Tag Archives: inspiration

“How to be a gardener.” A guest lesson by Monise Brabham.

So they say gardening is therapeutic, right? You’d really have to ask my husband, since he’s the gardener/landscaper in the family. He works really hard to keep our flowerbeds looking beautiful. There was one time I felt compelled to help him get all those pesky little weeds out. Sadly, I didn’t realize what I had signed up for until after I had sat down and really looked at the ridiculous amount of weeds that had pretty much overtaken our used-to-be-beautiful flowerbeds. At that point I was thinking, “Uh………therapeutic???” Nope, labor intensive!

For the next several hours, I sat and pulled all of the weeds out. Honestly, what kept me going was the image of beauty restored in our flowerbeds. I began to think about the other benefit of pulling the weeds: weeds not only look bad, but they can choke out life in the flowers because they compete with the flowers for water and nutrients. Ultimately and most importantly, overcrowding would be inevitable if we never pulled out weeds.

Makes sense and seems simple, right? Well now I’m forced to cross reference these simple benefits with my life. Imagine going through your life never cleaning out your closet and getting rid of old clothes, never getting rid of old papers or old technology, never leaving behind old thought processes—and of course—relationships. I begin to think about the amount of space in my life being used on things I don’t use or benefit from.

Going through the daily motions of life, we become unconscious collectors of relationships, issues, emotions, decisions, and things. There is so much power in taking inventory of our lives. Once we do this, we begin to realize just how overgrown our very own “flowerbeds” are. This means we have little to no room for growth. We’re blocking opportunities, self improvement, knowledge, beneficial relationships—and most importantly—becoming a better you.

You have two options. You can choose to ignore all the extra, unnecessary luggage you’re carrying around, and slow yourself down. Or, you can choose to invest your time in de-cluttering.

1. Inspect your relationships closely. While it’s true that not every person has to bring added value to your journey, they should definitely be a positive influence in your life. If that’s not the case, begin the process of shedding the naysayers, pessimists, leeches, and joy stealers, and fill that new space with people who are for you and want you to win.

2. Evaluate your negative emotion meter. Are you holding onto regret, animosity, anger, or fear? Remember: if you think it you become it. Let go and in comes a new perspective. This is the best way to stop blocking your blessings.

3. Purge those closets, drawers, and even under the bed. If you haven’t worn it in the past two seasons, chances are you won’t ever wear it again. Donate everything in that pile and reward yourself with two new outfits to go with the new you that is bound to occur if you truly take the time to pull the weeds in your life.

When you do all of these things, you will have more mental clarity, positive energy, and space for all the good things coming your way.

-Lesson by Monise Brabham-


“The Art of Being Average.” A guest lesson by Brenna Cashen.

I, like I think a lot of other people, am deathly afraid of being average.

As my 22nd birthday approaches in less than two months (thanks Taylor Swift for making 22 a little less depressing), it’s hard not to think back on what my 12-year-old self thought I would have accomplished by now.

12-year-old Brenna did not think she would be in college at 22.

She thought for sure she would be famous in the next ten years for either writing a book or starring in a Disney Channel Original Movie or maybe selling out a tour (even though 12-year-old Brenna only played the flute) or more importantly dating Joe Jonas (cut me some slack, I was 12).

She thought she’d be pretty rich by 22, so she could live in New York City, prevent millions of kids from dying in orphanages and save the rhinos from going extinct.

My dreams aren’t too different today—except the fact that I don’t want to date Joe Jonas anymore.

It’s hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I’ve accomplished none of the things I thought that I would have by now. Looking back on my fairly average 21 years of life can cause me to seriously lose it.

Since I can remember, I’ve just always thought I was supposed to do something great, something above average. When I say it (or in this case—write it), I feel as if it makes me sound  entitled, which isn’t a way I would normally describe myself. To be honest, though, I don’t think it’s a state of mind that is unique to me…

I think a lot of people think that they were put on this earth to do something great…and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

For me, it was to write a book that changed the way people thought or to write a song that helped people through something or have an idea that made an impact in a way I could never have imagined.

When I refer to “something great…” it’s always been on a global scale.

In order for me to be fulfilled and extraordinary and above average, I needed to write a book that touched people like Harry Potter did… or write a song that was as important to people as Let it Be or Fire and Rain was…or save millions of people—not just a few.

Now that I’ve made myself sound like a self-absorbed, power-hungry, fame-crazed girl with an irrational fear of living a totally fine, happy life… let me give some advice that I’ve been trying to learn myself.

**What could this appearing fame-crazed, selfish girl have to say???** Don’t be average? Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself when you are 12?!!!

No, no, no… not exactly.

My lesson that I know to be TRUE is…

Being average does not mean you can’t/won’t do extraordinary things and doing extraordinary things on a small scale, doesn’t make it any less extraordinary.

Some of the most extraordinary people I know are my parents. They taught me how to be myself and how to love, two of life’s most important lessons. My mom changes hundreds of people’s lives by volunteering in her community and my dad is pretty much a poster child for being the perfect son.

I look at my parents and think “Wow. They’ve done so much great stuff and it doesn’t even matter that they will never save as many people as Bill Gates does or inspire as many people as Beyoncé does. They are still great.”

The fact that someone, somewhere has done something on a larger scale, doesn’t make what they do any less great, any less important, or any less above average.

I think about that and it makes me happy to have such extraordinary parents. They might not be extraordinary to everyone else, but they are extraordinary to me.

But when I apply this logic to own life—my stomach knots up, my skin clams, and my irrational fear takes over. (It’s happening right now as I write this)

I can’t apply the same logic to my own life… but I’m trying to learn how.

You (I) have to remember that you might not change the world on a global scale, even if you think you were put on this earth to do so. You may never live up to your childhood dreams of being in the NBA or going to outer space or winning a Grammy.

But that shouldn’t make you feel sad or ashamed or as average as it makes me feel sometimes.

It doesn’t make you average or boring or unimportant.

I was recently talking to a friend who shares a very similar fear as me. When he told me he was afraid of getting a job he hated and continuing into an average life, I was pretty shocked.

This person has made such a huge and important impact in my life that I never would think of him as average… he was always going to be special and extraordinary to me because of what he had done in my life and I knew he would continue to do extraordinary things.

And that’s when I realized that it’s okay to not change the world. It’s also okay to dream of changing it and trying to change it… but I shouldn’t want to throw up every time I realize that I might not.

If I write some stories and plays and blogs and it makes A FEW people feel comforted or encouraged or happy, then I should be proud of that.

There is going to be a whole lot of people in the world who never give a shit about me or what I have to say. There will be a far less amount of people who give a shit about me and everything I have to say.

Those people, whose lives that have/will impact, those are the lives that will make me not average. Those are the lives who will make me feel like the time I dedicate to writing is worth it, and the time I spend dreaming isn’t pointless.

A lot of people will think you are average at what you do and a lot of people will never think about you ever, but as cheesy as it sounds… someone will think of you and they will think it would be impossible for you to ever be average.

Just remember: doing extraordinary things on a small scale, doesn’t make it any less extraordinary.

-Lesson by Brenna Cashen-



Brenna Cashen is studying media arts and design at James Madison University with a minor in Music Industry. She loves cereal and lemons more than the average person and spends 98.7% of her time pretending to live in NYC.


Lesson #324: Take us to church, Madam Hall.


Some days you learn too many good lessons to just write one.

For instance:


Barbara Hall, the creator, writer, and executive producer of my all-time favorite CBS show, Madam Secretary, took us to church because she was PREACHING. If you aren’t familiar with the show (WHAT), then you may know her as the creative mind behind shows like Joan of Arcadia and Judging Amy.

After working on a month-long project last semester that involved writing an episode for her show (http://www.jmu.edu/news/2015/05/04-your-script-madam-secretary.shtml), I absolutey geeked when I found out she was coming to speak to our class in LA. Hearing her talk about her life and her career was everything I hoped it would be and more.

She’s intelligent, ingenious, driven, and nice.

Needless to say, she’s kind of my hero.

And when you read the rest of this, you’ll understand why.

Put your professional pants on, and listen up. Although most of this was originally about the entertainment industry, I’ll put it in a way that anyone in any field can appreciate and learn from. I hope that you’ll be inspired by Mrs. Hall as much as I was. Today’s lesson is long, but it’s worth it—I promise.

1. Your first job with anything you do is to actually do it, and finish it.

If you build things? Build something. If you create things? Create it. If you make things? Make them. It doesn’t mean it’ll always be good. Like Pheof Sutton said, it won’t. But the point is to finish what you started so that you have something to show for it; so that you have something to build upon and improve upon and learn from.

2. “I realized I had to actually write something to be a writer.”

It only makes sense, right? A lot like what Seth Kingsley told me right before I landed my summer internship at E! News—if you want to be something, BE IT. Stop waiting for experience to find you. Create experience for yourself. If you want to be a mechanic, start changing tires. If you want to have your own show, make online videos. If you want to be a business person, start your own business. When you create experience for yourself, experience will begin to find you.

3. Delegate.

God, do I struggle with this—but this is a lesson we all have to learn. Especially when you begin to take on a lot in your life and your career. As a showrunner who’s in charge of the creative direction of her show, Barbara says to hire people you trust and let them do their job. I love what Barbara said about this: “Be happy someone can (write) as well you can, don’t be threatened by it.”

4. To work with others, you have to understand others.

Most conflict arises when people who work together have no idea what the other does. For example: A writer should know what a director does and a director should know what a writer does. Study up. You don’t want to step on toes. And when you do have a suggestion or an idea, propose it as a question, not a command.

5. The scariest thing you’ll ever have to do?

Own your mistakes.

6. The second scariest thing you’ll ever have to do?

Be fearless. Barbara told us, “I learned going the extra mile in writing means being fearless. It’s so much better to dial it back than to not quite be there.”

What she said.

7. Your main job is to perfect your craft. That will always be your job.

Study it like it’s your homework. Barbara broke it down:

A.  If you’re a fan of something, figure out why. 

“It’s not okay not to know,” Barbara said. When you love something, you should be able to communicate then and there why it’s so fantastic to you. Is it the look of it? The aesthetic? Is it how it feels, or maybe how it makes you feel? Do you appreciate its complexity? Or its simplicity? Is it the story? Is it how it tells the story? If you’re a teacher—who was your favorite teacher and why? If you’re a magician—what’s the best trick you’ve seen and how was it done? If you’re a lawyer—what’s your favorite case and how was it won? Ask yourself these questions over and over and find the answers. Barbara told us her daughter stopped at her door during her 100th time watching “Band of Brothers” and said to her, “Do you think you have a problem?” That’s how it should be! You should know what you like and why you like it, inside and out. And during the process, you might just find out a little bit about your style, too.

B. It’s really important to know what you don’t know.

Get ready for a brain twister: If you don’t know something, there’s really no excuse not to know once you realize you don’t know. Look it up. Research it. And never stop doing this. As Barbara said, there’s nothing wrong with not knowing. In fact, when you always have the answers and are always trying to prove what you do know—well—that’s a bit annoying. All of us are always learning, and none of us will ever know everything. Plus: if you ever plan on doing #6, you have to know the rules before you break them.

8. Life is all about perception. But if you’re planning on being good at what you do, your career isn’t.

Barbara said that you’ll quickly learn there’s a distinction between actually being a good at what you do, and being perceived as being good at what you do. You’ll know because the latter means you’ll probably find yourself fizzling into the background after your “big break” or the “start of your career.” Work hard. Stay up to date. Keep studying and learning. Do what you need to do to get to where you want to be—more importantly—to stay at where you want to be. “No one is going to make you do anything when you get to Hollywood,” she said. “No one is going to set deadlines for you.” You have to make the personal choice to work hard and stay successful. “You can get the biggest break in the world, but it means nothing if you can’t deliver the goods.”

9. You have to make the transition from being a fan to a professional.

If you want to do this, then you have to start thinking of the people around you and in your profession as PEERS. You are apart of this just as much as anyone else. You have to believe that.

AND FINALLY, I saved this one for last, because it’s my absolute favorite.

10. The key to being a successful leader (and in her case, television showrunner) who can run things?

Barbara told us the following sentence is the true test:

Are you okay with leaving the room and people not liking you?

This was so damn good that I got even more intently quiet then I already was. As someone who wants to one day possibly direct, produce, write, and act, I needed to hear this—even when I didn’t want to. If you’re a reader of my blog, you know from past lessons that I’m that I can be that incredibly annoying “nice girl.” I’ve always been one to avoid conflict. While I’m not easily influenced and I rarely go along with things “for the sake of it,” I am most definitely a people pleaser who wants to be well liked by everyone. But in order to do my job, I’ll have to learn that that isn’t always an option.

Barbara is the realest. She told us: “It’s not about being mean or being a bitch. Truly, people will always think they can do it better than you can. But you have to be okay with it and just know that in the end, you have the final say.”

Barbara struggled with this. She shared that in the beginning, she wasn’t making decisions, and people weren’t happy. The problem was, people were looking for a leader; people needed a leader. She realized quickly that she needed to change it up.

“Make a decision even if it’s wrong,” she told us. “It’s better to make a bad decision than to not make one at all.” She told us that we’ll have to make a ton of decisions quick and on our feet. As we begin to make more and more decisions, we’ll start to get better at it.

And coming from wonder woman herself,

I believe her.

A final piece of advice?

“Remain true, no matter what the business is doing.”

In conclusion, I actually want to bring it full circle, back to the first thing Barbara told us.

“I always like to tell this to people first: I’ll tell you my story, but my story won’t help you at all.

Of course she was being funny, and we all laughed. She told us that compared to when and where she started her career, it will be different for us because the industry is much different now. She told us that basically, everyone’s story won’t be the same as hers.

The cool thing is—this can go for every person and every story, ever.

You all know how I feel about stories and the importance of telling your own. If you’ve ever submitted a guest lesson, you’ve seen the quote I’ve included in my email back to you: “If we are not telling our stories, we are consuming other people’s lives.” So today, I’ll leave you with this piece of wisdom alongside Barbara’s incredible advice.

Your story is unique.

I promise you, your story is not as boring as you think.

Keep telling your story and telling stories.

Stories are what make the world go ’round, they’re what fuel life, and they’re what keeps ourselves and others inspired.

Story is king.

Day 324.

Lesson #300: Wtf?


When I was in middle school, I couldn’t keep a diary for more than two weeks.

When I was in elementary school, I couldn’t keep a goldfish alive for more than a month.

About a month or two ago, I couldn’t remember to water my plant after the first two days.

But somehow,

it’s Day 300.

It’s actually Day 300.


I don’t know how this happened,

but I’m thinking it has something to do with your love and support, the good graces of God, and a tiny bit of determination.

But mostly the first two.

So thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart.

If anything, today’s lesson can really only be one thing.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, or what you haven’t done in the past; it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed or have re-tried or backtracked or relapsed.

When you really put your mind to it,

anything is possible. 

Just know three things.

1) You’ll need a lot of perseverance. It gets hard. And you’ll want to stop. But don’t. TBH, some nights I would come home after a long day and seriously think to myself that I’d rather claw my eyes out than to stay up and write another blog post. But then I remembered that that feeling is only temporary. Like I said two days ago—remember why you started.

2) Find motivation and inspiration. It comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. It can be one goal, or many. It looks different to each person. Most importantly, it’s limitless. And you’ll need it to keep going. Whatever you’re doing, it has to be worth it.

3) You will not be perfect at it. Ever. Ever ever ever. You will not get every day right. Some days I would fall asleep before I could write my post. Some days I wasn’t in town. Some days I would physically write, but I just mentally couldn’t do it. And one day—I swore it would never happen—but I actually just straight up forgot. And there’s no doubt in the next 65 days, any or all of these could (and will) happen again. And that’s okay. Life happens. Anything is possible. But just remember that while that’s true, we aren’t robots. We aren’t machines, or children on Dance Moms. We’re human. And that’s actually a real, acceptable excuse. So get used to it. Be thankful for it.

It’s been 300 days, and I guess I’ve been sharing secrets with you all along—

but I think I’ll share one more.

The key to it all is love.


If you’re in love with what you’re doing,

it makes the bad parts and the bad days a little less bad.

It makes everything worth it.

Maybe you can’t keep a fish or a diary or a plant.

But if you really truly want it,

and you really truly love it,

anything is possible.

So here’s to Day 300.

Lesson #298: Why was this a good idea again?


I am the master of starting a personal project or task, getting half way through, and think to myself, “Why the hell did I think this was a good idea?”

It quite honestly makes me mad every time, because I know I only have two choices.

1. Quit.

2. Keep going.

Wow. What a plethora of options.

Free will is kinda-sorta one of the worst gifts to humankind. I mean—not really—but let’s be real. We hate having to make decisions, and we hate being held responsible for own actions even more.

I told you from the very beginning of this blog that I’d always be real with you, so unlucky for both of us, I’m not here to say, “Don’t quit!”

Because in reality, that’s a very possible outcome.

But today we confront it.

Here’s the real question.

Are you quitting because things got hard? Or are you quitting because you really don’t want it anymore?

Whenever you find yourself at that half way mark thinking: “Why am I doing this?”

Actually think to yourself, “Well, why am I doing this?”

Why did you start? What made you want to do it? Was it for the outcome? To hold or see the finished product? For the experience? To see the look on their face? To reach a goal? To gain something for yourself?

Thinking back to why you started something in the first place is the best motivator to keep going.

And sometimes, thinking back to why you started is the best reason to quit. Maybe you never really wanted it anyway.

And one choice is not more right than the other.

But a little advice—never confuse not wanting something with momentary laziness, or fear of hard work.

So whenever you find yourself in this situation, always think about why you started doing it, and why you want to finish.

That’s the truest way to figure out if it’s worth it.

Day 298.

Lesson #297: What a bridesmaid’s shoe and a camera can teach us all.


Today I started editing the wedding I did videography for last week. I noticed that in some of the shots, I was so focused on whatever I was focusing on, I didn’t see that other things were wrong or out of place within the frame.

For example,

I got a beautiful shot of a bridesmaid’s wedding shoe.

It also just so happened to have a large piece of cardboard laying two inches in front of it.


So let my amateur wedding videography skills be a lesson to all of us.

In fact, let it be a lesson about life.

1. Check what’s in your frame. Your subject isn’t the only thing that’s in the limelight.

Life translation: Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Focus is good—but when you become so fixated on one thing that you forget or neglect to acknowledge everything else? Not so much. It doesn’t matter whether that “thing” is a person, object, or goal. Are you so set on what you’re after that you’re missing out on other great “things”? Other people, opportunities, chances? Are you so fixed on what you want that you’re creating a negative space for yourself? For others?

2. Once you see something that needs to be removed from the frame to make it an even better shot, do it.

Life Translation: Don’t be afraid to move something that isn’t working in your frame—AKA—your life. You might have to move it a little to the right or a little to the left. That’s prioritizing. Sometimes, it’s just not right and you need to take it out all together. That’s okay too. Every once in a while, our frames needs re-assesing and our lenses need re-adjusting. My good friend Cherese and I talked about this the other night. She told me, “When people think conflict, they think that it’s the end of a relationship or friendship.  It’s not. Conflict is simply the chance to re-evaluate.” So do just that. Prioritize, move, remove, shoot, repeat. You’re the photographer and cinematographer of your life. You have creative reign.

Sometimes we get it wrong. Every shot won’t be perfect. Every shot can’t be perfect. But that doesn’t mean that we’re bad, or that this one shot reflects our abilities. It just means that we have the opportunity to learn from it. We have the chance to readjust.

And lucky for us, we get more than one shot in this life.

Life really is a roll of film.

So keep shooting.

Day 297.

Lesson #276: Going the distance.


Back at it again.

Hi there. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know how I feel about grabbing every opportunity you can, listening to everyone you come across, and learning from what everyone has to say.

So today, Geoff LaTulippe, JMU alum and the screenwriter of the hit movie Going the Distance starring Justin Long and Drew Barrymore, came to speak at JMU. I admittedly skipped class. Like, when was this ever going to happen again?

I’ll keep it short for you. He was awesome. He was down to earth, honest, hilarious passionate, and real. He didn’t beat around the bush, but he was kind, helpful, and positive too.

Here are some things I learned from him that can apply to anyone, even outside of the creative field. But for my writers and aspiring writers—this one’s especially for you.

1. He never thought what he is doing was even a possibility for him.

But it’s real. And he’s doing it.

Take note.

2. Collaborate with others.

Two or three brains think way better than one.

3. The two worst things you can do?

1) Follow a trend because it’s a trend.

2) Not tell a story because you think it’s already been told. (You, my friend, may have just missed out on creating the best story of your life.)

4. Writers block is real.

To do:

1) Drink.

2) Walk away, whether that’s physically or mentally. Go to a different scene. Go to a different room. Come back later.

5. If you aren’t writing stories that you really want to tell, then you won’t tell them well.

Point blank.

6. Have thick skin.

Or else you’re kind of sort of dead meat.

7. It’s okay to be a lot of things.

They say you need to find your niche, but here’s the real deal: Be (or get) great at one thing, but it is never ever ever bad to be good at many. Sell all your abilities, make yourself marketable, just don’t spread yourself too thin.

8. You have to learn to just not care if someone likes it or not.*

*…But there are rules.

When they seriously don’t like it?

1) And they’re paying you?

Ask, “How can I fix it?”

2) They’re not paying you, but you respect them and their opinion?

….Ask, “How can I fix it?”

3) They’re not paying you, you respect them, but you have to go with your gut—you really like what you’re doing.

Say “Thank you.” Keep going. Someone is going to love it.

4) You keep getting the same message from different people over and over?


9. You can survive here. You can survive there. You can survive anywhere.

Any place you go is just a city with houses and buildings. Put your two feet on the ground and go. Don’t psyche yourself out. You’ll figure things out.

10. Pull inspiration from everywhere.

Your friends. Strangers. Actual people. Actual events. That fight you had? Save what you wish you would have said.

Write all that shit down.

And lastly,

11. Storytelling is for everyone.

Make some noise.

Geoff LaTulippe did script coverage for four and a half years, and he’s been at screenwriting for a total of seven.

His response?

“I’ve been at this for seven years, and I’m only just beginning.”

Yeah, take that in for a second.

I think I’m in love with what he said about this.

People expect to get things right away. They don’t expect to work hard, or have to learn. But I think Geoff is as successful as he is because he knows these things. He knew he had to do all of these things, and then did them. He realizes that where he is now is still only the beginning. It’s always the beginning, because we’re always learning.

The greatest part is, when he said it, it was literally so casual. It wasn’t like he was trying to make a statement, or freak anyone out, or scare everyone in the room out of the industry. And that fascinated me. It didn’t seem to deter him. It didn’t deter me either. It was actually inspiring.

My roommate Morgan came home upset tonight. She had just had dinner with a few graduating graduate students from her major, and they told her grad school has been the most draining, intense—possibly even wasted—four years of their lives. All their time in the past four years has been devoted strictly to school.

Honestly, any other day I wouldn’t have known what the hell to say.

But today I knew exactly what she needed to hear.

I told her about Geoff LaTulippe. How it’s been seven years for him, and he says he’s only just beginning. He’s only scratching the surface. And I told her it was the same for her.

What, four years of your life working hard? That’s nothing. You’re going to lose four years of your life devoted to studying something you love, and then you’re going to go out into the world with the rest of your life ahead of you, doing what you want because you worked hard to get there. Four years of your life—and it will only just be the beginning. I told her, “Heck, you have at least another 30 or 40 years on top of that.” And she smiled.

So if you learned anything from this?

Work hard. Put in time. Keep learning. Be inspired. Go where you need to be to make it happen. Get stuck. Get unstuck. Get stuck again. Keep going.

This life is yours.

You just have to go the distance.

Day 276.