When I was growing up in a small town in southern Minnesota, I dreamed of living in other places. That didn’t simply mean relocating to another spot for the rest of my days, however. 

I intuitively knew that different places would make different contributions to my life. It took a while to put this plan into motion, but my journey  took me from Janesville, MN to Sun Prairie, WI to Santa Barbara, CA to Boulder, CO to Minneapolis, MN and now to Las Vegas, NV.

It’s obvious to me  that each place either supported my goals at the time or the lessons I had to learn. It wasn’t just a change of scenery that I was seeking. I was looking to grow myself.

When I read Stewart Emery’s brilliant book Actualizations, I finally understood my urge to relocate. It was about much more than having a different view from my window. He wrote:

If you were a willow tree living by the riverside, the environmental conditions of your existence would support your evolution toward becoming a self-actualized willow tree.

If,  on the other hand, you were a willow tree and you were planted in the desert, the chances of your making it as a self-actualized willow tree would be virtually nil. The environmental conditions of your existence simply wouldn’t allow it.

It wouldn’t make any difference if you really wanted to be a self-actualized willow tree. It would not happen.

On a very  fundamental level, what is true for the willow tree is true for you and me.

If we are in an environment that supports our evolution toward self-actualization, then it  will happen, and if we are not, then it won’t happen.

However, you and I possess qualities or attributes that allow it to select its environment. You and I have within us the creative intelligence to recognize the conditions of existence that support our growth toward self-actualization, and we have the wherewithal to place ourselves in such an environment.

If we fail to recognize and construct environmental conditions that support our well-being, then we will have a colorless existence as members of the living dead.

For the past  two weeks, I’ve been working diligently on the upcoming issue of Winning Ways newsletter. The theme for this one is gardening and I realized that while there are some horticultural basics that most of us know, we haven’t had much encouragement to create the circumstances that support our own growth.

Fortunately, we can determine that for ourselves and put ourselves in nurturing environments. And we don’t have to move across the country to do so.

Does your habitat contribute to your growth? Or is it holding you back? Look up from your computer. What do you see? Inspiring books? Pictures that make you smile? Clutter? 

What about the people you hang out with? Are they cheering you on or holding you hostage? Been to any seminars lately that stretched your imagination?

 Is your habitat a desert or a riverbank?


Join Terri Belford, Alice Barry and me in glorious Sedona for Inspired Livelihood, April 16 & 17, and you’ll leave with a portfolio of ideas and plans for making your habitat the most nurturing place on Earth.

17 Responses to “A Place to Flourish”

  1. LynnH

    Janesville, Minnesota? I’m gobsmacked. My grandparents, Oscar and Ruth Troldahl, owned the Janesville Argus newspaper for decades. They were the businesspeople in my life. Both of my parents were educators, as were those in my mother’s family.

    Actually, Grandma Ruthie’s father was a plumber in Hanska, MN, and I presume he was self-employed. He died in the mid-1960s so I don’t remember him much.

    Janesville is something like population 1,200. The world is SO small!!!

  2. Barbara

    Holy cow! I lived on the same street as your grandparents for a while. And, of course, knew Oather (am I spelling that right?). Where do you live now?

  3. Renee

    I love this post. Very thought-provoking for me. I’m from a military family and we moved a lot when I was growing up, so I’m not really sure if my itchy feet comes from moving so much growing up, or because I’m looking to grow. Perhaps a bit of both, because when I have moved as an adult, it has always wound up being very good for me in one way or another, even though it sometimes takes years and a good bit of life experience to see it that way.

  4. Carla J.

    Hi! I love moving around. Several years ago, however, I purchased & moved back to the family farmhouse. I’ve been there for almost 6 yrs and starting to feel the urge to move again. This time I’m worried about making the wrong decision. I felt so strongly about keeping the homestead in the family. What if I sell and move and then really regret it later? It’s a beautiful location, but sometimes I feel I’m living in the middle of nowhere.
    I’ve felt this way before with other major decisions in my life – I might not be that enthused about something, but if I do or don’t, I might regret it later. What’s up with that?

  5. Diana Maus

    Great way to put it. I literally live in the desert. Over 50s years here has convinced me that there’s good reason it is known for making life brutal and hard. It also seems to attract only those who can’t afford to live elsewhere, are hermit-like, or who work in aerospace like my husband (vast areas of open land and sky are necessary for flight testing). It’s sort of like being a military wife, going where he needs to go to work.

    When I was young, the town was small and had that 50s sensibility. I longed for more exciting places but I also enjoyed the open, uncrowded spaces here and I was raising two kids so I let time pass. I managed a 23 year career here (surprisingly) after commuting elsewhere to finish college. Now that I am retired from that particular career, there is nothing here to sustain me, much less help me grow to the next level. The internet is my only connection to what I see as the real world.

    My husband continues to do well here in his field but I’ve mined it dry, tried every avenue here in 56 years. Any advice? I am beginning to feel like my husband and I will have to live in separate places to solve this any time soon.

  6. Barbara Winter

    Have you ever looked at what that might actually entail? How about a second place outside of the desert? Moving back and forth (for you, at least) might be one option. Or, perhaps, you need regular field trips out of the desert. You could housesit or do shortterm caretaking. Start by asking, “What if,” questions and stay open to the answers. That’s how we mine for new possibilities.

  7. Diana Maus

    Yes, good ideas. I would LOVE to have a second place but I can’t afford it. We get out of the desert whenever we can in the RV. I have joked about us putting me somewhere to live in the RV (there’s a great beach park we love) and he could come on weekends (also too expensive). I have some health problems (chronic fatigue syndrome) that would prevent me from some kinds of work (like caretaking probably) but I could do part time work that isn’t physical. Lots of RV couples work in the camp store etc.

    I think I’m pinning my hopes on when my daughter and her family move back to the states that I’ll just go wherever they are, at least for periods of time, until we can move near them. That’s my best hope right now.

    I do the What if thing with my husband periodically. He can shoot my what if’s down faster than I can spit them out, LOL! I don’t want to sound like one of those people who shoot down everything you advise, on the contrary! I think your post was right on about putting ourselves in nurturing environments. I’ve been trying to explain that to my husband to no avail! But I need to keep that thought in the forefront anyway.

    Thanks for the boost.

  8. Carla Lomax


    I feel your pain! Are you in southern New Mexico? It sounds like it. Yikes! I know how desolate and depressing living there can be; I used to live in Albuquerque and my in-laws still live in a little town in southern NM. You feel trapped and unable to escape and most people are just barely hanging on so they’re demoralized too. The only escape from it is to get out! Of course, there’s that money problem but it sounds like you’re an accomplished artist (by that I mean better than most of us, right?). So, have you looked into licensing your art in some way other than selling on Etsy? There’s a book, “Licensing Art 101” by Michael Woodward and it’s only $14 on Amazon. Someone in a seminar recommended it. Mary Engelbreit’s made a fortune that way, but there are plenty of less well-known artists that also make money from licensing.

    Or what about teaching a few select students in your home? I know if you’re living in the middle of nowhere that most people don’t have much money to pay for classes, but perhaps you could gear it to the local economic conditions. Or maybe target the retirees who’ve already made their money and would be willing to learn from an accomplished artist. Then maybe you could save up enough to take a great trip once a year and have someone to share your art interests with in the meantime.

    How far away is the local community college? Could you do any teaching there? Yeah, I know. Could be all agricultural students but I thought I would mention it anyway.

    Are there any Native American artists or craftspeople in the area? They’ve been making art in the desert for centuries; perhaps you can befriend some of them and find out what they have to teach you.

    You could look at the bulletin boards on Barbara Sher’s Web site (www.barbarasher.com) to see if you can find some online friends to chat with.

    Also, take what your husband says about the “what ifs” with a grain of salt. He’s doing what he loves so he’s already being nourished. He’s probably going to have trouble seeing things from your perspective, which means you’ll probably have to find the support elsewhere.


  9. Diana Maus

    Hi Carla!
    No, I am not in NM, I am in the Mojave Desert of southern California! But everything you said is the same here, except if you have a lot of energy, you can commute to reasonable work in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. Something like 80% of the workers here leave every day for “real jobs” elsewhere. I can no longer drive those distances over the mountains because of my CFS. Plus people here drive like maniacs, over 80 MPH.

    You have a lot of good ideas! In my 50 plus years here I’ve kinda been there and done all that. I have had an Etsy shop for 5 years (business has been very slow the last 6 months or so). I have my college degrees and twice the community college units I needed to get my first degree. I went to the local JC for 12 years! I’m a life long student. I just never finished my masters degree, which limits teaching to high school and elementary. I probably don’t have to mention how many teachers have been laid off in the last year, so there is a surplus of unemployed teachers, even subs!

    Barbara Sher’s was one of the first books I bought years ago, and I have all the licensing and business sites linked and I have a blog etc etc . I even have art in a gallery in Pasadena. But the recession is killing artists here. And yes, I am 56 yrs old so I have at one time belonged to all the art clubs etc out here and took lessons and gave them. It’s all different now that I am retired and older and ill. I have really, like I said, mined this place for all it’s worth. Some people would say never stop trying but come on, like some relationships, once it’s over it’s over right? I just want out.

    So, ok, enough woe is me. I really feel like you understand and that helps so much. You really have to have been there to understand.

    “You feel trapped and unable to escape and most people are just barely hanging on so they’re demoralized too. The only escape from it is to get out!” Totally true here.

    “Also, take what your husband says about the “what ifs” with a grain of salt. He’s doing what he loves so he’s already being nourished. He’s probably going to have trouble seeing things from your perspective, which means you’ll probably have to find the support elsewhere.”

    You hit it right on! I think this has been the greatest source of displeasure for me here – his not “getting it” and I think if he keeps not getting it, I will have to make changes on my own.

    By the way, I take it you did get “out of the desert” ? Good for you.

  10. Jimmie Berg

    I have lived in a couple of deserts. Years ago I lived in Gallup, NM, a town called “armpit” and a few other choice negative words by many!

    During the two years my ex and I were there, I fell in love with all the beauty around Gallup. Canyon de Chelly in eastern Arizona, the mountains about an hour from where we lived, Mesa Verde in southern Colorado, Santa Fe, about 2 hours away and Albuquerque was always good for shopping and eating.

    My ex hated Gallup and made fun of all the “Junk Indian Jewelry” that I bought that is now worth many more dollars than what I paid for it. I discovered from my grandmother that I am descended from the Cherokee and Choctaw nations. I am still trying to find my cheekbones!

    I volunteered at the Navajo Orphanage that was sponsored by my church. I spent two Halloweens being a fortune teller and palm reader – nothing I actually know anything about but the kids loved it and begged me to come back the next year.

    Gallup at that time was interesting if you took the time to look. The town had more bars per capita than any place else on earth. Saturday was the day to walk the two blocks from my house and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Navajo Nation literally in my front yard. The colorful clothes and the beautiful jewelry were inspiring to me. Every year the population swelled when thousands of Navajo came to town for their yearly celebration. I learned about the Navajo people, the differences in the puebla dwellers, and how most of them are able to balance modern day employment and their own traditions.

    I have been through Gallup a few times in recent years and of course now there are malls and Super WalMarts and Route 66 is no longer the main drag – an Interstate divides the town.

    I personally love the desert – to me everything that is there was hand picked and placed in order to make a beautiful picture.

    Sedona is my favorite high desert and I look forward to seeing it again in April when I attend the conference.

    Jimmie Berg
    Akron, Co – the real middle of nowhere!!!

  11. Carla Lomax


    Here’s another idea: Could you commute with someone else to the L.A. area for work? If you’re unable to share the driving due to your illness, perhaps you could pay extra for the gas. (Maybe you could figure out a way to make the cost tax deductible.)

    I used to live in California (San Jose, Monterey–LOVED IT!), so I know how they drive out there. It bothered me at first, but then after a while I started driving just like the rest of them! (Maybe not such a good idea, however.)


  12. Diana Maus

    L.A area is out of control traffic-wise even for the able-bodied. Not doing that again, even as a rider. It gives me panic!

    Carla, I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I will never have the endurance I used to. A once in awhile trip to L.A., just riding in the car, makes me tired for days. I have to accept that my illness has ended full time work for me.

    I want a fun semi urban liberal environment with a 4-yr college nearby and lots of bookstores and artsy shops and coffee houses with entertainment at night. I would be glad to even run a cash register at a bookstore or something.

    FYI Jimmie, I agree the desert can be beautiful and majestic on its own terms. But there’s a big difference between being here all your life and never living anywhere green, and enjoying the desert life for a few years as a newbie. Besides, all the “malls and Super WalMarts, and freeways have changed the landscape here forever, not to mention the 300,000 people that joined us here since I was in high school.

    May be a great place to visit with your kids and their dirt bikes, but that’s about it at this point. Sedona, Santa Fe and even Albuquerque would be an improvement from here!

    By the way, I’ve been to Gallup, several times. Wouldn’t live there for a million bucks.

  13. Carla Lomax


    So, where do you want to live? Palo Alto would fit all of your requirements but the cost of living is fairly high even though it is a college town. Are you taking your husband or commuting on weekends? If so, you’d need to be near an airport. Do you want a moderate climate and good transportation? The weather requirement would eliminate a lot of places (like the Midwest and Northeast). Forget Albuquerque; it’s just as hot as where you are, the job market is terrible, and really, if you’re not into all things Southwestern, it’s an artistic wasteland. At least it was when I lived there. What about Las Vegas? Barbara thinks it’s a pretty good place to be. It’s still really hot in the summer though.

    I guess you’ll have to make a list of the things you want/need in a locale, and then try to find a place that is the best fit. When I changed states the last time, I had to give up the good weather for a better economic climate. It does sound like you’d want to consider a place with a good public transportation system however, so you could get around without having to drive.


  14. Diana Maus

    I feel like we’ve hi-jacked Barbara’s post, but it was just so… right on about being where you are nourished.

    Last time I was in Vegas it was 116 degrees and I almost had to go to the hospital from going out of the hotel for a few minutes, A/C to the incredibly dry heat. Last summer our top temp was 106, bad enough. Plus Vegas economy has hit the skids as bad as California.

    My daughter may be moving to the northwest (Seattle area) within the next couple years. If she does, I will try somewhere in the northwest. And yes, I know all the drawbacks and that it’s gloomy. It also has some really creative spots. I suspect the weather may cause people to go indoors and MINGLE! What an idea, LOL. In California, everyone is out enjoying the sunshine, in their cars!

    I haven’t been to Palo Alto, will check it out online. And yes, I would love to have a good public transportation system. thanks for the advice everyone.

  15. Barbara Winter

    No, you haven’t hijacked this post, although I thought the desert metaphor had been somewhat diverted. The thing I’ve learned is that when I’m really clear about what nurtures me…not airy-fairy stuff…it’s easy to find the people and places that provide that. For the first half of my life, I believe I mostly thought, “Anyplace but here.” I’ve also recently realized that I could be plunked down almost anywhere and find inspiration. That’s a radically liberating notion!

  16. Diana Maus

    I went back and reread your post today. I see that my reaction to (and dismay about) the word desert overshadowed your point. “Is your habitat a desert or a riverbank?” You meant to say that we have influence over how our environment affects us, by making changes or adding elements that nourish us.

    You said that a willow’s not going to flourish in the desert no matter how much it wants to, yet later you say you can enrich a poor environment through sheer will of effort. That you don’t have to relocate. Over time, that can feel like taping pictures of the outside to prison cell walls or changing the drapes in your house when what you really need is a divorce.

    You said “I’ve also recently realized that I could be plunked down almost anywhere and find inspiration.” Maybe for the short term, but over the long haul (50+ yrs) it wears you down to bone that you haven’t met your goals in a frustrating environment.

    I guess I’m going to have to take the stand that after 54 years here, this particular town has drained me despite every imaginable effort to make it work or even to just be tolerable. Some things shouldn’t be endured.

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