How to Grow Yourself Up in 5 (not-so-easy) Lessons


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e.e. cummings

Almost 11 years ago I found myself sitting on a plane en route to Amsterdam, wondering “How did I get here?”  It was a surreal moment, and it all began with a question (by now, surely you know that I’m all about asking questions!).

I was at a weekend workshop (an amazing program called Wisdom Unlimited), confronted by life and my inability to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up! I was doing an exercise, beating around the bush, not quite answering when the person I was working with blurted out in frustration, “Sandi, what the hell do you want? Just say it!”

In that moment I responded without thinking, “I want to be a photographer and travel, and get paid for that.”

I said it quickly, mumbling under my breath, but I said the words out loud for the very first time. A new dream, spoken into existence.

Fast forward six months, and there I was on the plane heading to the Netherlands to apprentice with a professional photographer in his studio.


Lesson 1:

Say what you want. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Just say it. Speak your dream out loud.

This tale however, did not have a happy-ever-after ending. It was real life and things got complicated.

  • The photographer was a jerk of epic proportions and I quit after one month.
  • I unwittingly destroyed 2 months worth of film by using the wrong chemical in the dark room (my Dutch was not that good).
  • And my lizard brain went on loudspeaker, reminding me over and over how desperately it had tried to convince me to not get on the plane (how can you not love your lizard when it so badly wants to keep you safe?)

I could have returned home, feeling like a failure, disappointed by life…

But I was so NOT OK with that.

So instead?

I returned to the question, “Sandi, what the hell do you want?”  And in that moment, in spite of what seemed like the derailment of my dream, I had the same answer, “I want to be a photographer, travel and get paid for that.”


Lesson 2:

Get straight about it. Are you really committed to what you want? If yes, take the next action. If no, review Lesson 1.

I chose to stay.

After a day of hiking & cycling on the island of Schiermonnikoog


For another three months, I traveled, took photos, had adventures, and made friends.

I created who I wanted to be each morning. I lived each day fully. It was one of the most defining times of my life.

It would have been easy to succumb to the negative thoughts and give up. I had to face those thoughts, let them go and choose new ones, each and every day.


Lesson 3:

Creating is active and ongoing. You don’t get to stop because you created an amazing possibility yesterday.

Yesterday is over; today is a new day. Cliche but true.

I also made memories.

Last night I read through my journal from that time. The angst, the drama, the endless questioning of life. Questions that took courage to answer. Questions that helped me grow up.


Lesson 4:

Stop looking for the answer. Ask a new question instead.

During those months in the Netherlands:

  • I discovered there was one beer I did like (Hoegaarden)
  • I kept saying what I wanted, even though I had no idea how to make it happen
  • I met some amazing people, including my friend Hein who was just here in Vancouver for a visit
  • I began to trust myself in a way I’d forgotten
  • I chose, day after day to see opportunity and to look for it intently when it wasn’t obvious


Lesson 5:

Focus on what works. Look at your life as though you were looking through the lens of a camera. Where do you want to put your attention?

Would I have wanted the story to have a more predictable, happy ending? Maybe, but I wouldn’t have traded those four months for anything. Speaking that first dream out loud gave me the confidence to do it again and again, each time an opportunity to become still more of who I really am.


Over to you:

  • What do you want?
  • What one action would breathe life into your dream?
  • GO. Do that now.


This post is part of the Life Lessons Series, an extraordinary collaboration hosted by fellow blogger Abubakar Jamil.