DON’T Follow Your Passion!

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I always thought you were supposed to follow your passion…follow your bliss. But what if that’s wrong?

I was reading an article the other day that says that people who follow their passion are too passive. The article cites a study done by Stanford University and a collaboration between Yale and the University of Singapore. The study looks at whether your interests – in other words, your passions – are inside of you, just waiting for you to follow them, or whether you need to really work and develop those passions. Turns out, they say, that the people who are waiting for their passion to magically unveil itself… aren’t working hard enough to develop those passions, and they are less curious and motivated overall. And, I’ve done enough reading to know that people who lose their curiosity and motivation are pretty flat and, a lot of times, pretty depressed.

One of the things the scientists did was they asked college kids whether they identified as science/tech types or more artistic. About a month later, they showed them articles related to the stuff from the type they were not. The ones who had more of a growth perspective were more likely to find the articles interesting. In other words, the ones who thought they were what they were and that was that? Eh, why bother to look at an article about something they were not.

As a lifelong learner, I can tell you that it’s when I’m reading the articles about stuff that has zero relevance to what I do, that I get that little shiver of ah-ha…you know, that zing of finding a connection between things that you never knew was there?

The psychologists behind the study say you should look at your interests like seeds that take a bit of cultivation. Sure, you can just wait and hope for them to bloom, but maybe adding some water or fertilizer or something and you’ll certainly be more invested when something pops out of the ground. Maybe an even better metaphor is that you should water the ground all around your seed too because then something really cool could grow that you never even knew was lying dormant underground!

The flip side of that is that if you think your passion is just lying inside of you, waiting to be discovered, then you think that what you were born with is what you’ve got. Good and bad. So why try?

The psychologists said their study can even apply to love.

People who believe that there is one true love out there and that they just have to find it? They’re wrong.

Finding your person, like finding your passion, is something that takes work. And keeping that love alive takes work, too. Try and learn and make mistakes and maybe then you’ll have true love.

 

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Brave

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A few weeks ago, I posed for a publication that I write for and I did it with no makeup. The magazine, Skirt, is one I write for regularly and this was their “Age Is Not An Issue” issue. So, I trusted them when they asked me to pose with no makeup. I even talked a friend into doing it with me.

Afterward, I heard lots of “how brave” comments. My friend and I were on the older end of the photo shoot spectrum. The youngest was a reality TV star who has done some modeling and the ones in between could all be models, if they aren’t already.

So maybe the comments were because I was an old broad without apology and without blush. As though I had shown not just my makeup-free face, but some more intimate part of myself.

That was not comfortable.

But it was not brave.

Here’s what’s brave:

The woman who survived a childhood as a Rwandan refugee and grew up to write the beautiful, “The Girl Who Smiled Beads.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. I thought I understood what it must be like, but I had no idea.

Brave is anyone who has kicked cancer’s ass, and anyone whose ass has been kicked by cancer.

Brave is anyone who deals with depression or mental illness and is still here and still fighting.

People who have been kicked in the teeth by love but still believe that true love is out there? They are brave.

People who have been bullied or abused who figure out a way to make that violence stop before it gets its oily fingers on another generation. Those people are brave.

And if you stand up to a bully or an abuser, whether you’re the one being abused or whether you just see it happening? That’s brave.

It’s brave to take the time to talk with a homeless person, especially if they stop long enough to make eye contact. I remember reading a book forever ago by Jonathan Kozol, Rachel and Her Children, that quoted a homeless man as saying that the worst thing about being homeless wasn’t the cold or the hunger; it was the feeling of being invisible. When you spend your days with no one meeting your eyes, you start to question whether you are there at all.

People who figure out what it is that scares the hell out of them – could be jumping out of an airplane, could be public speaking – and goes ahead and does it. They’re brave.

Anyone who has the grace to speak honestly but kindly is brave.

All of those things are brave. But showing my face without makeup? That’s not so brave. I may look more tired than normal in that photo or older. But it’s not a brave face.

Curious…what does “brave” mean to you?

Age Is Just A Number by Jenn Cady Photography

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My Body is a Jerk

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Sometimes you can cast about for a New Year’s resolution. And sometimes, one walks up and slaps you upside the head.

For the past few months, I have been battling annoying but not fatal illnesses. Food poisoning. Kidney infection. Strep throat. Back spasm. My body has been kind of a jerk to me.

And I am so grateful.

I lived most of last year inside my head.

Lots going on there! Freelance writing assignments, this blog, figuring out how to create a podcast as I was launching it, getting accepted to a writers’ retreat and then realizing that (ulp!) I have to actually finish my novel’s first draft so I have more than the paltry beginning pages that got me accepted.

Not to mention the endless worrying about a year that seems to have more than its share of disasters, both natural and man-made. I watched the news like a woman obsessed; I was slowly creating my own personal disaster.

It happened gradually. A few yoga classes sacrificed because I wanted to finish something. Refusals when my husband invited me to walk the dogs – it was too hot, too cold, it got in the way of a deadline. Add in a heavy travel schedule with its indignities, canned airplane air, and timezone juggling.

Soon, all that fevered mental activity started reaching tentacles into my body. A couple of restless nights. A headache in the morning. Weight gain. Little taps from my body on the shoulder of my heedless mind. Hey, remember me?

Ignored.

And so, an ill-advised hot dog at O’Hare led to violent illness. Sure, I lost some of that weight – the hard way – but I also lost out on a trip to visit my daughter and see the house that would become her very first. Because there was no way I could sit for an entire flight without being sick.

Still, my husband and daughter Face-timed me as they walked the house and it was almost as good as being there. And I did have more deadlines, so I just put my head down and kept going. Mind over matter or, in this case, over body.

And then, a cramping in my lower back that the trainer couldn’t roll out.

“Usually you have problems on the left side. Weird that it’s on the right this time,” he said.

Yeah, weird, because it wound up being my kidneys and no amount of stretching was going to fix that. Still, Thanksgiving was coming up and a trip to Los Angeles to see my in-laws. And if I couldn’t drink as much because of the antibiotics, and if family photos show me looking unattractive and puffy…well, no time to worry about that, and that’s what Photoshop is for.

And then, Christmas loomed. I couldn’t find the holiday spirit anywhere. We bought a tree, but only because my husband – usually a champion Grinch – suggested it. He put up lights. I threw some ornaments onto the tree, not even bothering to get down all the boxes from the attic.

I couldn’t put my finger on the problem.

Christmas day was going to be quiet for us, with the real celebration a few days later when we joined my daughter at my ex’s house in D.C. But a quiet Christmas was hardly the problem since we’ve switched off hosting every other year since my daughter was 2.

Other years have certainly been harder. Four years ago was my first Christmas without my mom. Last year, the first without my dad.

So, where was my spirit this year? I tried submerging myself in the Hallmark Channel’s sappy Christmas movies. No joy.

I wasn’t sad, I was just…not happy.

Feeling resigned to a “meh” Christmas rather than a “merry” one, I was reading the paper when I felt that dry, cotton feeling in my throat. Uh-oh. I know this one.

Sure enough, by morning, my throat was on fire, my voice a painful squeak, and I was shivering from fevered chills. Strep throat. Flat on my back or curled tightly fetal to stay warm. Too exhausted to read or watch television, I slept for 24 hours.

There was no more living in my head. My jerk of a body demanded attention. Hey, you remember me NOW?!

And when the days of isolation and pain passed, I woke up with the kind of pre-alarm energy I used to. My body felt so much lighter – as well it should, after fasting for a few days. But it also felt good. Not just an absence of pain, but really good.

And that, finally, was what my body had been trying to tell me all along. You can’t just ignore one whole part of you. I know this. I even preach this. But I forgot that shoveling food into your body – even artisan, farm-to-table food – without savoring it, and sitting at your computer all day – even writing some of your best work – without remembering your body’s needs, is ignoring one whole side of the foundation. It’s going to topple.

Apparently my body wasn’t quite done – a nasty rash in reaction to the antibiotics and a killer back spasm in reaction to long drives and freezing weather accompanied the turn-of-year champagne.

So, that resolution? BALANCE. Give my jerk body equal time with the frenetic squirrel in my head. Because, if I don’t? My body is enough of a jerk to hold me hostage until I get myself back in balance.

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Foul

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Reading coverage of a recent baseball game, I thought about America’s pastime.

No, not baseball.

I’m talking about the reflexive grabbing of our phones to take photos of everything happening around us.

At this particular baseball game, a Yankees game, a foul ball whipped into the stands at 105 miles an hour and stopped only after a shattering hit directly into the face of a little girl.

The baseball player who swung the bat was in tears. The fans surrounding the little girl can be seen in poses of shock and horror, many reaching out to help. All except one. This guy has his phone up, aimed at the injured girl. Recording, one can only assume. Snapping photos maybe.

He is not a reporter. Maybe he is a nice guy who just happened to have his phone up recording the game and swung it around without thinking. Maybe he’s one of those guys killing wildlife by dragging it from its habitat and pestering it literally to death in the name of a selfie.

I don’t know.

But, just like all of you, I stared at the reporter’s photo of the scene in horror.

Except, I was looking at the guy with the phone.

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Be Still

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In the pre-dawn hours, the thunder snarled right above my roof. One of my dogs trembled and burrowed into my side. A particularly loud clap began with a boom and ended with a sizzle, and then my bedroom was suddenly darker than dark.

The power had gone out, taking with it the glowing alarm clock numerals, the lights on the box next to the television that does magic I can’t explain, the nightlights aimed low for our aging dog’s nighttime navigation.

And, with the darkness, a silence so thick it felt like another blanket on this summer night. Between the cracks and grumbles of thunder, it seemed as though even nature had paused to listen; no night birds, no wind to ring the chimes outside my bedroom window, no errant yowl of a night creature. Just silence.

Gradually, I could see the darker outlines of my two dogs, of the frame of the closet door. And, as my eyes adjusted to the black around me, my ears too adjusted. I heard the restless shifting of the frightened dog on the covers next to me. I heard the undisturbed breathing of my husband, seemingly able to sleep through the storm. And I heard my own breath, a lullaby of steady rhythm.

Sights too often overshadowed by electronics, and sounds too often drowned out by hums and clicks of our everynight life.

In an essay about the book called, “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere,” author Pico Iyer is quoted as advocating for, “sitting still as a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.”

So last night, between thunderbooms, I fell back in love.

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Leave the Gun AND the Cannoli – Grab a Book

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We are all so very angry today.

If you’re not for us, you’re a-gin’ us.

We are all so righteous and we are angry that the “other” cannot concede our obviously correct point of view that we spew vitriol on social media and to our friends.

Stupid President (either the current or the past, depending on where you stand). Stupid Congress. Stupid Bigot, Stupid Racist, Stupid Sexist, and Stupid Snowflake Liberal.

The truth is, we are as unable to see others’ truth, as they are to see ours.

This kind of anger and frustration leads some to pick up a pen, others to pick up a gun.

The solution might be to read a good book.

A 2006 study cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article says that psychologists in Toronto found a connection between reading fiction and being more sensitive to others.

For people who read fiction (and it seems that it had to be fiction) that transported them – the kind of transport that jolts you when the book ends and you find yourself back in your room – there was an increased ability to see the world through others’ eyes.

Another study three years later reproduced the study but stripped away variables like age, gender, stress or loneliness, and English fluency. They found that fiction readers had higher levels of empathy (and, interestingly, better social networks in real life).

A later study in 2013 refined the findings down to genre – literary fiction that requires the reader to figure out characters’ motivations using more subtle cues had the most empathy. It seems that trying to figure out what the flawed protagonist is going to do next is good practice for trying to read our fellow humans.

A much-loved quote from the movie, “The Godfather,” is to “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” While I love pastries, we might all be better off if we “Leave the gun AND the cannoli. Pick up a book.”

 

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Grateful Enough? Thanks!

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Every morning, I try to meditate. I don’t actually meditate every morning, but I’ve read that it helps, so I try.

Part of that meditation is an accounting of the things I’m grateful for, because I’ve read that helps, too. Helps with what, exactly? Well, helps to make me the calm, accepting person I always wanted to be. There’s a whole industry around gratitude journals.

Gratitude is a good thing, right?

Because the opposite of gratitude is entitlement, i.e. “Why should I be grateful? I deserve this!” I worked hard to be sure my daughter never felt that way, and she couldn’t even play with toys she received until she’d written a thank-you note to the sender. I am suspicious of people who don’t write thank-you notes. When I was hiring, it was the people who wrote thank-you emails or, even better, notes, after interviews whom I favored.

But now, the scientists who study such things say that some people aren’t wired to be thankful. The ones who are the most independent feel like being grateful means they owe a debt of gratitude, and they are profoundly uncomfortable with owing anybody anything.

I get that, because I will go to extreme lengths to return a book or a loan. I have not run for office because I can not stand the thought of asking for money. It’s funny, when I did public relations for causes, I could easily ask for support for the good cause, but asking for myself? Just can’t.

Gratitude interventions – like the popular gratitude journals — don’t work for everyone, despite the marketing, according to the psychologists. Not everyone benefits from forcing gratitude.

But gratitude is still important, even if we’re not wired for it. The psychologist in the story about the gratitude research says that he would, “worry that people who are uncomfortable with gratitude and with receiving gifts may be undermining their interpersonal relationships.”

So, how do we balance the importance of gratitude with the need to be independent and strong?

Maybe we ought to share some of that gratitude with ourselves. For example, “I am so grateful to be published, because a lot of talented people are not. But I am also grateful for my own talent and perseverance that led to my being published.”

Maybe the secret is giving credit where it is due, not with arrogance, but not with false modesty either.

Oh, and thank you for reading to the end. I’m grateful.

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