Author, activist, and therapist Cathy Conheim is a woman who knows how to make things happen. "Wishing, waiting, and hoping - that's the language of victims," Cathy asserts. "Those are all passive words. They're not active. If you want things to happen in your life, you have to get moving - even if it's just one small step."
"Tell me more about that," I asked.
"A goal is not do-able," Cathy replied. "A goal is a destination, an outcome, a result that you want. But you don't do a goal - you do actions that lead you to your goal.
"For instance, if you want a job, you write a resume. That's an action. Then you check job posting web sites - another action. You pick up the phone and make a call to follow up on a resume you sent - still one more action. You go on the interview - that's a big action. See what I mean? Accomplishing something - anything - requires you to start taking steps in the direction of your goal."
"Some people feel overwhelmed by a job search, or finding a mate, or looking for a great place to live," I said. "The goal looks so big, they don't know where to start. So some folks do nothing at all. They think, 'It's hopeless.' What would you say to them?"
"Start with one small step," Cathy replied. "Just because you can't do everything doesn't mean you can't do something.
"Some years ago I took on a goal of raising $115,000 to buy a specially-equipped Freedom Van for a paraplegic woman here in San Diego. She'd broken her neck in a terrible car accident; her husband left her; and her journey back from disaster had been hard and harrowing. When I met her, she had come so far in rebuilding her life - winning back her teaching job so she could be self-supporting, and so much more. But her 25-year-old van had finally given out and she needed a replacement. The question was: how could a paraplegic school teacher ever buy a $100,000+ vehicle on her salary? She couldn't.
"So I committed to helping her. And you know what? Within nine weeks, we raised the money - all by email, without using a single postage stamp! Here's how we did it: We sent out 50 emails to people we knew, people who trusted us. We explained the situation and told them, 'We promise you that every cent you send us will go to pay for the van. Not a penny will go to administration, not even postage!' We also asked them to go one step further - 'Send this email to ten people you know who trust you. Make the same promise to them that we made to you, and request that they pass along the request to ten more people who trust them.' This is important - we were building a community of trust. There are so many fund-raising scams out there - we needed for people to trust us and to trust one another.
"We kept our promise and they kept theirs. For the first two weeks, we received checks from people we knew. But by the third week, we were starting to get money from people whose names we didn't recognize. The network was working, and our community of trust was doing its job.
"What made this feat all the more remarkable is that it happened at a time when the San Diego area was ravaged by the worst wild fires in our history. It was a terrible time to try to be raising money. People were feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of such a community disaster. This is a common problem - people get so overwhelmed in the face of others' need, that they often do nothing. They think, What can I do? I'm just one person. It's the same reason many people don't vote. They don't think that one person can make a difference or that what they have to offer counts.
"Our story is bigger than just getting a Freedom Van for Chris - it's the story of showing people that they can make a difference, even if it's just sending in $1, or $5 or $10. We got a lot of small contributions in those months. We don't need a big important wealthy donor - we just needed lots of individuals, regular folks, to give what they could. Our project has the same message of Chris's entire life: We are NOT paralyzed as people - there is always something we can do, no matter how big the problem. By taking action, any action, people can overcome their own personal sense of paralysis.
"We didn't need one person to give us $70,000 - we would have been happier to get 70,000 people to give just $1 each. People are glad to be part of something that makes a difference. If everyone did this kind of thing all the time - ask themselves, What little thing can I do to contribute to others? If everybody picked just one other person to help, the world would be transformed."
"That's an amazing story!" I exclaimed. "Heroic!"
"I'm not a hero," Cathy shook her head. "I'm just a woman who likes to help others and who knows how to get things done. I think we make too much of 'heroes' in our culture. We think it takes big dramatic action to make an impact. But it doesn't. All it takes is ordinary people like me, taking a bunch of small steps toward a desired goal, to make things happen.
"This is how children are raised - by parents taking thousands of small steps each day, each week, each year, to help their kids grown into good human beings. It's the many small daily occurrences and actions that shape a child, form a family, and build a community. It's everyday people who are the real heroes - they just don't realize it."
"Small steps build momentum," Cathy continued. "Small actions build upon one another and pretty soon you're making good progress toward whatever it is you want. Whether you're doing a project to help others or pursuing a personal goal for yourself, the process is the same. It's taking that first small step forward, then another, and another, and one after another these steps generate energy. Pretty soon the energy carries you forward with much less effort - you've started a process that takes on a life of its own."
"I've had that happen in my own life," I agreed. "I'm sure there are plenty of people who know exactly what you're talking about."
"The election of Barack Obama is another great example," Cathy added. "Whether he was your preferred candidate or not, you have to admit that he did an amazing job - initiating and organizing the most remarkable political campaign in the history of the presidency. His was a process of taking many small steps, building a network of trust, spreading the word, getting people excited about his vision, gaining commitment and support far and wide, and raising millions of dollars in small donations to fund his campaign.
"Obama set a goal for himself - and you've got to admit, it was a heck of a goal! If he could reach the highest office in the land through taking many, many small steps, just think what each of us could achieve if we just started putting one foot in front of the other!"
"Those are great examples, Cathy. Based on these, what advice would you give others?"
Cathy didn't hesitate. "First, I would remind people that many small steps can take you to a great place. It may not seem like much when you take that first step, but it is. For in that first step, you declare your intent, and the universe starts to align to support you in what you're up to.
"Second, I'd repeat what I said earlier: Just because you can't do everything doesn't mean you can't do something.
"Third, I'd point out that you have three resources at your disposal: time, money, and energy. If you don't have any money right now, dedicate time and energy to your goal. If you have money but no time, then write a check and pay someone to act on your behalf. You can always be doing something to forward the action toward what you want.
"And finally, I'd say 'keep your eyes and ears open.' Sometimes you start out with one idea in mind, but the goal can change as you take action. Stay flexible; be open to new opportunities. Sometimes a totally new goal can evolve out of your actions - something more magnificent that you could have ever imagined. But you'll never find out what the universe has in store for you if you don't take that first step."
Cathy Conheim has a new passion and a new project: writing books to raise awareness and raise money for animal rescue groups, disadvantaged children, and kids in military families whose parent(s) are fighting overseas. To find out what Cathy is up to, visit her web site www.henrysworld.org