The Action That Changes Everything


I am deeply immersed in Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life. I discovered Cope when reading Dani Shapiro’s book, Still Writing, a book I recommended in a previous newsletter.

It’s the kind of book that aligns so well with my thinking that I want to savour every word, every phrase. With each turn of the page, my stash of uncertainties about how I am living my life are swept away. “YES!” I say to myself, I am on the right path, heading in the right direction, at the right pace (my own), and with the right wisdom (also my own).

I had already marked up several pages with notes when I hit page 85 and my jaw dropped. There was the very sentence that provided the missing piece of my puzzle.

“What Frost makes clear in his poem is that the act of choosing
is the most important thing.”

I realized it was the missing piece when I read the line that followed,

“The act of moving forward is what matters.”

All this time I have been teaching and preaching that taking action is the key to success, the key to realizing your dreams. I understood that any forward movement was preferable to no movement at all. But now, by way of Stephen Cope’s analysis of Robert Frost’s poetry, I understand the value and importance of choosing and committing to a path. Yes, moving forward is what matters, but it must be preceded by choosing which way to move.


Making that choice often means giving something else up, but it is that very act of commitment, of choosing what may be  the road less traveled, that brings forth the power and magic.

For years, I have taken action empowered by this, my favorite quote from W. A. Murray:

The moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s concepts: Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, Begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

I have been taking action, but I have failed to commit entirely to my road. The more action I take, the more certain I become and the clearer the road is. Inviting and tempting detours will always present themselves, but it is in staying true to course, true to my dharma, my calling, that will bring me home – home to myself.

Every man has a vocation to be someone: but he must
clearly that in order to fulfill this vocation
he can only be one person: 
Thomas Merton

Have you found your path? Does any of this ring true for you too? Are you willing to commit to your calling? Please share your thoughts in a comment below. Your words add to and enrich mine.


  1. I just wanted to say thank you for your kind words of encouragement. I really need them!

    50’s not so very old, I suppose. My great-grandma lived to be 93. And look at Beatrice Wood!

  2. This was the perfect post for me to read today. I feel a new path opening before me. My inner muse says take the journey while my mind wants to know all the details before moving forward. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Hi! You are doing such important work Leslie. I think a lot about this “deciding” business. I have problems with the concept because I cannot seem to muscle my way through my destiny. “Deciding” for me activates my will and a flurry of activity, but often there is a bigger picture that I am ignoring that stops me in my tracks. Then I have to change my decision and focus on the chaos-at-hand. As I write this, I get an answer. When I “decide” to be something that is “not me”, even though it is good, even though I feel inspired to go for it, and of course our future self is not yet us, so it always “not me”, there is always that gap. To bridge the gap I have to stay contained within myself, to DECIDE to BE ME and let the path come to me. If a bunch of paths come to me, appreciating guidance from God helps me take a path that will work, rather than a path that I want to be on. A certain humility to be in the PRESENT fully aligned with who I AM, rather than “deciding” to change and escape and control who I want to be because I don’t like my present circumstances. Take care…you are doing great work!

  4. The message about choosing a path is so timely right now. As others have noted the other paths zigzag across my path of making my art needing my love and attention. The passage makes me realize that I must spend more time looking ahead and less time looking in the rear view mirror at the well worn path I have been on.

  5. The act of choosing is akin to my favorite adage (though I sometimes lose sight of it): Action precedes motivation.

  6. I usually look at your posts immediately and today I didn’t; it just wasn’t a good day physically for me. I’m so glad I waited. This way I got to see these wonderful comments and your replies. I would like to thank everyone for sharing. You never know when you are going to touch someone’s life.

  7. I feel rather lost. I want some forward movement, but I’m not sure what to do. I feel stuck in my life right now, and like I have to do *something*. Do I start writing again? Do I stick with the art journaling? Do I learn to draw better? Do I stay with mixed-media?

    In a few months, I am going to be 50, and I’m not sure my life matters. Or that I’ve really done anything with my “one wild and precious life.”


    • Oh, it matters Sandra. It certainly matters. You can do any or all of the things you mentioned. The action and the doing will move you forward. There’s no need to know where you are going, the way will appear as you move along. 50 is young. There’s so much time left. My life art life really didn’t start until I was in my 50s.

    • Life , in general can be overwhelming at times. Decisions, decisions! Sometime you just need to clear your head and relax. Inspiration will pop up and your natural course will show. Do something you really enjoy. Take a trip, even just a day trip or drive to so where beautiful. Perhaps a museum, the ocean, somewhere that moves you.

      And, BTW, 50 is a mere number. Look around at those who do not find their muse, calling, or self until they are in their senior years! get to know some inspiring, artistic seniors in your area. They will amaze you and help drive you forward.

  8. I chose to marry my husband 42 years ago. We’ve been married for 41 now. The path has at times been rocky and sometimes smooth. It wasn’t an artistic or career choice but it was a life choice. Sometimes I still think of changing course but know I never will. While on this major course I enjoy the bunny path of drawing that runs along beside the larger path. I enjoy the zigzagging path of the dog going across but also forward with me as I try one craft after another. Sometimes our major path leaves room for catching the beauty and enjoying the parallel paths that can run alongside ours so we aren’t as limited by a major choice as we sometimes worry about either. Sometimes one path enriches the others and sometimes they don’t but we get to experience sometimes, more than one. That’s the beauty life has for us.

    • I love your analogies, Timaree, parallel paths, zigzagging paths, ones that enrich and ones that don’t. They are all part of who we are, aren’t they.

  9. Wonderful post! And timely for me. I also found this in my email today:
    “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think of it. Go out and get busy.“- Dale Carnegie

  10. This is so true…once I got out of my own way and purposely defined what I’m here for then things seemed to roll right along to help get me there. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, practicing this or that, and finally when I came out the other side, I knew what goals I was going to go after.

    Recently I decluttered and rearranged my studio. This may sound like I’m procrastinating; rather it was a concrete plan to keep me focused on my intended path. I “set the stage” to be successful and I eliminated distractions (that I found I could quite easily waste a year on…)

    Looking forward to reading that book and I always like to see what you’re reasing…so thanks for sharing.

  11. Thank you! I’m working on moving out of the chair and into the studio. Onward and upward!

  12. Yes! I’m getting this message from multiple streams yesterday and today. I was really struck by a FB post by a wonderful photographer yesterday…the last line stayed with me:

    “I’m not perfect. Still learning how to be here. It’s a journey. I’m grateful I’m no longer suffering from the hell of addiction and everything else that alters my mood. It comes at such a high cost. It an be hard to face darkness and fear. It can feel endless. But there’s always something waiting for me on the other side of that dark place that is much more amazing than I could have ever imagined. I suppose I’m writing this for myself because life tends to serve up a handful of options and at any given moment I have a choice how I want to handle it. When I’m using…I lose the option of choice.”

    And then my phone call yesterday with you, Lesley, helped me to, yes, make some choices. And in letting go of wondering how I could do it all, or what I’d be missing by not doing it all, I have made some choices and it is SO freeing and exhilarating! The choosing is what is empowering!

    • Don’t you just love how the Universe brings so many things together at once to cause a change or effect on us just at the right time?

  13. Great post, Lesley! I’ve found that to be true in my own life as well. I believe I’ve mastered the idea of knowing which direction to take and I’ve been good at taking action, in bursts. Now, I need to realize this is a marathon, not a sprint. Instead of taking giant leaps, I can just take small actions each day and I’ll reach my goal without feeling overwhelmed or pressured. My goal this year is to have complete trust in this process. Thank you for all the inspiration you provide!


    • Yes, Yanik – there is no end to this journey called life. I think of it as a process of honing in but never really arriving. After all, if we arrived at some completion or end point, what’s the point of living after that. Game over.

  14. “Making that choice often means giving something else up, but it is that very act of commitment, of choosing what may be the road less traveled, that brings forth the power and magic.”

    Hi Lesley-
    This rang so true to me. I recently made the tough decision to leave my cooperative gallery. I’d been thinking about leaving for at least a year but couldn’t take that step. I’ve always thought that my goal was to be an artist who sold her work. The reality is that right now I have little desire to make art to sell. I realized some things as I made that decision…1)That my act of creating is in the form of exploring techniques and sharing them with others via writing and teaching and 2) I want my own art to have personal meaning. I want to be able to help others create their own work that has personal meaning. Thank you for your part in all this. Writing my book has been eye-opening. I already have ideas for at least two more books! I definitely feel that I’m now on the right path!

    • So glad to hear this, Julie. It’s so good to hone in on ourselves this way, something I believe we can only do while taking action.
      Two MORE book, eh? Sounds good to me.Inspiration begets inspiration.