Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change


My biggest lesson 2013

My Biggest Lesson of 2013: Possibility

Each year (well, since last year), I sift through my last year and look for the Big Lessons. These are things life taught me, whether I wanted to learn it or not. This year, my lesson is simple. So simple it's bordering on cheesy:

More is Possible. 

This year has been one of transformation…and while that's true every year, this year I transformed in ways I truly never imagined.  And that's just the point: You can't imagine what you're capable of. There's always more possibility, more opportunity, more to learn.
My own imagination of what's possible in any given situation is wildly out of touch with what's actually possible.

In order to convey the lesson of POSSIBILITY, I have to tell you a story. This is a story I haven't shared yet, because it's potentially triggery and full of sad parts and moments days of laying in bed crying and there's no happy ending. (There's no sad ending either. There's no ending, because it's not just a story, it's my life.)

This is the story of possibility, and how it taught me who I am.  

It begins in January, 2013,  at the doctor's office. I've made an appointment, after over 5 years of trying to conceive. The visit was disastrously brutal. I had a panic attack, a big sobbing-can't-breathe panic attack, and the doctor couldn't even begin an examination. So instead we talked.

What the doctor said was equally brutal: You need to lose weight, 20% of your body weight, in order to improve your chances of conceiving. She tested my thyroid, but other than that, my best bet to fix whatever else might be wrong was to lose weight.

This was exactly what I was afraid of.
I had no idea how to do it.
It seemed totally outside of the realm of possibility.

(Let's a stop a moment for perspective – until this appointment, it had never occured to me to worry about losing weight. I thought (and still think) I'm adorable + functional for what I wanted out of life: my husband thinks I'm sexy, my clients are delighted by my big, beautiful brain, and I  have cute clothes I feel fun in. While I had the occasional “I'm a giant” feeling around particularly tiny friends + clients, I focused my energy on body acceptance and feeling great in my skin.)

But suddenly, losing weight was  an alternative to more invasive doctor visits and just like that, I found a compelling reason to do it.
This seemingly impossible, unattractive thing (losing weight) was tied to something I was willing to work for (a kid!). I was now highly motivated to figure it out.
Whether it's impossible or not, I had to at least try.


My biggest lesson of 2013

So I did what I always do. I made a map. I read lots of books. I researched online.
And then I created a plan for exploration, using the system I teach. Here's how:

Identify your intention and your definition of success.
This has to be intimately related to your Big Why. Why the heck are you doing this? For me, it's about avoiding the doctor and starting a family. Boiled down even more, it's about feeling strong + capable + independent, while bringing more love + community into my life. Knowing that, I could only shape a plan that included these elements (in other words, a plan that made me feel deprived, ugly, or weak wouldn't work.)
Pay attention + accept the truth. 
You have to know where you are now, to figure out how to travel to the next place.
I started tracking my calories + my activity, not to change anything, but just to gather information of what was really happening. What I learned was surprising: it's not at all that I consumed too many calories, but rather that I didn't eat enough during the week (I often have coffee for breakfast and forget about lunch) and then was starved and ate all the things during the weekend. Without paying attention to what was really happening, I never would have recognized the changes that would truly work. This book explains why “eating less” is not the answer.

Make a plan for experimentation.
Don't just try a bunch of stuff and hope it works. Develop a plan (based on what you've learned from experts and your own experience) to put into practice what you've learned.
I found a bunch of things to try (that met my requirement for making me feel strong + capable), established a system for putting the new habits into place (just one at a time!) and tracking their effectiveness. Tracking + reassessing (using this process) is the best and only way to know what is really working.

The experiments I tried (and liked enough to continue):
– Running. I started with Couch to 5k app, but found it much easier to stick with Up + Running's 5k class.
-Bodyweight Strength Training. I really love the You Are Your Own Gym book + app. (I use the 10 week plans inside the app + never have to wonder what to do, which is really important to my sticking with anything).
– Eating breakfast and/or lunch. My not-eating-enough habit had slowed my metabolism (I was always cold, sleepy, and never had an appetite – all signs of low metabolism.)
– Giving up added sugar. I gave it up for a whole month, and while it made no difference in my weight loss, I finally stopped craving sugar at every turn. Just like with the workouts or with being vegan, I have a much easier time when I know exactly what to do and can't argue with myself.

Measure the right things.
Measuring is the key to knowing what's actually working. But your measurements have to line up with your values.
My plan was not based on results (amount of weight lost) but on experimentation – since I didn't know what would work, I couldn't measure success by results, only by information gathered and lessons learned. I considered my day/week/plan a success if I was trying new things and paying attention. (In other words, my measurement was simply: consistent daily action on my plan of experimentation.)

It worked (kinda).

I ran a 5k in May.
I'm training for a half marathon.
I'm down three dress sizes and have lost 20 lbs (half of the doctor's suggestion).
I'm significantly stronger physically: I can carry groceries, hoist my suitcase into the overhead compartment and walk all over Boston – all of which I couldn't do before.

But more than that, I learned that I was all wrong about what was possible.

About 2 months into this, I had a big epiphany: I didn't think I was the kind of person who did this. Who was fit, or active, or…physically capable of hard things. All my life, I had assumed that it was a different kind of person who could run, get stronger, take care of her body.
I believed (without knowing that I believed it) that in order to be active, I'd have to be a different kind of person. I didn't really trust that I could be ME and be this new thing.

And that's where possibility sneaks in. 

It creeps up on you:
Maybe I can do this. 
I am doing this! 
Holy cow, I did it! 

And that's why this is not a story about weight loss, but about possibility. Once I realized that I was (unknowingly) limiting what was possible, I started looking around at other areas. What did I  believe was possible for my business? For my teaching? For my family? For my day?

Rethinking what's (im)possible for me, Tara, to do if I'm still completely myself, has opened me up to a pile of new opportunities. I started teaching in association with a non-profit (and am working with a second one to plan business education for artists). I'm planning a full weekend retreat in New England . I'm teaching at the industry event for knitters/crocheters (the biggest percentage of my clients). I welcomed more people than ever before into the Starship (and I'm about to open it again). I created something for people I hadn't been serving.

Possibility wants to sneak in on you, too. 

But you've got to open the door. You have to suspend your disbelief about what you're capable of, about what's impossible in your world. You do this through exploring: exploring all the places doubt is hiding, exploring all your assumptions about your life, exploring all those things that both intrigue you and scare you a bit.I'm sure there are other things that I've assumed not me, and I intend to discover them and upend them this year.  I never in a zillion years thought I'd ever blog about health or weight loss, or even share this story with anyone. But I need to share it, in order to recognize the truth:

Anything can be a window into growth, anything can be a symbol of possibility.*

For me, this window was a health journey. For you, it might be starting to follow your dream, building a sustainable business, exploring a new artistic endeavor.

You can start letting the possibility sneak in by looking at what you've already done that you thought was impossible.

What did you do in 2013 that you believed in impossible?

PS. I'm feeling quite hesitant about sharing this…but then I re-read last year's lesson about Connection


*Tweet this

How a dream becomes doable

How a dream becomes doable

Now that you are swimming in beaming goals and dreams for the New Year and the holiday spirit is all packed up and put away…the moment of truth has come. How the heck are you going to make those dreams a reality? How are you going to get it all done? How is your day/week/month really, truly going to change to accommodate all the new plans?

The first step (and I know you know this!) is to break it down into do-able mini-goals. Something you can do or reach in 3 months that is measurable and map-able. The Map-Making Guide is my go-to way to break down a big goal into a bunch of smaller steps, do-able to-dos. (Elise has a great take on the difference between goals + to-dos here)

But even when you've made your whole map, plotted how to get from here to there….it's so tempting to stop. You have your big list, so you're all set! But well, that's not quite it.

You're not actually any closer until the to-do's get done.

And while I'd love to think I can fly down my list of to-do's in an orderly fashion…that never happens.Life gets in the way. Products have to be shipped, problems have to be solved, blog posts have to be written.

The only way to make sure the “extra” stuff get done (that stuff that moves you towards your bigger dreams, that's outside of your day to day work) is to make it a part of your normal day.

For most of the map-makers, this means Giving Your To Dos a Date. In the map-making guide we set lifelines (soft deadlines) for the stuff that has obvious dates associated with it, and then you move everything to a to-do list for the week. In other words, we're taking a big goal and taking it down to the exact week in which you'll take a step to get closer.

But then the question is: how do you get stuff done from the weekly level to the daily level?

I have a few things I do each week so I'm working on both my big goals (the map-made destinations) and the usual work of everyday life. This is what I used to write the book, get new wholesale yarn accounts and create my workshops.First, I set some intentions for the week.

What do I want to happen? What do I wish for?

And under each wish, I write:

How it might happen

My commitment to this wish

How I want to feel (or the qualities associated with this wish.)

Then, I make a big list of my projects (this might include movement towards a destination, or work for a client, or just blog posts), and include the to-dos under them.


On that list, I might assign a day of the week, or not.

And finally, I write my to-do list for the day. I make each day's list based on the weekly lists of project, going with what feels good and has my enthusiasm.


How do you move your big list of to-dos into your daily life?

PS. Before you plan your week, make sure your to-do list is moving you towards to your big, shiny dreams in a strategic way! Start with a map and then plan your week.


Trust. Adventure. Explore. Beam. Boldly.

After working through Leonie's yearly workbook and finishing the Captain's Log (a new workbook/journal/stay-on-track-er that we'll be using in the Starship all year), I'm practically glowing with gratitude for 2012 and hope for the coming year. My favorite part is seeing how the disparate pieces fit together to create some overall themes and lessons.


2011 was the year of Yes.

Last year I wrote that I had learned (from 2011!) that saying yes even when I'm afraid led to amazingness. I practiced this consciously in 2012, saying yes to: a book party (and my first live-speaking thing…ever!); my first live workshop; following my enthusiasm; feeling good; creating what I longed to create.

Tara Swiger teaching marketing in Seattle


2012 was the year of Trust.

The thing with saying Yes? It involves a heckova lot of trust. Trust that you'll figure it out. Trust that it's all going to be ok. Trust that you've done your best, and now you need to let go. Trust that you're enough. Trust that connecting is more fulfilling and profitable than closing up.

Connection is Everything.



2012 was the year of Enthusiasm.

Saying yes to my enthusiasm is something I learned this year from reading Sarah J. and idea-partnering with Kelly P. I followed my enthusiasm towards Project Life, quilting, embroidery, writing on new topics and finally, finally finding the balance between creativity and work in my daily life.

Mother in law quilt. Finished!


2012 was the year of Adventure.

Oh the adventures!
Publishing: writing, writing, writing, thousands and thousands of words every day;  working with Shannon on the cover, title, layout; the endless tiny changes; and then! the release day! The lovely reviews, thrilling book party, guest posts, interviews, giveaways; and then! A royalty check! The magic!

Traveling: San Diego, Charleston, Boston, San Diego (again), Seattle, Asheville, Nashville, Knoxville for dates with a new baby and old friend, the heart-breakingly beautiful Oregon coast, the redwoods, the campfire pancakes.
Hello Redwoods.

Writing: Yes, the book, of course, the book! But I also wrote an three email mini-courses (one of them is free, here), a book read-along guide, a class (and then workbook) on blogging effectively, an all-new Holiday Sanity Guide, the Captain's Log, and the truest, most enthusiastic blog posts in my 10 year blogging life. And for the first time, writing came easy, it was a part of my life and my world and the very way I live in the world. And it's always, always an adventure.

I really am.


And with these lessons, with trust and enthusiasm and adventure, I turn towards 2013, the year to…


hot air balloon

While I have fewer “traditional” explorations scheduled (I'll be traveling much less), the close-to-home approach is giving me a chance to explore deeply. Home, new projects, researching what works for others, experimenting with what works for me…all of it is about exploring. I don't know what exactly it'll mean (yet), but here's what I do know:

  • Last June I sat down at the beach and outlined a whole new class – the title: Explore You. Obviously, now's the time for it.
  • There's so much I don't know, but so much new info I close myself off from, to avoid overwhelm. Explore gives me the frame to learn more, and be open, in a focused, healthy way.
  • I've started listing Things To Explore, and think I'll pick a new one each month.




Beam. Explore. The words of 2013. (So far. Life tends to show up with her own ideas.) cc: @leonie_dawson
I don't really get this one yet, but it came to me, strong and true and..Yes, Ok, BEAM. Here's what I know about it so far:

  • It's my job to not just shine my little light, but to make sure it beams.
  • Tractor beam, sunbeam, beaming beacon, a lighthouse beams into the darkness, beaming smiles
  • A light beams when: it's not gunked up with stuff, it is focused in one spot.


Join me. What was 2012 the year of? And what will 2013 hold?




This is one of the (over 45 pages of) exercises in the Captain's Log. If you'd like to get support (and practical dream-reaching), beam aboard the Starship. It closes to new members tomorrow.

The Holiday Adventures

Every week is an Adventure..and this is round-up of the view, the links and the inspiration that made it special. You can see all the adventures here.

The View

Beau's new fave spot- the back of the couch, over my shoulder.

Four strips down, 7 to go! #quiltsbychristmas

And now... I have days of this ahead of me. #handquilting #quiltsbychristmas

Still life from a handquilting afternoon.

The finds


  • The Internet blew up over Instagram's new Terms of Service. Here's the scary way of looking at it…and here's the less-scary way of interpreting it (short version: YouTube + Twitter have nearly identical language). I'll be on Instagram for the near future, but I'm also on Flickr if you've moved there (with their new app, I'll be more involved in commenting, fo sho.)



  • This video is my favorite thing of the week, for thinking about how I want to work in the New Year.



And with that, I'm offline (except for welcoming new Starship Captains aboard) until the new year.

Speaking of, the Starship closes January 3rd. If you're curious, sign up here to learn more about who the Starship is for, and to get to know a few of the members. And if you're hoping to get my book or any support for your biz for a holiday gift? Here's a template for asking.