Don’t Read This if You Want Your Life to Stay the Same

The story of how I searched and got lost, and then made a dream come true

Most of my adulthood, I did not know what I wanted out of life.

I spent my 20s wading through what friends and I called the Sea of Ambiguity. I tried public relations, international aid, and educational nonprofits. I took the foreign service exam, graduate courses in cultural anthropology, and an apprenticeship as an art director for indie films.

And I spent way too many years as a temp secretary while I took night classes, wrote poetry, and did a little too much partying.  (Deep down, I think I was lonely, and confused about my purpose in life.) When I finally met the man of my life at age 30, I was about to go to social work school.

The story of how I searched and got lost, and then made a dream come true

Instead of getting a master’s, I moved to Italy with my new husband and began teaching English to medical students and future teachers. I organized a writing circle for English-speaking expats, translated books and travel brochures, and discovered the joy of having children.

The story of how I searched and got lost, and then made a dream come true

Even though getting married and raising children satisfied me in such a deep way that I didn’t much feel the career angst, I continued to search for more happiness.

I made elaborate recipes until I was all cooked-out, took poetry classes online while my daughters napped until I felt brooding and self-absorbed, volunteered to direct a co-operative preschool (and seriously doubted my management abilities), and inadvertently got involved in activism when I started a group to revitalize our neighborhood school.

The story of how I searched and got lost, and then made a dream come true

On the cusp of turning 40, when I was living among ambitious women in New York and my third child was turning one, I felt again the sting of that question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

All my searching and dabbling and various projects had not amounted to much of anything.

But I think I was finally mature enough to recognize a few big things had stayed at the top of the sifter: writing and teaching. Combined with my experience with living on a tight budget (silver lining), the idea for Frugal Mama was born.

Statistics show that people who write down their goals are 80% more successful in achieving them.

Writing had always been of a hobby, but I decided I wanted to become a published writer. Being thin-skinned, I had only shown poems to friends, and I’d slunk away after editors rejected my article ideas. I decided that blogging was a safe place to start.

Here is what I wrote in my family blog in October 2009:

I have been working hard on trying to get my new blog together. I want Frugal Mama to be really professional and successful, so I’m trying to do my best in every aspect.

I’d like to use the site to make myself known as a writer. Ideally, the blog would lead to assignments to write for print media or online magazines.

A sketch of the original Frugal Mama logo

The beginnings of the Frugal Mama logo, drawn by my mom

A year later, my blog was attracting thousands of visits per month, I had been chosen as Buttoned Up’s savings expert, and I was being invited to media events.

But still no money.

Here is what I wrote in October 2010, after having Luke and feeling ready to get back to work:

I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and now I’d like to see the site move from a losing enterprise (financially) to one that at least covers its costs.  So my mission is to find the time — and the courage — to work toward making my writing profitable.

Are you ready for the crazy stuff that happened after telling the world what I wanted?

  • After pitching some story ideas to Babble, my all-time-favorite parenting magazine, I get an assignment to write I Told My Kindergartner How Babies Are Made.
  • I meet with the editor of Family Times, a parenting publication in Central New York, and get two paid assignments: a piece on how to find a babysitter and a personal essay on natural childbirth in a hospital.
  • I am asked to speak to the Syracuse chapter of Holistic Moms about 5 Keys to Saving Money and Living Well. After publishing the ideas, traffic to my site soars, doubling in just six months.
  • TLC asks me to write for a new mom blog they are launched this spring — and they’ll actually pay me. Amazing!
  • The anchorwoman of the NBC station in central New York asks if I’d like to do a money-saving segment for their morning news show.  I interview, get the job, and four days later, a cameraman is at my house to film me at home with my family and at the grocery store.
  • The founder of Buttoned Up, where I’ve been guest posting as their savings expert for almost a year, wants to speak with me.  I think she’s going to fire me, but instead she asks me if I’d like to get paid for writing a new series on their site.
  • TLC flies me and my family to New York City for a photo and video shoot for their new parenting site, Parentables.

As you can imagine, at this point, I’m thinking, what is going on?  It was like an avalanche of good things piling on.

Let me be clear here: we are not talking about an avalanche of money. But when I think about it: that’s not what I asked for. I wanted to get writing assignments, become known as a writer, and break even. But it makes me wonder, what if I had asked for more?

The story of how I searched and got lost, and then made a dream come true

The reason I’m writing all this is to say that is that whatever has gone on in your life up to now, it’s not too late to bloom. You too can achieve your goals.

Three Steps to Realizing Your Goals

For me, these things were crucial.

1.  Figure out what you want.

This may seem basic, but figuring out big career goals took me 40 years. It might mean finding your element:  that delicious crossroads between something you love to do and something in which you have a natural affinity.

Simple Mom recently talked about how her hobby turned into a career in Want to work from home? Find your element.

2.  Write it down and tell it to people.

I think the reason writing down goals is effective is because it signifies focus and commitment.

Why tell people?  I can think of four reasons:

  1. Friends can encourage you if you lose confidence,
  2. It’s harder to back out or quit after you have told people what you are planning to do,
  3. People might be able to help you out if they know what you want, and finally
  4. Telling people means you are excited enough to announce your dreams to the world.

Getting excited is important because happy energy starts a chain reaction. Getting excited about your goal — or feeling joy about what you love — helps you get the courage to clear the obstacles you need to get there.

Or as Rhonda Byrne, author of the The Power, puts it: “When you’re feeling joyful, you are giving joy, and you’ll receive back joyful experiences, joyful situations, and joyful people, wherever you go.”

3.  Don’t give up!

A few months after I had stated my money-making goal, I was talking to my friend BJ and wondering where my blog was going and if I’d ever get a break. I kind-of shrugged and decided I’d just keep plugging away.

A week later I got the call from TLC.

Give your goal some time to take form. Every new endeavor, like a seed in the earth, requires time and energy to make it come to life.

What do you want to get done in your life?

If there’s something big you want to accomplish and asking the universe for it is too daunting, break it down in bite-sized parts.

Meagan Francis has a perfectly timed post up right now called 6 ways busy moms can make (some of) their dreams come true. One of my favorite tips is to make a 10-30-60 list of goal-oriented tasks that only take an hour, a half hour, or even 10 minutes.

What do you love, what do you need, what do you want?  Right now — write it down.  Then place it in a prominent place:  your door, your computer, or inform the world by telling your friends, sending it out by email, Twitter, or Facebook.

But watch out: you might just get what you ask for.

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  • Andrea September 26, 2014, 11:09 am

    A great blog post. I have so many things I want to do with my life, and breaking them up into small increments keeps me motivated and on top of things. I am a constant work in progress, but just saying what I want outloud, to myself and others, has already done wonders in getting things going. In the last few weeks, I have managed to do more than I have in the last few months, and happily, I also feel like I have more time to myself!

    • Amy September 26, 2014, 11:18 am

      Hi Andrea,

      I’m so glad things are going so well with you! It’s great to feel like you’re making progress, but in a sane way where you also have some peaceful moments to yourself.

      Keep going!

  • MamaBear September 5, 2013, 2:44 am

    This was an incredible post! I honestly can’t remember how I stumbled upon your blog but I’ve been devouring your site for over an hour now. Thank you so much for your honesty and encouragement. You’ve got a fantastic blog! :-)

  • erica @ expatriababy June 21, 2011, 2:17 am

    I’m new here, having found your blog via @thehappiestmom tweet. I must thank you profusely for writing this post. I was totally inspired by your story of finding your calling after a bit of wandering about.

    I was starting to wonder if, at thirty and a new mum and trailing spouse, I had missed the proverbial career boat.
    So, after reading this post, I set about writing down my goals. I even published them on the internet. And then, not two days later, someone contacted ME to be involved in a really exciting writing project. It came totally out of the blue, was a total surprise, and I think is due in part to me writing down my writing ambitions. So, THANK YOU!

    • Amy June 21, 2011, 10:45 am

      Wow, Erica, that is so cool! I love it. You know, the same thing happened to me after I published this post! I totally works. I’m off to check out your blog now. Thank you so much for coming over to tell me your good news.


  • Janis June 19, 2011, 8:37 pm

    This post really hit home as I read it today and in response I shared it with my blog readers. I’ve always achieved amazing accomplishments when I wrote down my goals and now, after a year of goal hibernation, I am ready to start anew. Thanks for the great post.

    • Amy June 20, 2011, 10:46 am

      Hi Janis,

      How cool of you to share this post with your readers! I’m glad it resonated with you, and that you too have had amazing success with goal-setting. Thanks for letting me know, and please come by again and tell me how it goes!

      Take care,

  • Kate brown June 15, 2011, 11:25 pm

    This is inspiring. I was much like you – not knowing what I wanted to so etc etc but a friend of mine did a coaching course and she offered to coach me for free as she wanted to practice. I feel like my head has been opened up serviced and put back in my head. My main learning of the last 9 months is that what I put out in the world is what I will get back and that I am in control of my own mind. I feel in control of my life, have a set of goals I have and am working on and am now a much better parent (I have four kids and also am the main breadwinner). Thanks for echoing what I fully believe!

    • Amy June 16, 2011, 1:58 pm

      Wow, Kate!

      I would love to have a free life coaching session. But I’m amazed at what a positive change it’s made in your life. That’s awesome.

      And you are the main breadwinner of a family with 4 kids? That’s just as impressive.

      Thanks for writing in, Kate!


  • Beth June 15, 2011, 10:01 pm

    Hi Amy,

    With so many articles in the past few weeks and your adventures, I was wondering if you’d become a Frantic Mama! This is always a timely topic. I was influenced by article I read in Science magazine about writing a mission statement – who am I? what do I stand for? what are my strengths? my goals? I’ve felt a lot more peaceful and satisfied once I aligned my inside with the outside. Cheers!

    • Amy June 16, 2011, 1:55 pm

      Hi Beth,

      I like the idea of a personal mission statement. And I love that it actually worked to make you feel more peaceful and satisfied. Those feelings are precious.

      Thanks for sharing your ideas!


  • Jen @ Jen Spends June 15, 2011, 3:38 pm

    I don’t have much to add to the conversation here, but just wanted to tell you what an inspiring post this is. I was always beyond my years as a kid, and somewhere along the way learned that my worth was in doing everything before anyone else my age and better than anyone else my age. I reached adulthood and it’s like “now what?” It’s an entirely different playing field now, and I feel as though I’ve set myself up for failure and discouragement by having unrealistic expectations for myself. How sad that at the age of 30 I sometimes get to feeling like my ship has sailed and I’ll never do anything noteworthy. But, like George Eliot said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Thanks for the reminder!

    • Amy June 16, 2011, 1:53 pm

      Hi Jen,

      It’s so interesting to hear about other people’s very different experiences. Fascinating that you mastered so many trades before the age of 30.

      I think what’s scary about competing as an adult is that your circle gets expanded beyond your high school, college, or city. With the Internet, we are brushing up against and comparing ourselves to people all over the world. It can be inspiring, but also sometimes discouraging.

      I hope you don’t feel that way for long — your blog and writing are excellent, Jen. And I know those are just a couple of your talents!


  • Reid June 15, 2011, 3:35 pm

    A super post! One of the things you have going for you–in person and online–is your enthusiasm. People (me included) WANT to help those who have a good attitude. No one wants to spend time with a Debbie Downer unless that person is a proven Talent and can deliver big-time. But a lot of people will go out of their way to help even a beginner if that person is humble, good-humored and willing to learn.

    • Amy June 16, 2011, 1:48 pm

      These are helpful points for anyone, including me, who is starting out in a field. Attitude is sometimes just as important as talent. That’s pretty powerful.

      Thanks for adding your impressions, Reid!


  • Nihara June 15, 2011, 12:51 pm


    What an amazing and inspiring post! We are so different (I’m a mama, yes, but not a particularly frugal one, and I have always been so Type A in my life — not always a good thing). But . . . we are so much the same also! Reading your post was like a heart-to-heart with a dear and trusted friend.

    I’ll add my two cents to this amazing thread: sometimes you need to give yourself time and space to figure out what it is you really want before you ask the universe for it. Try things, explore things, follow your passions — eventually you’ll find your path.

    Have an amazing day!

    • Amy June 15, 2011, 1:45 pm

      Wow, what nice words, Nihara! I’m afraid I’m often too impersonal in my posts. It’s that little voice that says, “Who really cares about you?”

      I love the point you make: it took me a very long time to get to the point where I was ready to make goals. If you don’t know what you want, that’s OK too. Enjoy the journey, as you suggest, and keep being curious.

      Take care,

      • Samantha @ Let's Get Digital August 24, 2011, 2:03 am

        Hi Amy – I actually think it’s the element of personal details that keeps me coming back to your blog. The frugal lifestyle advice is well written and wise, but weaving it in with stories of your own family makes it more enjoyable and accessible. And ultimately more motivating. Tell the little voice that your readers *do* care, and great job!

  • Alison June 15, 2011, 10:28 am

    What a great post. I’ve been “noodling” on the goals & dreams idea for awhile and haven’t come up with any huge ones – not sure if that’s because I don’t have any goals? or if I’m already living the dream? :-) Your post has given me more direction and more to think about. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts.

    • Amy June 15, 2011, 10:34 am

      Hi Alison,

      Thanks for stopping by and writing in! Believe me, I know where you are coming from. For so, so long I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.

      I think the whole point of all this goal-setting is to make ourselves happy. If you suspect you are already living the dream, then maybe what you have is enough, which would be awesome.

      If your questioning indicates a doubt, you could try reading the classic What Color is My Parachute?, or as Rhonda Byrne suggests in The Power, focus on the things you love, even the small everyday things, and something will materialize.

      Good luck, and please let me know how things develop!

      Take care,

      • Alison June 15, 2011, 10:46 am

        Thank you. One reason your post is pushing me is that you are a great example of how to look beyond the surface and try to find satisfaction in more than the everyday busy-ness – because from the surface your path sounds pretty great. And I think that many people would stop pushing themselves to set new goals while caring for four children.

        • Amy June 15, 2011, 10:54 am

          Hi Alison,

          I definitely had a period where I just relaxed and fully enjoyed taking care of my children and the house and cooking and cleaning (well, maybe not so much the cleaning part) and going to the playground and doing mommy-and-me classes and all that.

          Maybe I just feel like I’m ready to add something else on top. The beauty of blogging, while it doesn’t make most people much money, is that you can still be there with your children.
          Perhaps not in the entirety like I was before, but I think that’s OK, too.

          Thanks Alison,

  • Rachel June 15, 2011, 9:52 am

    Found you via Meagan’s tweet about this post.
    Thank you. This is what I needed to read this week (hell, this year). Jill of many trades, master of none, here and I too am a writer, doing well with a blog, but wondering how I will break even or, dare I dream, earn a living.
    A couple of days ago I was invited into a mastermind group with some other bloggers. We all wrote our goals down. I’m gaining more purpose with my actions on those goals every day.
    You are right: write it down. Say it out loud. Dreams stay in your head, goals are acted out.

    • Amy June 15, 2011, 10:29 am

      Hi Rachel,

      I totally identify with what you are saying. I think your blogging mastermind group is fantastic: it covers a lot of essentials. Community, writing goals down, telling them to your friends.

      I’d love to hear where it leads you!

      Take care,

  • Amy June 15, 2011, 9:28 am

    You’re so sweet, Meagan! Thank you so much for the cheering on. I hope things can only go up from here!


  • Meagan @ The Happiest Mom June 15, 2011, 9:01 am

    Amy, this is awesome! Look at you, manifesting all over the place. :) And, wait, you’re over 40?!? I can hardly believe it. You look like you’re in your 20s. Can’t wait to see where all these new opportunities take you!