How To Climb Out of Despair and Change Your Life

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Catherine Hughes

Director of the 8 Women Dream Project at 8 Women Dream
Catherine’s dream is to make 8 Women Dream the premier online publication for women looking to pursue their dreams. She is a published author, a freelance writer, and a guide for those who want their dreams to come true online. Catherine would someday like to be invited to speak at TED about her observations about her 8WD project inviting women to take a chance on their dreams. Wine was required... Catherine posts on Sunday evenings and fills in dream stories as needed. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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How to Climb Out of Despair and Make Your Dreams Come True

Are you tired of me talking about how to have a top blog? Good. This week I’d like to share with you a story on how to achieve the thing you believe to be impossible: changing your life.

The story I am about to tell you is important because it outlines what is needed when you want to change your life and make your dreams come true. It proves you can start from right where you are — no matter how bleak your situation may be and take the steps needed to change.

It isn’t as hard as you might think . . .

Maurice Lim Miller worked in California social services for over 20 years and was challenged by then-Mayor of Oakland Jerry Brown in 2001 to create something new that could assure jobs and security for low-income families.

Miller believed that the American social welfare system is focused too much on lack and the needs of those in poverty, while ignoring their strengths and possibilities. In other words, our social welfare system paradigm is based on preventing people from falling further, instead of on handing people a real rope to which they can pull themselves up.  He formed the Family Independence Initiative.

From the FII website: After reflecting on his own family’s story of climbing out of poverty he researched the histories of immigrant, migrant, and indigenous communities in the United States who managed to move from intense poverty to a more stable middle-class standing. The common thread was that people turned to family and friends, pooled resources, and followed the example of those in their circle that began to succeed.

As reported in the NY Times story on Miller, “Out of Poverty, Family-Style”:

“Lim Miller wanted to see what families would do if they came together in a context that supported their initiative. He began by identifying families in low-income communities who were surviving, but who had “given up hope” of aspiring to more.

He asked them to pull together six to eight other families.

He offered them a challenge. The country had been waging a war on poverty for 40 years, he said, but the problem remained unsolved. “What we’re going to do is give you some resources and connections and we’re going to trust that you’ll do something,” he said. “You guys are in the power position. If you do nothing we’ll fail. If you do something we’ll all learn.”

They started with 25 families in three cohorts – eight African American families, six Salvadoran refugee families and 11 Iu Mien families from Laos. The latter were all on welfare.

He asked them to write down their goals, gave each a computer and enlisted them to fill in a questionnaire each month that tracked changes in things like income, assets, debts, health, education, skills, social networks and civic engagement.”

The families agreed to meet with an F.I.I. liaison every three months for an audit. Anything they reported – a pay increase, a doctor visit, an improvement in a child’s grades – had to be documented.”

The families were held accountable to each other.  Let’s say one person declared that they were going to take in sewing to save money to enroll in a software training program that would help them land a better job; when the families would meet at their regular check-in meetings, members would ask the person about their sewing commitment, or how much money had been saved so far.

What do you think happened?

People began to really change their lives.  It’s the power of being in a group and having the support.  Trust me, when you have to show up and talk about where you are with your dream, you begin to make sure you take the steps you promised to take to avoid seeing disappointment in the faces of the people cheering you on.

Of the initial 25 families, F.I.I. found that, after two years, household incomes had increased 27%. People got promotions, pay raises, worked extra hours, and built up informal side businesses. After another year, they were 40% higher than the baseline. (NY Times)

Interesting isn’t it?  When given some basic tools, a community where you share your roadblocks, along with clear goals and accountability . . .  you can change your life.

This was what I was thinking when I started 8 Women Dream online.  If dreamers had to show up and write about their dream progress once a week, they’d be forced to look at their participation in the delay of their dream.  And in the open sharing of this process online, eventually the dreamer would take the steps needed to make their dream come true.

And we might inspire others to see that you don’t have to be perfect to change your life.  You just have to do something — no matter how small that something might be.

What can we learn from Maurice Lim Miller and the Family Independence Initiative?

Here’s the process Miller followed …

How to Climb Out of Despair and Change Your Life

1.  Write down your goals.

2.  Find a group of people that will hold you accountable to your goals.

3.  Track your successes (and any positive changes that happen because of completing a goal).

4.  Have regular check-ins to report where you are with your dream and your goals.

5.  Ask for help when you need it.

6.  Be open to suggestions on how to make it work.


Catherine HughesCatherine’s dream is to be a motivator and published writer. She is testing her theories on motivation with this blog and the seven other women who have volunteered to be a part of her dream project. Catherine also writes about her life as a mom at the blog A Week In The Life Of A Redhead. She would also like to be invited to speak at TED as the next Erma Bombeck. Catherine posts on Sunday evenings and fills in when needed.

  • I love my dream team – they call me on my crap and keep me on track. The feeling of getting support when you need it makes the process so much easier.

    Thanks for the great post! – H

  • I’ve been stuck but I’ve never felt in despair…at least I don’t think! but these steps are great reminders Cath. I also have to remember that writing about my dream is a part of the process…it can never get stale or boring if it’s my true path, and I just have to take a few little steps every day to make big steps happen. Thanks for the great post. Rem

  • Lisa

    Wow, that is totally inspiring Cath! Love that story. And the six tips. It really shows how important it is to rely on the support of others, and to build a “Dream Team,” as we work towards our goals and dreams. Reminds me how incredibly grateful I am to be a part of THIS team.

    You rock :)


  • Rick

    The world has much more than enough resources to provide food, clothing, shelter, clean water, health care and education to everyone in the world. Poverty continues because of decisions made by the people on this planet. Miller shows that it has social and political causes and social and political solutions. We can debate which methods are most effective or efficient at alleviating poverty and which ones are fairest. But what is not debatable is that we can end poverty. This story proves it.