Want to listen to this post instead of read? Here you go!

She thought that being popular would bring contentment. She never felt like she was enough. She believed the success equation was: work 24/7 + more work. She chased bigger and faster and more more more. Her marriage began to crumble. Yet, she believed she couldn’t slow down. If she missed a minute on social media, she might miss something. She didn’t think she was doing anything wrong, just what she had to do to keep up. She chased an elusive standard of perfection and she MISSED HER LIFE.

She was me several years ago. I chased my tail until it all began to crash and burn.

If you have been feeling restless lately, so badly wanting things to change, but believing that it’s impossible, I know one thing for sure: there is a way out. Going from constantly chasing something I would never catch, to living in grace didn’t happen overnight for me, but it did happen. It happened little by little, step by intentional step. And the little-by-little, and big leaps of faith along the way, were worth it!

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Hi, friends! Welcome back to Part 2 of 2017 Goal Setting. If you are new here, welcome! Hop on over to read Part 1 here to get started.

And thank you all for the birthday wishes.   I’m so grateful for another year of life, and that I get to spend my birthday each year here with you, planting good seeds for what’s ahead! Today is a good day!

Okay, let’s get to it.

I wrote the handwriting piece above (which has since been shared on the interwebs tens of millions of times—so crazy) not about skydiving, traveling to a foreign country, or anything you might typically see on a bucket list. I wrote this late one night in my kitchen, just after putting Grace to sleep when she was a baby, about wanting to finally read the Bible from start to finish. It felt like a daunting task, but I wanted to grow my faith. I was determined. This really mattered to me. And when something really matters to you in the big picture, how you do it doesn’t matter as much as why you do it. My why drove me forward, especially during the many times I fell behind or wanted to jump ship. Little by little, over the course of a year and a half, I did end up reading the Bible–and it changed everything. The little-by-little added up.

Maybe you want to cultivate a stronger marriage, find confidence in your career path, or grow in community with others. Maybe you want to learn to steward your finances well, live with less, or finally do that thing that’s been on our list forever. Whatever it is, let’s talk about it! Let’s plan the first seed.

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STEP FOUR: As we start this journey together, what’s one thing you want to cultivate in the year ahead? No perfect or polished answers needed here! This is just to get you thinking as we start uncovering the good stuff. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Write it down, and I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments for accountability, and to encourage others too. I’m going to leave my answer in the comments alongside you!

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STEP FIVE: We talked about the good things from the year in Part 1. Now, let’s look at the hard things. What were the challenges you experienced in 2016? What areas of your life need to be tended, watered, or soaked in sunshine? Don’t just write or say, “Everything.” Get specific and list your greatest challenges—the places that feel overgrown with impossible weeds right now. I know you want to make this your most purposeful year yet, so don’t let negative self-talk paralyze you as you make this list. Write the facts and move forward. Each thing you write down is a potential area of your life that could be made completely new.

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Once you have your list of the challenges from 2016, name some of the lessons you learned from those challenges. Here are some my lessons from 2016…

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A note of encouragement. Perhaps you are still in the thick of a challenge right now, and have no idea yet what it’s supposed to teach you. That’s okay! Wherever you are, let’s share the challenges and encourage each other. Leave your thoughts in the comments and help encourage others as well.

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STEP SIX: Who helped you cultivate what matters in 2016? Looking back at your list of good things from Part 1, and all that you’ve written so far in this series, who helped you to live on purpose this year? Who encouraged or inspired you? Download a free printable worksheet here. Write the names of those you are grateful for and why. And then… do something about it. Thank them for the specific things they helped you with or inspired in you! You may think they don’t need encouragement, or it won’t matter, but words have power. Gift your people with those words! You never know what good it might spark.

View More: http://robynvandykephotography.pass.us/sipnseePhoto by Robyn Van Dyke from baby Sarah’s Sip-n-See. I love these friends!

This year, more than ever, many friends made enormous sacrifices for our family. Here are just a few of the many.

– Every single person who was a part of our adoption—from our adoption consultants, to my friend Casey, and many more. Thank you to so many friends who prayed us through this! We kept a private blog throughout the process for family and close friends, which was one of the best things we did all year. It was a safe space for us to share what we were experiencing, and allowed friends to connect with us and pray specifically.

– When you’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to reach out and ask for help. Knowing this, lots of friends simply showed up. They showed up with food, extra hands, prayers, and encouragement. My friends Talia, Tori, and Bianca often took Grace for play dates with their girls, and this was huge. It was a hard transition for Grace with two babies added to the family so quickly (and two very tired parents all of a sudden). Our friends took her out for play dates, and this was so good for her little heart. I’m so grateful!

– Several generous friends gave us milk for Sarah. This was an enormous gift. I pumped for Sarah while I was still nursing Josh and made enough for a couple bottles a day, but it was undeniably hard. That is a story for a whole other post! These friends filled in the rest, and what a blessing. I’ll never forget this gift.

– As the transition eased and the hard season came to a close, I needed someone to help me sift through all that had happened, and to make some decisions about how I would spend my time moving forward. I began coaching with my friend Diana. Diana has helped me make God-led decisions in the wake of such rapid life change.

– One year ago, I prayed for a wise mentor to help me prepare for adoption, write my book well, and grow my faith. That was a tall order! But, God sure did answer. I still can’t believe how He orchestrated this. I was in an airport going through customs and I heard, “Lara!!” We had never met in person, but Renee spotted me and we exchanged emails. Months later (and I don’t even remember exactly how this happened but that’s God for you), Renee generously offered to drive three hours to my house to help me with my book outline and to encourage me as we prepared for adoption. I was blown away. She showed up with buckets of encouragement and wisdom for me… and it turns out it was her birthday! This generous and selfless gesture sprouted a friendship. I don’t know what I would have done without this lady in the hard seasons of this year. I love you, Renee!

– My team. My team! This has been quite the year for us. As I’ve mentioned, beginning of this year with all of our family transition was trying on our team. But through it all God was growing all of us. I am so grateful for these women.

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There are so many more! If you’ve sent me an encouraging email this year, prayed, given me a hug, or if you were the lady in the grocery check out line who told me I was doing a great job on my first outing with all three kids by myself (when two out of the three were crying, and I was feeling anything but confident in my ability to wrangle three littles at the grocery store at the time!)—thank you. Your encouragement has genuinely made a difference.

Who are you most grateful for this year? Leave your answers in the comments, but most of all, send some love to the people on your list!

OPTIONAL* BONUS STEP: Get visual! Great photographs and colors can make my heart sing. If you are like me, you will really love this step. Make a Pinterest board of images that will inspire a purposeful year. What do you want to grow? Title your board “Make it Happen in 2017″ so we can search for each other’s boards! Now, one word of caution. I rarely use Pinterest (like, twice a year) because it can be the black hole of distraction and discontentment. The goal isn’t to have a Pinterest-worthy year, so pick images that have deep heart, not just pretty things. Here’s my board from last 2013 and from 2014, 2015, and 2016. I’ll be pinning 2017 here. *I made this step optional for a reason! If Pinterest distracts you too much, skip this step! There are no rules here. Do whatever will help you to make what matters happen.

Okay, I’ll be back tomorrow for Part 3. Tomorrow’s post includes a powerful step that will help you simplify your year ahead, and I can’t wait!

Comment with your answers from each step as we go through this series to be entered to win the prizes below. I can’t wait to read your answers, and share mine with you too! One person who comments with answers to every step in this series will win a bonus prize: one of everything from the Cultivate Shop! Yes!!! This includes 2017 PowerSheets, the Cultivate What Matters sticker book, the Cultivate What Matters flair pens, books, journals, art prints and so much more!

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1. 10 sets of 2017 PowerSheets!
2. A Fitbit Flex
3. A gift card for a massage
4. The 2017 Floret wall calendar
5. A Fresh Start prayer journal from Val Marie Paper
6. Farmgirl Flowers bouquet
7. A (monogrammed!) Cultivate clipboard
8. Watercolor set from Artist’s Loft
9. 2017 Simplified Planner
10. ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?! Mrs. Meyers cleaning products + a free house cleaning!
11. Sweeter than Honey coloring book from Lindsay Letters
12. My favorite Jonathan Adler Grapefruit Candle
13. Five copies of the Make It Happen book
14. A Write the Word journal (we’re sold out of all of them except peach!)
15. A Meyer lemon tree – a family favorite around here!

Enter below and be sure to leave your answers to each step as you go through the series with me!

Pssst! Head to this post to find out if you’re a lucky winner!

 

Giveaway ends January 30th. Winners will be announced on January 31st here on the blog. Shipping some of these items can get costly, so hard goods are for US entrants only. We can convert some of these to digital prizes for my international friends, though (gift cards instead of shipping the item). If you don’t claim your prize within 48 hours, another winner will be selected, so mark your planners and stay posted! : ) Also, this post contains some Amazon affiliates links. No extra cost to you, but it helps us raise funds for Love One Another Project!

Ready for 2017 Goal Setting, Part 3? Here you go!

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Welcome to the Sixth-Annual Make It Happen Goal Setting Series! I’m so grateful for this series, and for all of you who join each year. How has it been six years, friends? I’m so pumped for this year!!!

Want to listen to this post instead of read? Here you go!

 

One year ago today, I shared some big news with you. We had just matched for our adoption, and had no idea what the year ahead would look like. I declared 2016 “The Year of Getting Messy”—embracing imperfect grace-filled progress—and that’s exactly what it was. 2016 was the hardest and very best year of our lives. (More on that shortly.)

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If you are new to this series, welcome—you’re in for a treat this year! I’m Lara. I’m a mom to three, a business owner, and I live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. But, the most important thing you should know about me before we start this series is this: I don’t write about goal setting because I love goal setting. The words “goal setting” have often given me the heebie jeebies. I have a lot of things to take care of in my life (like you), and I don’t have room for a whole lot more (I’m guessing that’s like you too), and I get tense even thinking about the pressure to accomplish something beyond my current capacity (areyouwithme?).

We don’t do traditional pressure-filled, do-it-all goal setting around here. We uncover intentional, less-is-more goals. I call these, “good goals.”

Good goals are about stewarding what you’ve been given well: your relationships, your money, your possessions, your work, your children, your home, your health, and your time. A little intentional forethought goes a long way!

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Over the last six years, as my life has dramatically changed, so has this goal uncovering process. I’ve studied what makes people feel unmotivated, and I’ve discovered some pretty amazing not-so-secret secrets to getting unstuck. Uncovering good goals is not about doing it all; it’s about doing what matters. Whether you’re a mom, a student, a business owner, in transition, in the wait—in any place where you are in life, we’re going to let go of guilt-filled resolutions, and embrace a whole new way of doing this goal setting thing. For those of you like me who do not like traditional goal setting, you are in the right place!

From hereon out, when I mention “goals” or “goal setting,” know that I’m talking about good, grace-filled goals.

Here’s what good GOALS are all about:

Grow what matters
One step
At a time
Little by little your
Seeds will grow

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The alternative to uncovering good goals is going through the motions, not feeling confidence that you’re on the right path, lacking motivation, and not taking care of what you’ve been given well. (Speaking from experience here.)

Good goals–the kind we are going to uncover together–give you direction, and unending motivation. You can’t simultaneously do it all and do life wellBut you can choose to cultivate what matters, right where you are.

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Here’s what you can expect in this five-part series: Each day, I’m going to walk through a mix of goal uncovering steps from my first book, Make it Happen (which you can sample here), the 2017 PowerSheets, and I have some new ones that we’ve never done before!

The PowerSheets* and my book have many more steps, and helpful prompts, than I’ve listed in this series. This is just a tiny sampling. Do you need the PowerSheets and book to have an intentional year? No. You don’t need any thing to live this life well. They are great tools if you choose to use them, but if you only do this blog series, and use scrap paper to write your answers, that’s great too. : ) Use what you have! If you are someone who has been stuck in indecision lately, or feeling fear about diving into new things, practice what I call, “making a mess!” Use whatever you have available to write with, and on! It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just dig in.

*UPDATED: We sold out of all of the 2017 PowerSheets, and are blown away by the response this year! You can read more here. But! We just opened pre-orders for a small batch that will be in stock in the spring for the second half of the year. Order HERE!

As we go through each step together, use the comment area here to leave your answers, or write them in your PowerSheets, a journal, or on scrap paper. Don’t just think your answers. Thinking them doesn’t count. Write them out and, if you want accountability, leave them boldly here in the comments. I want to cheer you on, and this year I’m going to leave some of my answers in the comments too! Friends, help me out here and cheer each other on, too. You never know who how your words might change someone! If you need an extra kick in the pants to make it happen, I have a giveaway at the end that might encourage you : )

Ready to dig in? Step 1, here we go!

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STEP ONE: In order to leap into the new, we first must know where we are leaping from. I’m going to ask you the golden question: How are you? Really. How are you? Let’s look at each area of our lives and do a little check-in. Look at the categories below and write out how you are doing in each one. Feel free to write in your own categories, too! Give each area of your life a rating between 1 and 10, along with a few thoughts on why you chose that number. 1 means you are not satisfied in this area, and want to see radical change. 10 means you are happy as a bee on honeysuckle!

– Health
– Friends
– Family (including your significant other, if applicable)
– Finances
– Spiritual
– Work
– Recreation
– Environment

Here’s a free printable 2017 Check-in Worksheet for you—yay!

This is step one for a reason. “How are you?” seems like a simple question, but when answered from our heart of hearts, it can help set you on an entirely new path. It can change everything.

Reply in the comments, or on paper right now. I’ll leave my answers in the comments too! And don’t get stuck in the negative soil. Include thoughts about what is good in each area, too! For instance, as for my feelings about finances: I’ve been challenged by contentment and emotional spending at times, but I have become more skilled at managing money. It took ten years, but I now feel comfortable navigating Quickbooks, doing our business bookkeeping, and analyzing where we are. (Never thought I would type that!) Allow yourself to write the things that may feel undone, imperfect, or hard, and write in some positive thoughts too—even if the positive feels tiny!

Now, a bonus challenge: let the dirt be dirt. Once you’ve written everything out, be still with your feelings for a moment—whatever they may be—without trying to change them or push them away immediately. Let the challenges and places you’d like to grow sink in a little. If you’re like me, I often want to fix my circumstances right away instead of letting myself feel anything at all. My instinct is to reach for a distraction when faced with something that feels hard. But, that never brings me real lasting peace or clarity. So, let’s not do that. Maybe the soil of your life needs some fresh nutrients, or maybe there are some big rocks in the way of you planting new things. The only way you’ll know though, is to see what’s there first.

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STEP TWO: Watch this video (or at least the first 30-ish seconds) that some of my closest friends and I made for you…

What have you been chasing recently, or in the last year? Do you feel like you are “chasing perfect” in some ways—attempting to measure up to an impossible standard? Write or type here what you have been chasing, and how that has been making you feel. Maybe you’ve been chasing success, significance, or approval. Maybe you’ve been trying to keep up, survive, or just get through. Whatever you’ve been chasing, name it boldly and know that you are not alone. To name your chase is to destroy it.

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STEP THREE: In traditional goal setting, you focus on the future, and on achieving your goals as fast as humanly possible. That is a recipe for b.u.r.n.o.u.t. I’ve done it many times in the past, and it’s no bueno. But! Uncovering really good goals means learning from the past in order to cultivate what’s next. The past has a lot to teach us! Let’s take a look back at the last year.

What good things happened in 2016? What grew well and produced fruit in your life? What are you grateful for from the last twelve months? What good things happened? I know this can be a challenging step for many. We don’t like counting our blessings because it may feel self-indulgent or like it won’t get us anywhere fast, or perhaps you are thinking that there were no good things that happened! It’s easy to look back at an entire year and see only the yucky parts, like when something happens to you at the end of the day and you automatically call it a bad day, regardless of what happened the other twenty-three hours.

Let’s do a little digging! A few tips to unearth the good stuff:

– Talk to your significant other or a close friend about your year and ask him or her to reflect some of the highlights back to you. He or she may remember some that you have forgotten! This is also a wonderful way to celebrate the good things of the past year with others. Make it your dinner conversation tonight.

– Take a look back at your calendar, blog posts, social media updates, or photos. Those might give you a clue into some of the good things you’ve forgotten. I made this 7-minute movie below of our adoption story and favorite memories from this year on my iPhone. It’s not perfect (every time I went to export it, it crashed), so I gave up and just let my phone do whatever it wanted with these photos and videos. Now I love that it isn’t the perfect video I had in my head—it reminds me that this year wasn’t perfect either, and it was still good! By the way, the clip where I say, “I just want to express to you how grateful I am…” was recorded the day of Sarah’s birth. Those were words her birth mom said to me, and I will never forget them.

2016: The Year Our Family and Hearts Grew from Lara Casey

– If you are a PowerSheets user, read through your 2016 PowerSheets! Knowing there would be a lot of major life change in 2016 with our adoption and writing a book, I keep my main goals simple: read the Bible, and pray. That was it! I knew that if I could focus on those two things, everything else would fall into place. And it did.

–  A great tip: review your finances from the year. This is like reading a journal of places you went, and what your priorities were.

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My Good Things: My list might look different from others, because for me, all the hard things this year ended up being the good things.

1. As you saw in my video, we adopted a newborn shortly after having a baby (they are six months apart). This was a huge blessing and, for so many reasons, it was also extremely difficult. I haven’t written about our adoption story, except in my upcoming book, because it was such a raw and refining time. Ari and I both experienced anxiety and hard emotions as we walked through this sleepless season. In that season, I felt like a horrible mother, an absent friend, and incapable of leading my team. I wanted to quit my business. I couldn’t rely on my own strength, and it was humbling. (I recently shared some of my story from the last year on the God Centered Mom podcast.) So how in the world did this end up as the number one thing on my good things list? Because this was ALL God’s plan. In what felt messy, He was at work. In the things that felt unexplainable to others, He knew. Good things grew out of what felt hard. Our faith grew. Our bond as a family grew. Our capacity to love each other grew. And so much control that we’d held so tightly to was released. This hard season ushered in massive heart change, and it was good. In coming undone, we came alive!

nancyray-sarahnewborn-1076Photo by Nancy Ray

2. I had a challenging time writing my second book, Cultivate, through that hard season. I was nursing Josh every hour at night, pumping milk for Sarah, trying to keep up with Grace and work, and just couldn’t find the words to inspire others in that season. I had started writing this book two years ago, and it was supposed to be released today actually. Little by little, through so much imperfect progress, I wrote, and rewrote (see here for that story), and just two weeks ago turned it all in! It is not at all the book I set out to write two years ago. I needed to live out this story in order to write the specific words that ended up on the page. I am SO grateful for this imperfect path. The new release date is June 27, 2017!

3. Through all of this big change in 2016, many things started to feel like they didn’t fit anymore. Namely: unknowingly hiding the way I was made and the name of our company. So, those things got re-done, undone, and changed. Like a sweater that fits just right, they feel so good now! Letting my hair down and changing our company name have been incredibly freeing.

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There is so much more, like the garden (oh it was good for my soul!), Amber and Jess joining our team, my mom visiting us a lot this year, so many generous friends who prayed us through our hard season, Ari and I actually having time together at night now (partly in thanks to our friend Irene and her gentle sleep coaching tips for Josh!), Josh in general, Grace coming out of this very hard family transition with renewed joy, and little Sarah is one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever been given. Getting to love her every day is just amazing! I no longer feel like a horrible mom, leader, or friend. And not because I got better at these things, but because hard seasons can make you rely on God’s strength more than your own.

Good things ahead (bonus if you want to include this!)Well, I have some news. I’ve cried a lot of tears writing this little paragraph, and it’s one I never thought I’d write. In all of the change this year, something else became clear that I’m very grateful for. As of today, I’ve passed the torch as Editor-in-Chief of Southern Weddings. When I started the magazine ten years ago, I never imagined it would grow to what it is today–and it has so much growing left to do! We are a very unique company, running two businesses under one roof, with one small-but-mighty team. Like I’ve learned in my garden, you can only grow so much with the space and time you’ve been given. I can’t lead the vision of two large brands at once and nurture a growing family. Many of you know this shift happened several years ago internally—I’ve been uninvolved in content creation for a while now. This year, however, it became clear that I needed to grow new leadership in our team to help both companies continue to grow well. I’ve been working alongside Kristin Winchester for five years, and her passion for the Southern Weddings mission made her a natural fit. She has already been wearing this hat well: cheering on our team, shepherding the big picture, and encouraging meaningful beginnings to married life. KNW, as we affectionately call her, is a pretty remarkable woman, and we are all SO excited for this new season! My title is now Founder and Grateful Wife, which fits me to a tee. Be sure to check back on Southern Weddings next week for more, and to hear about what’s ahead in 2017!

Other good things ahead: In light of what I’ve just shared, I’m excited to start homeschooling Grace in the fall (homeschooling moms, please share your wisdom with me!), release Cultivate in the summer, watch our kids grow (Josh starts preschool in the fall), continue to do the good work He has given me to do here, and Lord willing, go on more date nights with Ari!

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Name three lessons you learned from the good things. For example, in my life there were many times last year that good things happened when I let go of control—whether getting on my knees (literally) in prayer, letting someone else lead, or letting myself make a mess. The lesson for me was a big one: let go. Surrender. Humble yourself. That’s where change begins. I also learned that it’s okay to grow slow, and it’s okay to be average.

Your turn! Write your own list of good things, and lessons you learned. Write your list in your PowerSheets if you have reached that section, or on whatever paper you have. Either way, I encourage you to share some of your 2016 good things and what you learned in the comments to encourage others!

And remember this: There is no room for comparison in cultivating what matters. A page from my 2016 PowerSheets:

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Whether you had one good thing happen or twenty, celebrate the good stuff and let’s help each other do the same. Let’s turn comparison into compassion and cheering on.

lara_casey_isaacson_family_030Photo by Amy Rae. I love these monkeys.

Okay, that’s it for today and that’s plenty to work on. I’ll be back tomorrow with more goal uncovering goodness!

Take your time with this and remember, cultivating what matters is about progress, not perfection. This is not about writing the perfect list of perfect goals with a perfect pen. It’s about digging into the dirt, right where you are, to grow, tend, and harvest what you’ve been given. This process will have a big payoff, but you have to commit to working through it. Let your 2017 goals bake, like a pan of homemade hot cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. They wouldn’t be flaky and yummy zapped quickly in the microwave, would they? They’d end up as a big pile of mushy dough. I’m not going to hand you your 2017 goals; we’re going to do this right and bake them well together, little-by-little, with some bold leaps of faith along the way. Sound good? Awesome!

2017 goals lara casey Can you smell those good goals starting to bake!? Yum! : ) 

Need an extra kick in the pants? How about this for motivation? Welcome to the Ultimate New Year’s Giveaway. There are lots of prizes and fun ways to enter. Most of all, though, I hope you comment with your answers from each step as we go through this series. I can’t wait to read your answers, and share mine with you too! One person who comments with answers to every step in this series will win a bonus prize: one of everything from the Cultivate Shop! Yes!!! This includes 2017 PowerSheets, the Cultivate What Matters sticker book, the Cultivate What Matters flair pens, books, journals, art prints and so much more!

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1. 10 sets of 2017 PowerSheets!
2. A Fitbit Flex
3. A gift card for a massage
4. The 2017 Floret wall calendar
5. A Fresh Start prayer journal from Val Marie Paper
6. Farmgirl Flowers bouquet
7. A (monogrammed!) Cultivate clipboard
8. Watercolor set from Artist’s Loft
9. 2017 Simplified Planner
10. ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?! Mrs. Meyers cleaning products + a free house cleaning!
11. Sweeter than Honey coloring book from Lindsay Letters
12. My favorite Jonathan Adler Grapefruit Candle
13. Five copies of the Make It Happen book
14. A Write the Word journal (we’re sold out of all of them except peach!)
15. A Meyer lemon tree – a family favorite around here!

Why am I doing this? I want you—yes YOU—to get renewed, and to uncover a solid direction for the year ahead. Help me spread the word, and let’s get all our friends in on this! Here’s to a meaningful, intentional 2017—I am cheering you on friends. ENTER BELOW, and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Pssst! Head to this post to find out if you’re a lucky winner!

 

There are 28 total prizes, which means 28 chances to win! Your odds are good : ) Giveaway ends January 30th. Winners will be announced on January 31st here on the blog. Shipping some of these items can get costly, so hard goods are for US entrants only. We can convert some of these to digital prizes for my international friends, though (gift cards instead of shipping the item). If you don’t claim your prize within 48 hours, another winner will be selected, so mark your planners and stay posted! : ) Also, this post contains some Amazon affiliates links. No extra cost to you, but it helps us raise funds for Love One Another Project!

Ready for 2017 Goal Setting, Part 2? Here you go!

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Well friends, this is our last Little by Little date together for the year. It has been a year of perfectly imperfect little-by-little progress, and I’m so grateful. I’ve enjoyed these Friday posts with you! You can view them all here.

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How are y’all? It has been a good week here. I spent the week writing my Goal Setting Series that starts on Monday, the kids were especially hilarious this week, and this morning we are picking up the RV (see my Instagram stories today for more!)! Since Christmas is this weekend, they wouldn’t let us pick it up any later than today. You guys. It’s large. 32 feet. We aren’t sure if it will clear the birch tree by our driveway, so we may have to park it at an RV friendly location (Walmart) till we leave next Tuesday.

Amber, who is a great friend and became my co-worker this year too (I am a lucky duck to work alongside her every day!), convinced me to do something extra fun on our RV adventure. On my birthday (next Tuesday), we’re going to be rolling down south from Chapel Hill to Pensacola, and I’ll be leaving boxes of PowerSheets and lots of goodies along the way. #PowerSheetsRoadTrip is on! Stay posted here for more on Tuesday, and for a peek into our holiday rig this morning!

Here are things to help you cultivate what matters, little by little, in the week ahead:

1. Try a social media free weekend. I’ve been doing this for six years now to be more present with my family, and I’ve never missed that time online. This is a great weekend to give it a whirl!

2. Dig into your PowerSheets to prepare for an intentional 2017. Order yours here if you haven’t already. (And join the private PowerSheets Facebook group!)

3. Join the list for monthly encouragement from me, and to be the first to know when my Goal Setting Series goes live on Monday! It will come right to your inbox.

4. Get inspired! I loved my interview with farmer-florist Erin Benzakein this week! I could have talked to her for hours. Thank you to the hundreds of friends who joined us.

5. Create a life-giving home. I just saw that my friend Sally’s book is almost 40% off today!

6. Get some good last-minute gift ideas. You’re welcome : )

7. Make it happen. If you haven’t read my first book, Make It Happen, now is a great time to begin. It was written for this season of reflecting and setting good goals. And I got an early present this morning in my inbox – my (second) book! As many of you dear friends know, it has been a long process full of imperfect progress. I finally turned in my finished manuscript a couple weeks ago, and my editor sent it back to me this morning with this generous encouragement: I know this was the most difficult and challenging book for you to live and to write but I truly believe that gold has come from the furnace. All praise to the Lord!

And three last pieces of encouragement for this special holiday we are celebrating this weekend…

8. Rest.

9. Rejoice.

10. A baby changed everything. 

Merry Christmas, friends! See you Monday for the 2017 Goal Setting Series!

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With all the forward focus on the year ahead, it’s easy to forget that 2016 isn’t over yet! There’s still time to finish this year strong, no matter how the other 350 days of the year have been. But, finishing strong to me doesn’t mean doing it all, or checking items off a to-do list. These words describe the kind of strength I want as I finish 2016. True strength doesn’t mean performing. I want to keep grace as my focus, knowing I don’t have to do it all, or do anything perfectly!

fullsizerender_1We love our Walk in Love T’s around here, and these seesters loooove each other.

Here are ten things to help you cultivate what matters, little by little, in the week ahead.

1. Listen in. If did two podcasts recently where I shared my story from this year and lots of practical advice and encouragement for hard seasons. You can listen to my interview on the Creative Empire Podcast here, and the God Centered Mom podcast here. Podcasts are a great way to make intentional use of holiday travel time.

2. Prepare well. A little forethought goes a long way. Emily, Nicole, and I shared all of our best PowerSheets and grace-filled goal setting tips this week to help you finish this year well, and prepare for the season ahead. Listen in for free here. So much good info!

3. Know that there is still time. It’s worth repeating to help it take root in our hearts: there’s still time to cultivate what matters in 2016, whether that means slowing down, changing your course, or doing something you’ve always wanted to do. My friend Nancy is most definitely making the most of these last few days of the year by tackling a big (meaningful) goal. Read all about it here.

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4. Learn from wise women. One of my PowerSheets goals from 2015 was to have wise mentors in my life. Renee Swope has been a friend and mentor to me this year, and I asked her if she would share her wisdom with you too! Listen in to our live broadcast yesterday here. And be sure to register for the final Cultivate Interview of the year with farmer-florist and author, Erin Benzakein here. See you Wednesday a noon!

5. Grow together. I never imagined I would lead a team when I first started my business in 2004. I have learned so much (and have more learning to do). I turned the mic to the ladies I work alongside to share their best tips for growing a great team here.

6. Slow down time. This post (and the article Em mentions) has stayed with me for several weeks. A great read, especially this time of year as we begin reflecting on 2016 and find ourselves saying things like, “Where did all the time go?”

img_7259Grace and I made a whole lot of orange cranberry jam this weekend for holiday gifts!

7. Have an adventure. So, this doesn’t exactly count as one of my ten items for this post, but it’s my blog and I’ll break the rules if I want to! ; ) Traveling with two babies and a Gracie is logistically challenging for many reasons. We have gone to the grocery store together, and to church—that about sums up our family travel this year. But, we really want to bring the kids to my parent’s house in Florida for the holidays. Ari does not like flying, and I really love him, so flying is out. Instead, we’re renting an RV and driving to my parent’s house (13 hours) the week after Christmas. They don’t know this yet, so shhhhhh if you know my parents or my brother. Ari has to work on Christmas weekend, so we’re starting our trek on my 37th birthday – the 27th. It shall be a memorable birthday, no doubt! Anyone else driving a long distance to see family? Or have tips for RVing with babies?

8. Write and sticker your heart out. I remember how fearful we were to add color to the PowerSheets for the first time. We loved the idea of making goal setting, and life in general, more colorful and fun, but what would everyone else think? We did it anyway, and our PowerSheets workbooks (with corresponding stickers) have been a huge hit! The sold-out Cultivate What Matters pens are back in our new PowerSheets accessories bundle, which includes the Cultivate Sticker Book. (As of me typing this, there are only 77 bundles left.) Order today for holiday delivery… and make sure you read the next tip before you order. : )

9. Don’t miss number 9 here. I am so grateful for you, and our time here on this little blog!

fullsizerender_3A page from my PowerSheets above.

10. Goal get ‘em! Mark your planners—my sixth-annual Grace-filled Goal Setting Series (how has it been six years!?) starts on December 26th! I will be sharing my PowerSheets goal uncovering process (including the challenges from this year and what I learned from them), additional goal uncovering steps that have been helpful for me, my 2017 goals, and I’ll be inviting you to do the same! Get ready for lots of inspiration and, as usual, great giveaways along the way too!

Cultivating what matters alongside you–little by little,

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P.S. Inside the Life Handbook, as requested!

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Leading a team never crossed my mind when starting my business back in 2004. But, in order to grow and be able to use my specific gifts well, I quickly realized I couldn’t do it alone. Since starting my business, I’ve learned a lot about cultivating a meaningful team culture. I’ve also made a ton of mistakes that taught me far more than my successes! But, it’s the same with hard seasons in life and mistakes along the way: they grow us.

A little bit about our team today: I work alongside eight full-time employees, three of which are remote. We also have one part-time designer, and a few part-time employees who help us in our busy seasons. We run two companies together: Southern Weddings and Cultivate What Matters. I love each of these women, and I’m turning the mic to them to tell you what they think makes a great team!

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From Emily (With the company 7.5 years. Read her story here.)Skills are important, but it’s much harder to teach integrity, passion, kindness, or tact. I think we have prioritized these “soft” qualities when adding to our team, and it has paid off tenfold. If you can surround yourself with people who genuinely care about each other and about your work and mission, the work that needs to happen will get done, and will get done well.

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From Nicole (With the company 6 years. “I first met Lara as a student at UNC, and applied to be an intern at Southern Weddings shortly thereafter. Once my internship was over, I was invited to stay on as an editorial assistant, and eventually made my way to my dream job as the Art Director!”)Instill a learning spirit and sense of adventure. Operating and growing a business is hard work, and new demands can pop up exponentially faster than you anticipated. Our team handles them not only because we have a great sense of responsibility, but because we trust each other to learn new skills that help move us forward, and because we approach challenges like exciting opportunities (at least, we try to!). Additionally, we’ve always felt the need to hire people who are smarter than us, instead of those who meet us where we are. One of our office mottos is, “make it better/do it better,” after all.

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From Marissa (With the company 6.5 years. “While working in Corporate America, I was inspired by this post, and took a chance on using my own Truth Day as a cover letter to my resume. Lots of emails, an in-person interview, and several phone calls later I actually started working as Lara’s assistant as well as running social media for SW. Through the years, my job role has shifted and evolved, but my love for our mission and my coworkers hasn’t.”)Don’t let roles or titles define all tasks. While it is important to have clear job roles and expectations, cross-brainstorming with other departments or team members that might not have the same area of expertise is not only refreshing, but so very helpful. Knowing that your colleagues are willing to jump in and help when a project gets challenging or when you need a fresh pair of eyes is invaluable. You also never know when you’ll discover a hidden talent!

From Kristin (With the company 5 years, after we met her at a SW Gingerbread Barns event!)Build in refreshment days to the yearly calendar. Having an annual team retreat, or taking an afternoon to visit a local bakery or pick blueberries does more than just give you time out of the office. It gives you a chance to connect and learn about one another. Being able to reset and refocus is a great way to establish strong team unity and commitment.

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From Amber (With the company 1 year. We featured Amber’s wedding on Southern Weddings forever ago, and became friends. She became a wedding planner and did a lot of editorial work with us, and later spoke at the MTH Conference. After a year of searching for the best fit for our marketing position, Amber emailed me one day asking if we were looking for someone. Turns out, she was the perfect fit, and it was perfect timing! More here.)Use tools like Strengths Finder or personality type resources to your advantage. Ensure that the roles and tasks for each position are a good match for the team member’s individual strengths and working style. When potentially adding new team members, you can gain insight from these test results to see how they will potentially balance the team as a whole — so you can achieve greater success!

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From Jess (With the company 1 year. “I’d known Lara for about a year when she asked me to help watch her kiddos while she finished writing her next book, Cultivate. I turned her down (sorry Lara!) and instead took a full-time job in Customer Service and Social Media with a start-up in the Triangle. When my hours at new job unexpectedly shifted a few months later, I offered my assistance to Lara with Grace and Joshua while I was job-searching. We had a few conversations about my newfound love for customer service, and she mentioned that the Southern Weddings team was looking for a Customer Delight and Shop Manager. A few whirlwind days of conversations, interviews, and prayer later, I officially joined the team and it’s only gotten better since!”)Prioritize small talk – It seems inefficient, but taking 15 minutes in the morning or before calls to catch about how your evening/weekend was will add up over time. These little by little conversations create relationship equity, and you slowly learn facts about your other team members that you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

*Lisa is on maternity leave right now, but you can read her story here.

unspecified-3Photo by Faith Teasley – one of my favorite photos! We were picking tomatoes from a neighbor’s farm for a photo shoot : ) 

Three tips from me:

1. Be very specific about what you need when hiring. Make your ultimate wish list of skills, and qualities needed, and keep interviewing till you find the perfect fit. EntreLeadership has a great chapter on hiring well. So often I see business owners scrambling in the hiring process because they don’t actively seek out employees till months after they really need them (we have done this in the past too!). Don’t let the urgency of your immediate business needs outweigh the long-term success you could have through a patient and thorough hiring process. Even if your business suffers in the short-term (like it did for us before we hired Jess and Amber in January after a YEAR of searching!), the long-term benefits will be worth your patient intentionality.

2. Know your why, and live it out yourself. This is more of a leadership tip, but if you want your team to follow your lead, be worth following. That does not mean you have to be perfect (I am certainly not); it means being humble when you mess up, and it means being excited about the core of why you do what you do. Our office motto: if you’re not excited about it, no one will be!

3. Get yourself a Henrietta! Having a team mascot—a visible figurine or item–helps you to be unified and energized together. A natural choice for us here in the South, and a unanimous selection: Henrietta the hen. She’s a two-inch tall golden hen, and each week she lays “golden eggs.” One of the hallmarks of our company culture is giving these golden eggs, or words of encouragement, out to each team member during weekly staff meetings. It’s our favorite part of the week!

4. Stare fear in the eyes together. This year has been a perfect example of this. We went through many hard times together—times we all felt fear and uncertainty. There was lots of transition, and me being largely absent in writing my book and having two new babies in the house. But good things came out of that hard season, and the sometimes-hard conversations we had. Talk about what’s not working in your business, what you’re afraid of, and what you think needs changing. Those conversations were ultimately very fruitful!

5. Get on the same page. A boat being powered by a team cannot travel smoothly if everyone is paddling in different directions. We use PowerSheets as a team to set good goals together, and create strong team unity. Last week, we did our set of team PowerSheets (so helpful!!), and this week we all dove into our own individual 2017 PowerSheets!

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Huge thanks to my team for sharing their wisdom in this post, and for ALL they do! I hope you get to meet these ladies in person one day. They are pretty special : )

P.S. Don’t know what to get our team for the holidays? Give them the gift of renewed focus, motivation, and inspiration. Gift them #PowerSheets!  TOMORROW (December 16th) is the last day to order for Christmas delivery. Get your 2017 PowerSheets here and read my last post for a special discount code (which is larger than our usual groups discount, so use that code while it lasts!).

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