Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Find Your Passion

Nearly halfway through my fifth decade on this world, I met a little red-haired girl. Well, “girl” is a bit of a misnomer, since she had also spent almost four and a half decades on this planet. When I began writing newspaper columns, she became Red — well, actually, her dad had been Red, and she was known as Little Red when she was a little red-haired girl. But for all practical intents and purposes, she is Red now. And more than a decade later, she is still my best friend and dearest companion, a relationship I suspect will continue until my last breath.

Red is a joy to behold in a garden. She will spend hours digging in the soil, trimming wild growth into some semblance of order, planting seeds and nursing them into bloom. Sometimes I will step into our yard, where wildflowers and roses and morning glories and cedar trees compete for the eye’s attention, and am overcome with the beauty of the fruits of Red’s labors. I can only imagine what she feels when she steps back to see what her dirt-smudged hands have wrought.

Well, I can do a little bit more than imagine, because she has converted me to the cause to a certain extent. I need a little more a reward at the end of my journey, so my focus has been in the realm of growing food. I know the thrill of biting into a radish or a tomato that I planted, and I know the frustration of tending a plant that never yields what it promised, so I guess I have an idea how Red feels about her gardens.

But as wise souls know, in many many ways the journey is the reward. Although there is some satisfaction in the finished product, the point of digging in the soil is the joy of digging in the soil. Red just has a passion for working with the natural processes of nurturing and growing. Often the results are spectacular, sometimes not so much — but as she follows her passion, she retains a focus that simultaneously settles, recharges and energizes her soul.

I have a similar feeling when I sit at a typewriter keyboard typing words like this, or holding my guitar trying to coax a new song out of it. I suspect the process of creation is inherent to human nature.

The X-Files was a popular TV series of the 1990s, and at the end of each program creator Chris Carter inserted the sound of a child’s voice saying with pride, “I made this!” It was a charming moment. An indescribable exhilaration accompanies the completion of a project, as you step back and admire the task and then realize, “I made this!” Studies have shown that people feel more motivated when they have a sense of ownership in what they create during the course of a workday, whether it’s a physical product or a more existential or intellectual handiwork.

We were built this way. It is said that God made human beings in His image, and “In the beginning God created ...” The act of creation puts us in touch with something essential to our very being.

And especially gratifying is when we can step back, examine our finished creation and conclude, “It is good.”

How do we maximize the number of moments when we can cry “I made this!” or sigh with satisfaction, “It is good”?

Find your passion.

What is it that you enjoy doing so much that it feels more like play than work even when you’re working on it? What makes your heart beat faster when you do it or even just start thinking about it? What gets your attention to the point that when you’re learning about it or finding out how to do it or readin about it, hours can go by and it’s like time stood still? That’s very likely your passion.

Happy is the soul who is making a living doing what he or she loves best. Those are the people who have found their passion, for whom “work” is more like play. Well, maybe not quite — people who love their work still work hard; it’s just that the drudge work doesn’t seem so bad. For Red digging in the soil is a release and a source of satisfaction; for someone who is not passionate about gardening, it’s just digging in the dirt. When I’m not writing tomes like this or composing songs, I’m a small-town newspaper editor. Editing can be a time-consuming and repetitive task, but often the end of the workday takes me by surprise, because I enjoy the work.

“Hang on a second,” you might be asking at this stage. “Is Red a gardener by trade? Does she ‘make a living’ digging in the dirt?” Good question. No, she isn’t and no, she doesn’t, at least not as of this writing. But she is more fully alive because of the time she spends following her passion, and that helps her focus on her chosen field.

When you are following your passion, it’s easier to remain conscious. Your attention zeroes in, your senses are fully engaged, and your thoughts are focused. It’s possible to look up and discover that hours have gone by. You have stayed “in the moment” for many, many moments. You were here now, and many many “nows” have gone by.

It is a scream of consciousness: I love doing this!

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