Where are you between the struggle and the dream?

Welcome new readers of The Spark!

Whether we’ve just met or I’ve known you for a long time, the question I’m always curious to learn is: what are you “on fire” about and what are you struggling with?

Your answer almost always lies somewhere between the wanting and the having — the struggle and the achievement — of your dream.

Women on Fire members celebrating and supporting each other in New York City last week (Photos by Meredith Schoenberger)

Discovering your passion and being supported on your path to your dream is the very reason I created Women on Fire more than a decade ago.

(There is no other community in the world quite like this one, which I know makes it rather difficult to explain to others, right?! You almost have to experience being cheered on by Women on Fire in person to understand the full impact of support 😉

So, how do you go from uncertainty, or a hint of an idea, to living a life rich in living your dreams and making a difference in the world?

Inch by inch. Step by step. Bird by bird, as writer Anne Lamott told us so powerfully in her best-selling book.

Above, I’m pictured with Deirdre Martin of Plainfield, New Jersey. Dee is well on the way to making her dream come true. She’s in that sweet spot on the journey. She continues to work a regular job while growing her dream and building her company, Assisting Virtually.

She works on it. Every single day. Step by step.

And, here’s Heike Vogel of New York City, one of our co-authors in the latest Women on Fire book.  She made the courageous move from working for a large law firm to having it her way — starting her own law firm!  She, too, works at building her dream. Every day. Case by case.

Have Dee and Heike fully achieved their biggest dreams and desires? Probably not — yet. But they are well on their way.

When you are clear about what you want and make small achievements day-by-day, steady progress takes you from idea to reality.

Where are you on the scale from struggling mightily to achieving your ultimate goal?

Here are five strategies to help you get from where you are to where you want to go:

5 Strategies to go from wher eoyu are to where you want to be- Women on Fire

1) Clarity — First, you must be clear about what you want. If you don’t know or aren’t sure, ask people you love and trust to tell you what you are great at doing. What you do naturally is often the biggest hint at what your gifts are.

And, in discovering and embracing your gifts, you are most likely to find your passion.

A mentor of mine, author Barbara Sher reminds us: “you must go after your wish. As soon as you start to pursue your dream, your life wakes up and everything has meaning.”

Clarity with a side order of focus also helps. I hear from a lot of women who tell me they want “to reach all the women in the world” with their project or idea. That is wonderful. Except when you start out so broadly, you can topple over before you get started.

How about reaching out to one woman with what you have to offer — and start the ball rolling that way? 🙂

2) Inspiration — “If you stay true to who you are, the world will embrace you,” the late Maya Angelou said. That quote alone can pick up my spirits when I doubt myself.

Keeping yourself in close reach of inspiration — whatever form inspiration means for  you — is a very important aspect of reaching your goals. You need daily inspiration to keep yourself lit up and energized.

3) Strategies — It’s not enough to simply will your dreams into existence. You need practical, step-by-step “know-how” and “how-tos” to get where you are going.

Think of strategies as your GPS for getting where you want to go. Of course, I believe the powerful, tried-and-true strategies you learn at Women on Fire are the best! Still, you can find useful strategies from many different resources:

  • Wisdom from someone who has accomplished what you dream of
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Popular culture
  • Online forums
  • Coaches with expertise in your area of interest

4) Support — Support is a essential and the framework for you to move from struggle toward what you deeply desire.

The pictures you see sprinkled here are of Women on Fire members coming together to cheer each other on, to be in each other’s company to share the excitement of the journey. With support, you will feel your tank filled and your spirit enlivened.

5) Perserverance — If you have a great idea and are passionate about it, don’t give up! Perseverance is the secret of all triumphs.

With inspiring Woman on Fire Teri Goetz at the NYC gathering

Any and all of these strategies can help you to move from wanting your dream to actually making it happen!  Let me know what kind of inspiration, strategies and support you’ve found work best for you.

Have a great week ahead! It’s my birthday this week so I’m taking off a few days to celebrate and enjoy a little rest and relaxation. 🙂


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Broad shoulders to stand on

“The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.” ~ Paul Kirk

Standing on broad shoulders by Debbie Phillips Women on Fire

Last week, in a hushed voice, my colleague Meredith gingerly crept into the kitchen to share the news.

“Maya just died.”

My heart sank that Dr. Maya Angelou was gone. My first thought: how lucky was I to get to live in this lifetime with a woman like her as inspiration and a role model?

Many years ago, shortly after I’d read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, (and if you haven’t read it, please promise me you will), I met its towering author in Boston. I was immediately drawn to her and rather surprised by her 6-foot presence!  She was memorable and approachable, warm and gracious.

The lesson I learned that day listening to her speak was to be mindful always — when wielding something sharp.

While the story she told was of loving to cook, being distracted while chopping vegetables, only to have a knife slice through her fingers, I saw it as a metaphor.

It was her way to remind us to be vigilant, mindful, focused when using something as sharp as our tongues, as powerful as our body language.

She had a way as a writer and activist of making the toughest issues and conditions understandable and empowering.

As Women on Fire, one of our important aspirations is to honor, celebrate and cherish those on whose shoulders we stand.  Dr. Maya Angelou is one of those sets of shoulders.

There are so many ways in which this poet, teacher, phenomenal woman influenced me and so many of you, I know. Here are ten out of hundreds of my favorite quotes, a legacy of wisdom for us all:

  • Speak your mind, because you may not get another opportunity.
  • If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
  • Nothing will work unless you do.
  • Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
  • When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
  • There is no greater agony than bearing the untold story inside you.
  • We may encounter defeats. But we must not be defeated.
  • I’ve learned that making a living is not the same as making a life.
  • Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.
  • I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

I will never forgot the way she made me feel.  From that day in Boston; to the day I stood in the rain listening to her recite her poem “On The Pulse of the Morning” at President Clinton’s inauguration; to the day last year when I opened a book that she’d personally autographed to me and saw the flourish of her signature and the word JOY.

How many best-selling authors, in their 80s, would take the time to write someone’s full name and send along a word of encouragement?  This was a woman who lived a life of purpose. And love. And caring.

She made me feel as though I mattered.

And, since that day I met her in Boston, every time I use a sharp knife, I think of her and I pay attention.

Wishing you a phenomenal week ~


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May’s Book To Live By

This month’s Books To Live By selection highlights our May membership program theme: A Mother’s Day Appreciation.

From a celebrated American author and poet, hailed as one of the most influential voices of our time, comes this highly anticipated autobiography, a story of loss, love and discovery.

Our May selection is….

Women on Fire Book To Live By- MAY- Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

Mom & Me & Mom (amazon link), by Maya Angelou

New York Times best-seller Mom & Me & Mom is a whole-hearted, honest recollection of Angelou’s complicated relationship with her mother. It offers a glimpse into the inspiration and backstory behind one of her most-loved titles, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Angelou takes us to Stamps, Arkansas, where at three years old she was sent away by her mother, Vivian, to live with her grandmother. It was nearly a decade before Angelou would finally reconnect with her mother.

Angelou divulges the raw feelings of abandonment that pushed her to dark depths, and examines the delicate reconciliation that slowly took place to rebuild the broken relationship.

Mom & Me & Mom is one of the most authentic narratives that I’ve ever read. Angelou captures the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship so spot-on that it leaves you reflecting on your own experiences.

Angelou’s signature optimism and wit bring hope, healing and love to the story. It is a thoughtful reminder of the power of forgiveness, no matter how much time has elapsed.

I hope you enjoy Maya Angelou’s beautiful memoir as much as I did. Women on Fire book co-author Sarah Elizabeth Greer surprised me with my own copy – personally signed by Ms. Maya Angelou herself!

It remains one of my most precious treasures – and I believe you will really love this book, too.

Happy Mother’s Day weekend ahead. I encourage you to share with me here on the blog: What is your most powerful memory of being a daughter or mother? I look forward to reading your response! 🙂

With lots of love,


Practicing Extreme Love

I spent most of today feeling sad and I wondered if you might be, too.

Every time I feel we take a major step backward in our country – whether it has to do with women’s reproductive rights or a man acquitted for killing a young, unarmed boy – I feel so overwhelmingly disappointed and helpless.

Where is Martin Luther King Jr. when we need him?  It was my first thought this morning.

And, then I remembered that he is always here.  In the marvelous works that he left us.  In the powerful speeches he gave, in his deep respect of humankind, and in the non-violence he was a role model of.

So, I took the time to re-read his Letter From Birmingham Jail, nine pages that chart a course of understanding and have given me hope and strength through other difficult times of unrest, war and despair.

No matter how dim or dismal a situation is, no matter the setbacks, he reminds us that love triumphs over all.

*This Week’s Pinspiration*

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[pinit]Practice Extreme Love with Women On Fire ~ debbiephillips.com

In his famous letter, which was written on newspaper margins and scraps of paper while he was in jail for actions of civil disobedience, Dr. King addressed the accusation that the civil rights movement was “extreme.”

He argued that Jesus and other heroes were extremists and wrote: “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

In times like this, I want to burst through my fear and anger and be an extremist for love. And, today on the heels of sadness and outrage, I took great comfort in these inspiring extremists for love.

Thank you, Beyonce.

Upon hearing the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin, during her concert in Nashville, Beyonce called for a moment of silence and then sang the powerful “I Will Always Love You.”

Thank you, Maya Angelou.

Her words ring as true now as they did when she spoke them during the Sandy Hook School killings.

“Our country is grieving. Each child who has been slaughtered belongs to each of us and each slain adult is a member of our family. It is impossible to explain the horror to ourselves and to our survivors. We need to hold each other’s hands and look into each other’s eyes and say, “ I am sorry.”

Thank you, Dr. King.

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

So we go forward, as we always do.  Yet how can we do better?

Maybe today we smile at someone we normally wouldn’t.  Maybe today we take the time to understand another person’s point of view. Maybe today we examine and reconsider our own stereotypical views of anyone different from us.

Maybe today we join forces with others and do as Maya Angelou urges us in this video:

“Do right …try to be all you can be to be the best human being you can be. Do it because it’s right to do. Pick up the battle, take it up, it’s yours. This is your life and your world … make it a better world just where you are. Yes, it can be better. It must be better. But it is up to us.”

I dream of a world where we all step up, practicing extreme love to be the best human beings we possibly can. The world needs us to do better.