find amazing about my mom is the stuff I took for granted growing up.

The fact that at six years old, I was convinced that spinach and rice was the best meal ev-er, is no small feat.  And despite a general lack of supervision, the way of life back in the day, my mother still managed to have six kids pretty clean, always on time for school, and perfectly coiffed for Easter photos.

When I was in kindergarten, she spent hours clicking away at super-lightning speed on her  typewriter addressing envelopes. I missed her when she left by taxi or bus weekly lugging all those boxes of envelopes to make a little bit of money that she could call her own. The woman’s movement never hit our neighborhood, so in retrospect I see how gutsy and resourceful she was.

Today it takes my breath away that she was and remains such a loyal, non-judgmental friend, to those viewed outside the status quo.

Everyday acts of self-expression

Best of all, I am all out crazy in love with my mom’s everyday acts of self-expression that were simply mortifying as a kid,  bursting through her otherwise quiet, normal persona.  Today I find it sheer perfection that she had five different hair colors in the span of a few years (counting the wig); and that the only make up she wore was fire-engine red or fuchsia pink lipstick. When I was a teenager, we moved into an apartment with black and white striped wall paper.  As if this wasn’t embarrassing enough, she unabashedly purchased a retro sofa with mega blue and chartreuse flowers. Now, I revel in how despite a lack of options and painful circumstances, she still found ways to express her color to the world.


In contrast, I prided myself on my idiosyncratic avoidance of decoupage, fancy hairdo’s, and domesticity in general. I could bring home the bacon and was pretty good at cooking it up in a pan when I felt like it and as long as my husband cooked sometimes too. But optional domestic tasks were not my thing.

Once my daughter was born, in between general exhaustion and running a business, I jumped into craft-making wholeheartedly though. I did this despite everything I had ever espoused because somewhere lodged deep in my psyche, there was a formula to being an incredible mom. And that formula included craft making.  I have the painstaking alphabet sampler to prove it with hand-sewn items for each letter  – including may I say without sounding too boastful, a violin with strings and a bow.  Public praise and adoration replaced by uncontrollable laughter from the friends who have known me for years.

Embracing the Mama that You Are

Two kids and 13 years later, my sister or a friend helps us if a sewing task comes up. My own crafting just couldn’t be sustained. Most simply, because it wasn’t me.  Instead, I focus on embracing the mom that I really am. If you want to share your wildest dreams aloud to someone who won’t call you crazy, I’m in! Edit your paper. Make you a green smoothie. I’m the one for you.  Talk about what life is like for most women and girls in the world and what we can do about it. And spend hours looking at your photos, or buy you gold mining gear, and enjoy every minute. Admire every art project and math paper you ever did, yup (that’s what all those piles are in my office).

A part of me does secretly still wish that I was the go-to mom for the hair-do.  It’s not that I want to be the perfect mom; I don’t think any of us really want that deep down.

Most of the mothers I know just want their daughters and sons to know, that they are deeply, vulnerably forever and inexpressibly in love with them.  That we would do anything to protect them. Even when we sound annoyed.  That’s what the buns and alphabet samplers and tollhouse cookies and coaching and ambitions and even – yikes – the pressure is really all about.

Recently, I was at a wellness day with my daughter and her entire middle school.  At the end, they had former addicts share their experiences in the hope of deterring kids from heading down the wrong path. One young man’s story was particularly poignant and I was moved to tears (literally).  Geez, I wasn’t sobbing or anything, but one of my daughter’s friends noticed telling her, “your mom is crying.”  (Try saying that aloud with the tone of a 13 year old) You can imagine how well that went over.

I am hoping that one day she will embrace that story just like I embrace my mom’s colorful sofa.

Either way in the end, the most beautiful gift I can give my daughter and son is to embrace who they  really are as human beings and to teach them to let that shine unapologetically in the world.

I can tell my daughter to ignore what’s in the movies or what she hears on the street about what it means to be  a girl and a mama (if she so chooses). And ditto for my son – he doesn’t have to fit into the cookie-cutter prescriptions he sees for what manhood and dad-hood look like either. Their job is not to lean in or lean out… it’s simply to be their divinely-made selves, the one in seven billion that they are naturally.

I gave up regret several years ago, but if I could change one thing about my mothering, I wish I had started embracing that mama that I am naturally earlier for my children’s sake and my own.

So whatever you are doing this mother’s day, embrace the strange, flawed, unique mama that you really are.

Paula Grieco is an Entrepreneur, Writer, and Coach. She is the author of Take 5 for Your Dreams and Reclaim Your Dreams: A Workbook for Busy Women.

Give yourself and your daughter the gift of dreaming big this Mother’s Day:


When is the last time you set aside time to reflect on what you want your life to be about? Reclaim Your Dreams provides you with the tools and a simple, elegant process to intentionally explore, identify, and take action on your boldest goals and desires using a real-life, practical approach that is doable within your busy life. It was developed from research and built upon the success of the Reclaim Your Dreams workshop series for busy women. Through reflective, fun, and approachable Take 5 (5-15 minute) questions and exercises, you may {re}discover several dreams or become clear on one specific goal that you are ready to claim. By the end of the workbook, you will choose and take action on a meaningful dream.
41j2SwxwavLMade especially for tween and teen girls, Take 5 for Your Dreamsis an engaging book that provides more than 90 five-minute daily exercises designed to inspire girls to be who they really are, think about their future, and how they can get there. Packed with beautiful photos, quotes, mini-essays, and resources, it’s a simple and elegant solution meant to break big dreams into easy, doable daily actions.


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One Reason You Don’t Have Clarity on Your Goals


CreativeCommons: BRTeaA firm has been helping me with a new product that I am working on. They are incredible in many ways…but completion is taking much longer than expected. Much, much longer. When they shot a few product photos for me, I realized what the problem was.

They never asked me what I wanted. 

Rather than taking the time (in this case just a few minutes) to ask me a few questions to understand what I needed and wanted, they did what was standard..defaulted to what they usually do.

Hmmmm…. Sounds familiar. I don’t know about you, but I still do this sometimes in my own life. Although understanding what you or I want our lives to be about is a bit more complicated than a photo shoot, the concept is the same. Often we go through our days without taking the time to step back and ask ourselves the big questions.

People – especially busy people – don’t have clarity on their life direction because they haven’t taken the time to ask themselves what matters most, what they really want their life to be about, and then made decisions based on that.

The moral of the story, if you want clarity about your dreams, start by taking the time to intentionally asking yourself what YOU really want. Not what is expected of you or others think you should do or is appropriate for your age or prestigious or easy…but what you really want. And then, act accordingly.

Take 5

If you don’t have clarity on your dreams, here’s a good place to start. Today, take a few minutes to brainstorm a list of what really matters to you….people, issues, causes, and values. Let me know what you came up with in the comments.

If you want an approachable way to ask yourself the big questions, here is a self-reflection road map to help you intentionally reclaim your dreams (and your life), check out the Reclaim Your Dreams Workbook for Busy Women available on Amazon.

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Know What Moves Your Soul…and Start There

I cleared some physical space this weekend as I make room for positive things coming in my work and life over the next several months. <Side note. Do this when you are starting on a new dream or at a crucial moment in the pursuit of your goal. Don’t make it a major project, but do spend 30 minutes (or 10) to clear some physical space…even a single drawer. It is an instant energy booster and flow enhancer.>

While clearing some space, I looked up at this photo that I rarely notice as it has been in my office for many years.  I shot it when my husband and I traveled to India with Habitat for Humanity.

During our time in India, we volunteered for several days in Mother Teresa’s homes in Kolkata. Everyone always asks me if we met Mother Teresa…and yes, yes we did. 

Most of our time, though, was spent  side-by-side with citizens of a local rural area near Rewari, India to provide extra hands to build homes in their community. We were there in August and I spent many days working on top of a roof in 100 degree weather…squatting side-by-side with the local young women of the village as they taught me how to crush and pack rock down on the roof.

Despite the physically challenging work (at least for me squatting 8 hours a day was new), we laughed often (mostly at my incompetence), taught one another words in our respective languages, and in truly magical moments, exchanged knowing smiles about the beauty of our experience together.

During our final evening there, the locals organized a house dedication ceremony and midway through our Habitat group had to leave in a hurry. People from other villages were starting to arrive and it was getting very crowded and our hosts advised that we go as our presence was creating chaos. As we were speeding off, one of the women that I had worked with all week sprinted after our jeep. I was in the back and she was able to grasp my hand and hold it, until our pace was too, our hands still extended until we could no longer see one another. 

I am still taken by the experience when I think about it today all these years later. As much as meeting Mother Teresa, a literal saint, was an honor and a special moment that people want to hear about; mostly it is just an intriguing story to tell… But working shoulder-to-shoulder on the rooftop with my friend, that was different. That moved my soul… Playing a small part in building life-changing homes, connecting so personally with someone a world away, and learning about the beauty and the limits of her life. No, it did more. It changed my soul…informing some of my life choices. 

I think it is time to retire the photo from my wall. Just to make it crystal clear that I (and my family) are ready for new travel and work adventures.

But I am glad I waited all this time as it has reminded me how important is to take time to remember what makes me feel fully alive and knowing I want more of that in my life. Not what makes for a cool story or an impressive job title that gratifies the ego, but the work and connections that call me deeply. There’s too little time to settle for less.

Take 5

So how about you? What moves your soul?

Take a few moments to write down a list right now. Can you do one thing this week that moves your soul?

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Suffering, Beauty, and the Dump


I was so taken by the majesty of nature when I arrived at the dog park today.

I shot this photo but I wasn’t sure if I would share it.

It was early morning and I was up and out by six am.

10 minutes earlier I had been buying a Venti at Starbucks. Since the rest of my Saturday would be full of work and kids’ activities, I decided to grab a cup of coffee to take with me in the hopes of creating an atypical, slower-paced, meditative walking space.

As I was heading out of Starbucks, I noticed the grief-stricken face of a woman on the cover of the New York Times—I couldn’t pass her by. The mother’s daughter had been killed in a terrorist attack and a photographer shot the photo as she bent over her daughter’s coffin.

I took her suffering to the park with me (as I often do).

Then, when I arrived, Nature greeted me with this gift and the anguish and beauty were existing together.

(Until my phone rang.)

My daughter called to be sure I would be back in time to bring her to the dump to sell raffle tickets for her basketball team.

Yup, the dump.

And there it is—beauty, suffering and carpools to the dump.

Some days, life in the ‘burbs can feel so trivial in the backdrop of world events.

And hard to resolve in my head and heart.

But, today it all matters.

That mother was still with me as I soaked in the gift of awe-inspiring nature. And the drive to the the dump was meaningful in all its ordinariness because talking with my daughter is sacred.

I am taking it all in. Being fully in it.

Every bit of it literally exists in my cells.

Today, I am embracing life.

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