Karen Sargent

Karen is a psychologist and coach who escaped the corporate world and created a globetrotting lifestyle. Her base is in London but she spends winter in Asia. She runs her own business, coaching and training leaders in global organisations and is on a mission to convince the world to follow their heart. She founded the1bigthing.com to offer support and inspiration to people who want to create lives they love.

Mar 252014


Build a business while holding a day job

I received a beautiful e-mail from a reader who is building her business this week. She described her vision for her  business which was so clear and inspiring. She also spoke of her struggle to find the energy to build a business while holding a day job.

She’s not alone. So many of you want to build a business building a business while still holding a full-time job. You need the job to pay the bills, and yet the job is killing all the energy you have to build a business that will set you free. The less you work on your business the more days, months and even years you have to spend in your full time job. It’s catch-22.

I wanted to share with you a few strategies to help you create more time and energy to build a business that will set you free

1. Use your best time for your business

When are you at your most focused, productive and creative? Is it early morning, lunchtime or afternoon? Or perhaps you’re a night owl.

How are you currently spending this time? Most people who are at their best in the morning spend it checking e-mails. Those who are at their best in the evening spend it watching TV. This is a huge a waste of brain power. This time needs to be spent on your most creative and challenging work if you want to make the most of your abilities.

So instead of waiting till the end of the day to work on your business, find out when you’re at your best and work on your business then.

A friend of mine wrote an entire PHD using this tactic. He would wake up an hour earlier and spend that hour writing. Within a year his PHD was complete. Did I mention that he has 2 kids and runs a global, award-winning business? He does.

If you can’t possibly wake up earlier than you do, could you negotiate a later start at work? If you peak at lunchtime, how about spending half of that time working on your business?

2. Get into the right frame of mind

If you’re a night owl, and your best time IS after work consider getting into the right mindset before you start work by using some of the following tips.

–       Leave your favourite tasks right till the end of your workday.

Working on something you enjoy gives you a sense of satisfaction and boosts your energy. Leaving work in this state will make it easier to work on your business when you get home.

–       Think of 5 things you’re proud of having accomplished that day.

This is a great way to give you a boost of confidence and energy. Do this on your journey home. Besides making you feel good, this strategy will also stop you from ruminating from all the things that went wrong during the day, which is a complete energy sucker.

–       Spend 10 minutes meditating when you get home.

Meditation has been shown to improve depression, reduce stress and even increase creativity. Read a good article about this here. Take 10 minutes to meditate before working on your business and you will be rewarded with more energy, clarity, creativity and focus.

3. Use micro-actions

This tactic is so brilliant it deserves (and will have) a whole post dedicated to it. In the meantime here’s a quick summary of what it is and how it helps.

Usually the biggest barrier to getting something done is starting it. The enormity of the task is off-putting and so you keep avoiding it.

Consider telling yourself you will only work on a particular task for 10 minutes. That’s all. Sit down and start, with the intention of stopping in 10 minutes’ time.

After 10 minutes, you can decide whether you wish to stop or keep going. It’s OK to stop if you feel like stopping. Do this every day and by the end of the week you’ll still have at least a whole focused hour that you’ve spent working on your business.

Chances are you’ll find that you’ve spent more than 10 minutes each day on your task. Once you’ve broken the ‘starting’ barrier it’s easier to get into flow. For this tactic to work, don’t punish yourself for actually stopping after 10 minutes. Instead celebrate that you’ve spent 10 more minutes building your business.

To make the most of this tactic make sure you have a clear idea of the task you want to work on and the action you will take before you start.

4. Create a habit

Habits are extremely powerful in that once they’re formed you tend to do them on autopilot. While it takes time and practice to create a habit, once a habit is formed you’ve literally hit a home run. You’ll have no more resistance to doing the habit. It becomes as easy as making that hot brew in the morning (which by the way is another habit).

Regardless of which strategy you choose, work on making it a habit.

Try to create one habit at a time. Less is definitely more when it comes to this. Do too much at once and you’ll get overwhelmed and give up.

A great piece of advice from Leo Babauta of zenhabits is this: Don’t miss two straight days. Leo suggests that if you do miss a day, treat it as “emergency status”. Let all sorts of alarm bells ring in your head and make sure you practice the habit the next day. You can read the full article here.

So there you are, 6 practical tactics you can use to help you find the energy to build a business while holding a day job. Which one will you choose? What other strategies have worked for you? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

Here’s to making a living AND a difference doing what you love

photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

Mar 182014

Freedom Business


“I would never want my own business” he said,  “it would take over my life.” I was in the middle of a conversation with a retired man who hadn’t particularly loved his job. Sadly he spent 40 years doing that same job assuming there was no better option.

The word ‘business’ clearly meant a traditional bricks and mortar business for him, which is not surprising given that for most of his lifetime, these were the businesses he encountered.

Today technology has opened up a parallel universe to the traditional business world we know giving many more people the opportunity to make a living doing what they love. There isn’t one common term that yet exists for the type of business I’m talking about, so I’m going to call it a Freedom Business.

A Freedom Business does what it says on the tin. It allows you to make a living without feeling like it’s taking over your life. It gives you both the freedom and the fulfilment that you crave.

So here are the qualities of a Freedom Business:

1. The business is aligned with your values and strengths

“Do work you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” quipped advised the sage Confucious. This lies at the heart of a freedom business. When your business honours your values and plays to your natural strengths it satisfies the very core of who you are. Work becomes fulfilling and fun. Suddenly your Mondays become a source of excitement. Read this post to start discovering your values and strengths.

2. Low startup costs

A freedom business does not require a huge investment to get started. No premises or large amounts of stock need to be bought. No expensive website needs to be designed. A self-hosted wordpress site, using a free or paid for template is all you need to get your ‘shop’ ready for the world. Chris Guillebeau’s ‘The $100 Startup’ is a great book on the subject.

 3. Low fixed costs

Your business does not incur huge monthly expenses to run. Freelancers replace your full-time employees, your office space is the local cafe or co-working space and every $ you spend gets you a huge amount of value. You don’t start each month worrying if you’ll make enough to cover the costs. Most of the income of your sales is revenue.

 4. You don’t only exchange time for money.

Avoid creating a business that solely depends on you exchanging your time for revenue. Besides limiting the growth of your business, as you get busier you may be tempted to work through holidays and weekends. That’s not why you started your Freedom Business.

Note the word ‘only’ in this sentence. As a coach and workshop facilitator I still exchange a lot of my time for money. I wouldn’t have it any other way – these are the elements of my work that being me huge satisfaction and it might be the same for you. Just make sure that part of your strategy involves revenue generating streams that don’t depend on your investment of time. Anything from online self-study courses, to books and affiliate products can help you grow your business without taking up more of your time.

5. You love the clients you work with

Seth Godin refers to this as your tribe. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve had to hide a part of yourself at work then a Freedom Business will feel very refreshing. In your business you get to choose your clients, and if you choose clients who share your values and your way of looking at the world, your business will allow you to be exactly who you are as you offer your services to the world.


What do you think? What would other qualities of a Freedom Business be?

Mar 062014

What a yoga class taught me about starting a new business

As I was twisted like a giant pretzel, trying to stretch one arm around my knee and behind my shoulder I realised my mind was having a complete meltdown.

The realisation was instigated by our yoga instructor, Ivan, as he encouraged us to become aware of what was going on in our mind while he did the move. He made it look so easy too with his lean muscly body clad in baggy red pants and a sleeveless white t-shirt. The green bandana around his head combined with a thick beard completed the look of our young yoga master.

“This is way too difficult!” I thought. “How the hell am I supposed to do this, I’m the worst student in this class. This really isn’t for me. I want to stop NOW!”

Catching my mind in the middle of its tantrum and observing what was going on in a detached way was quite surreal. It occurred to me that these were the exact feelings I, and many of my clients, had gone through when first starting a business.


Starting a new business: First comes the excitement

The excitement and the trepidation at the start of the class was a toned down version of how I felt the day I announced my plans to friends and family. Everything is new, everything is exciting. You’re nervous because you don’t know what to expect but it’s a good kind of nervous.

….. and then the reality check

Twenty minutes into the class, as the initial excitement died and the moves got harder things got a little bit tricky. The realisation that this wasn’t going to be easy, felt just as unwelcome and scary as when I had the same realisation at the start of my self-employed life. Ok maybe I’m being a little melodramatic here but there was definitely that moment of “Oh crap, this is tough!”

……. followed by a crappy time

Then came the doubt, the loss of confidence, the temptation to give up and run. Run away to a safe corner that is familiar and easy. This is the toughest stage of making any change in our lives -be it learning a new skill, starting a business or anything else that gets us to leave our safe world of familiarity. I know it will happen, I expect it, I prepare for it but it always hits me like a ton of bricks. Having Ivan remind us to “observe it, don’t get caught up in it” as it happened, helped me resist the urge to run and instead reach deep down to a place of determination and strength.

And then you push through

It was this strength that I knew I had in me that pushed me forward, urging me to keep going, telling me I could do this. And when I thought this was as far as I could go, Ivan came and pushed me deeper into my stretch, taking me further than I thought was possible.

That’s when I got into flow. That beautiful rhythm where the mind goes still, time vanishes and all that exists in the world is the challenge you’re about to conquer.

Know this, whenever you reach that point, you will have grown.

It’s worth it in the end

Lying on my mat, resting and relaxing after the class reminded me of the evenings I go to bed weary but elated at all I have achieved. Knowing then, that pushing through the pain, keeping going when you want to give up, is ultimately what makes it feel worthwhile.

So if you ever wonder what it would be like to start a business, go take a class. Practice anything that is new, that will stretch you a little. Notice what you go through during the class. Notice how your mind reacts to the tough bits. When do you feel like giving up? How do you will yourself to push forward and keep going? How does it feel at the end?

Become aware of all that goes on in your head, as this is exactly what you will go through when starting your own business. After all,

“How you do anything, is how you do everything”


Share your thoughts

What stage are you in your business right now? What are the challenges you’re grappling with right now?

Oct 152013


“What conference is this?” asked the girl serving us food.

“It’s a conference for travel bloggers” I replied.

“We have a conference here every month and I’ve never seen a group of people who are so much fun, there’s such a great atmosphere here” she said.

I wasn’t surprised to hear her words. Here we were, 600 of us, all doing something we are extremely passionate about. We all wanted to be there and we all had PLENTY to talk about.

This is what happens when you spend time with people who are into the same thing as you are, who are following a similar path or who are making their dream happen. This is what happens when you spend time with your tribe.

(Just in case you’re wondering what the hell I was doing at a travel blogging conference, I was there with my hubby-to-be to represent our travel site globalhelpswap).

I left that conference feeling energised and inspired and so excited about the new friends I had made. I wanted to share with you the 3 key lessons I got from spending time with my tribe and I hope that it will inspire you to seek yours.

1.    It makes what you want seem much more possible

If I had to ask some of my friends if they thought it was possible to get paid to travel the world, I’m sure I’d be met with a ‘dream on sista’ reaction.

Yet at the conference I met so many people who make a living through travelling and writing about it, that all of a sudden getting paid to travel the world looked a lot more realistic.

Possibility is all about perspective and here I was surrounded by 600 perspectives that said ‘hell yeah!’

2.    It helps you learn and teach all at the same time

Some bloggers were more experienced than us, some were less so which meant that all of us could learn and teach each other at the same time.

Our conversations were rich with sharing tips, ideas and information. Sometimes what I shared helped someone else (and in turn reassured me that I knew something about this business) and sometimes I was given a tip that taught me something new.

These conversations were priceless in helping us think about our travel site and how we could make it even better.

3.    You’re surrounded by people who get you

Sometimes friends and family don’t understand what you’re aiming for or why. You might get funny looks, discouraging comments or just blank stares as you share your dreams, hopes and the choices you’re making to get there.

This is enough to make you question your own sanity and at times even give up on what you’re trying to achieve.

When you’re surrounded by your tribe they get what you’re trying to do. They support the choices you’ve made and can add to your thinking rather than stop it dead in its tracks.

That validation can be a very powerful motivator to encourage you to keep going.

So I guess the question on your mind is “This is great, but how do I find those people?’

Today we are extremely lucky to be living in a connected world where it’s so much easier to find people who are like us. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Find your tribe on-line

  • Join Facebook groups, Linked-in groups or Google communities
  • Join forums – just google your interest followed by the word forum and chances are you’ll find a group of like minded people
  • Find leaders in your industry, subscribe to their blogs, follow them on twitter, join the conversation

Find your tribe offline

  • Go to conferences (I guess you expected that one!)
  • Use meetup.com to find a local group or start one of your own
  • Make a list of places your tribe is likely to hang out and go there
  • Search within your own network – are there friends of friends who share similar interests? Can your friends introduce you?

I hope you’ve got a few ideas to start reaching out to your tribe. What other ideas do you have for finding your people? And what’s the first step you will take?

Sep 092013

Happy Quinta Feira

If you had met me a couple of weeks ago I would have probably told you about my impending trip to India to deliver some training there. While you might have thought that sounded exciting I would have quickly reassured you that it REALLY wasn’t so.

For weeks all I could think about was the 15 hour flight to get there, the jet lag and the pretty demanding client I was going to be working for. I kept telling myself I shouldn’t have accepted the work.

It turns out I was dead wrong. My short trip was fantastic. The course went really well and my client was delighted. The hotel I stayed in was an experience in itself. They brought me a free glass of hot milk with Horlicks at night to help me sleep and even ironed my clothes for free! I tasted some of the best food I’ve ever tasted in my entire life and I got to watch some great movies on the way back home. Yes I was exhausted but the trip felt like a real triumph and I’m so glad I got to go.

This got me thinking about how easy it is to be distracted by what’s wrong instead of paying attention to what’s right. As humans we’re hard wired to look at what’s not working around us, and it is so easy to find fault with whatever we’re involved with, whether it’s a job, a relationship, a neighbourhood or a project. In doing so we end up ignoring the good stuff, or we take it for granted.

How sad is it that I wasted weeks worrying about India when I could have spent my time feeling excited about the adventure that awaited me. And knowing that I’m normally a naturally positive person, makes me think that all of us can fall into this trap, making us think that life is merely ‘meh’ while we’re ignoring all the things that make it great.

So I decided to be a little more mindful about the good stuff in my life and I did a couple of experiments.

The first was with the hubby-to-be. I got us a little notebook each and every night we wrote down 3 things we appreciated about what the other half had done that day.

It was an exercise in getting us to focus on the good stuff in our relationship and we were quickly reminded that there was a lot of it. This simple exercise helped us pay attention to all the little things we do for each other, from making cups of tea to a welcoming hug when one of us gets home.

It’s a great exercise and even though it only takes us a minute to do at night, it is having a fantastic effect. We feel more connected and happier together, even though we were already starting from a good place.

The second experiment was to start the day thinking about 3 things I was grateful for. Again it got me focusing on the good stuff in my life and cheered me up no end. There’s quite a bit of research that shows how expressing gratitude can make a person feel happier and it was nice to feel the effects for myself.

The experiment can be applied to any area of our lives whether it’s our job or our new business venture, our big dreams and projects, our friendships and even our abilities.

So if there’s a part of your life which feels a little ‘meh’ right now, try your own experiment. Find 3 things you appreciate in that part of your life every day for a week. I have a feeling that by the end of the experiment you’ll be feeling a lot better about it.

I’d love to hear how this worked for you. What changes did you notice?

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How to ride the wave of self-doubt

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Aug 102013

How to ride the wave of self doubt

Don’t give up when the pace seem slow, You may succeed with just another blow.

How to ride the wave of self-doubt

I was two months into my Masters degree in London, up to my eyeballs in debt, about to break up from a lousy relationship. I had just received the result of my first assignment – a low C which dashed my hopes of getting a distinction. In short – life was a bit crap.

I remember crying down the phone to one of my best friends back home in Malta, telling her ‘This was a mistake – I shouldn’t have come to London, I wish I hadn’t taken a loan out to do this, I wish I could just give up – I just can’t do it, I’m not cut out for this.”

Despite the big desire to give up I hung on in there. Truth be told, it was probably the thought of the huge study-loan I had taken that made me stay. The least I could do was get my master’s degree given that I was going to spend the next 10 years paying for it.

To my surprise, things eventually started getting better. The lousy boyfriend was replaced with some great new friends, the grades improved and I even managed to get a job paying a decent hourly rate (granted it was painfully boring data entry but I could do it when I wanted). More than this, I attended a lecture that made everything fall into place.

The lecture was about the stages we go through when we make a big positive change in our lives. It’s no surprise that some stages feel great, such as the excitement and energy we feel at the start of a change. Do you remember the excitement of getting that new job, or starting your business? It felt great right?!

What was surprising, at least to me, was that once the initial excitement starts to fade and we face the new reality, things can get a little tough. We might start questioning ourselves, our confidence starts to dip and is replaced with self-doubt. Our motivation takes a hit, our stress levels rise and we start wondering if the made the right decision after all.

For some people this tough stage might only last a few hours but if we don’t find the right strategies to pull ourselves out of it, this stage can last for months.

The bit that struck me during this lecture was that even if the change is a positive one, like moving country, having a baby, going back to school, changing jobs, changing career, starting a business, following a dream…. there will still be a period of time when things feel awful.

I remember hearing all this and thinking – ‘hold on, this is exactly what I’ve been feeling! So it’s normal to feel like this? I haven’t made the biggest mistake of my life?’

It was such a relief to know that the self-doubt and uncertainty are all part of the process. And I hope that if you’re at that stage right now reading this will reassure you that you haven’t made the wrong decision. You aren’t failing. You’re simply adjusting to a new reality.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything about it though. Here are some tips to help you through this part of your big change.

  1. Don’t fight the feeling. That’s just wasting energy. Instead be curious about it. Take time to sit quietly and just be. It might be useful to write down what comes up for you.
  2. Identify moments or days when you felt things WERE working. What was different about these times? What were you doing or thinking that was different? How could you recreate that?
  3. Get support. Talk to someone you trust and whom you know will encourage you.  Join a group of people who are on a similar path as yours. Get professional help from a coach or even a counsellor if needs be.
  4. Take action. When we lose our motivation or even if we feel overwhelmed it becomes very easy to postpone the things we know will help us move forward. If this is the case consider one tiny action you can take that will move you in the right direction and take it. Keep this up for a week and before you know it you’ll find yourself in a different place.

I’m curious to hear how you’ve dealt with this tough stage in the past? What has helped you regain your confidence and motivation?



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Stop asking yourself questions that keep you stuck

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Jul 192013


Stop asking yourself questions that keep you stuck


This post first appeared on Tinybuddha.com.


“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” ~Dennis Waitley

We often see success stories about people who have achieved something big. They inspire us and on some level show us that it is possible to achieve our goals.

However, they rarely help us deal with what goes on in the middle, the point in between starting something new, when we’re full of energy and excitement, and actually succeeding.

That middle part is generally not pretty. How do you tackle that middle bit?

Let’s say you’ve taken that first step toward a big dream of yours. You’ve created your own blog, signed up for that course, or announced your intention to start singing professionally, write a book, or start a business.

You’re so enthusiastic about the project, and you smile when you think about the future.

Then suddenly a question or two pops up in your head, stopping you dead in your tracks. Freezing you, sucking away all that enthusiasm and energy you started with.

“Am I good enough?”

“Can I really make this work?”

“Am I too old for this?”

“Do I have enough experience?”

“Do I know what I’m letting myself in for here?”

“What if I fail?”

“Am I making a fool of myself?”

Sound familiar?

If you are doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone, chances are you have heard a version of these questions in your head.

These questions are nothing but our mind’s strategy to keep us stuck, to stop us from taking risks, to help us avoid danger.

It’s a remnant of a mind that has yet to catch up with the super-fast changes our lives have gone through in the last 100,000 years. The same strategy that would have kept us in our caves all those years ago now stops us from doing what we’d love to.

The problem is that when we’re busy dwelling on these questions, we’re wasting our mind’s energy. We’re not engaging it to think creatively, or to spot opportunities or to help us overcome the challenges we face along the way.

We’re focusing south when we really want to go north. So what do we do about it?


1. The most important thing is to be aware of these questions when they come up.

Chances are you won’t start by hearing the question but instead you will feel a sudden sinking sensation, a loss of hope or of energy. You might start thinking that the whole idea is stupid or silly or not worth the effort. In short, your state will change. With practice you can become aware of when that changing state happens.

2. Once you become aware of this change, take a moment to explore what you were thinking.

This is when you are likely to discover that you were making a statement or asking a question that is taking your focus south, instead of north.

3. Ask yourself: “Is this question or statement helping me move forward?”


4. If the answer is no, follow up with “What question can I replace it with that will help me move forward?”

Here’s an example of how this strategy has helped me in my life.

Twelve years ago I was working as a Business Psychologist with the BBC. As my experience grew I was asked to start running some training courses for different departments in the organization.

I remember quaking with fear at the idea. I had countless sleepless nights, serious palpitations, and bouts of anxiety. I was incredibly scared of standing in front of a crowd. It felt awful, but I knew this was something I really wanted to do, so I persevered.

With time I realized that the questions I was asking myself were taking me south. Questions like “Am I good enough?” “Who wants to listen to me?” “What if I forget what I’m meant to say?”

They were just unhelpful. I worked hard to become more aware of them, and eventually I changed them. I started asking myself “How can I make this interesting?” “How do I keep my audience engaged?” “How much practice do I need to do to feel confident about the material?”

As my questions changed, my feelings changed, as did my performance. The major reason was that now I was focusing north, which was where I wanted to go.

Today, I spend most of my week training groups and I also train other trainers. If someone had told me I would be doing this 12 years ago, I would have laughed.

This strategy has had a major impact on my life and on any projects I work on. It is one of the key tools I use to help myself and others stay motivated and moving forward. I hope it has the same effect on you.

What questions are taking you south? And what will you change them to, to start heading north?



Self-Employment: 10 Lessons Learnt From Following a Big Dream

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Jun 192013


Self-Employment: 10 Lessons Learnt From Following a Big Dream

As I sit in the lobby of a bank’s headquarters, waiting to deliver a talk, it’s just hit me that this month is my 3rd anniversary of leaving full-time employment.

Escaping the land of jobs had been a big dream of mine for at least 5 years before I actually took the plunge. It was one of those dreams that I’d packed away into a ‘nice but too scary’ box and left it there until the effort of staying in employment was literally making me sick.

In my last year of employment I ended up in hospital no less than 5 times. It sounds so dramatic until I explain that 3 of those times were due to a sore throat (!) and the other 2 were due to suspected appendicitis. Despite the benign nature of my maladies, it was clear that my immune system was sending me huge signals that something needed to change.

My escape started by taking a year off to travel, which soon turned into 18 glorious months of exploring this beautiful and crazy world of ours. It was the experience I needed to set me free and the fulfilment of another of my biggest dreams.

Upon my return to London I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do but I was very clear that I was going to be self-employed. I’d just fulfilled my big dream to travel and decided I was on a roll, I’d check off the next big dream – self-employment.

The first few months were a mixture of huge excitement as well as serious bouts of anxiety. I had a rough plan of doing freelance work for my ex-employers, but I had no guarantee I would earn enough to pay the rent.

Although it was scary, this very clear departure from the land of jobs meant I focused my energies on making it work, rather than on whether I should do it or not.

It turned out that the risk paid off. I’ve worked less, earned more and had a lot of fun doing work I love. No Sunday Blues, no stress and best of all no hospitals.

Better yet I’ve learnt some valuable lessons along the way. Here are my top 10 in no particular order.

  1. Worrying about the future or the past, is all wasted energy. Focusing on what you can do about it is what helps you get through.
  2. Action rather than planning is what gets you results.
  3. Surround yourself with like-minded people and what you’re doing becomes the norm rather than the exception.
  4. Keep investing in your learning and growth.
  5. There are days when you just need to give yourself a break – that’s ok.
  6. It’s important to stop and consider if you’re being a lousy boss to yourself.
  7. Don’t let the paperwork pile up.
  8. When we say ‘yes’ to things we don’t particularly enjoy, we’re also saying ‘no’ to opportunities that might be a better fit.
  9. You don’t need to do it alone. Teaming up with someone makes the whole project easier.
  10. Following these ideals is tough, but it’s worth the effort.

What lessons have you learnt from following a big dream?


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