Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Passed My Happiness Final Exam

I do not make New Year resolutions. Instead I pick a theme for each year and I try to focus and explore that area throughout the year. I've had The Year of Friendship, The Year of Simplicity, The Year of Organization, The Year of Autonomy, The Year of Education, The Year of Closure, and the list goes on. I've been doing this for over 15 years now and I come away each year with new insight and a better understanding of myself at the very least.

Last year my theme was: "2009 - The Year of Happiness." As my blog posts here illustrate, I've been quite focused on the topic of happiness this past year. I'm very "happy" with the progress I've made this year, pardon the pun. This year was the first year however where I've felt like I was put to the test at year end to evaluate my progress. Here's what happened:

Unbeknown to me, on the cusp of my long-awaited holiday vacation, I was walking into a pop quiz for my "2009-Year of Happiness" quest. Well, it was more like a final exam really. Year end and all.

When I say that happiness is a choice, I am serious, as serious as a heart attack. My pre-vacation events had all the ingredients for a major holiday disaster. With my newfound passion drummer though, everything worked out with top marks across the board. Okay, minus one ill-begotten Trivial Pursuit game, but let's not go there.

We had a 6am flight out of town to visit my boyfriend Jason's relatives. I calculated that we needed to leave the house by 4:30am to make it through the hectic holiday queue at the airport and check-in on time. Jason usually goes to bed around this time so he said he was just going to stay up and sleep on the plane. I had worked that day and had spent that evening installing and programming a new keypad deadbolt and locking handle-set on the front door (a mover had recently broken our deadbolt and it needed to be replaced before we headed out of town). I was tired so I told him I was going to take a nap and could he please wake me up at around 3am so I could have plenty of time to pack my bag and get ready. I didn't think to set a backup alarm (see where this is heading??)

Yep, I woke up shortly after 4:30am. I'm not exactly sure what woke me up, perhaps one of the dogs? I tore around the bedroom and bath like a lunatic on speed trying to get ready and packed as a single desperate and haphazard act. I figured Jason was upstairs, asleep in the Lazyboy, with his packed bag by his side. I was wrong, on both counts. He was upstairs playing Modern Warfare 2 and he appeared to have been there all night. That game rocks, don't get me wrong. But my first reaction was not to give him a kiss and say "No big deal." The "old" goal-oriented Tracy would have gone postal on his gameside, if you get my meaning.

Now I must admit my first reaction was to go off on him. I was tired and freaking out about missing our flight. I knew there was no possible way we were going to get him dressed, packed, and make the 45 minute drive to the airport in time to make that flight. Boarding started at 5:40am and it was already past 5am. I threw his clothes from the dryer into his back-pack while he got ready. We arrived at the airport at 6am on the dot. We probably heard the jets of our plane as it left the runway.

During the drive to the airport, I realized I had a decision to make. I could be upset and mad and anxious and stressed about the situation we were now in. I could analyze and point fingers and lecture until Jason's emotional state matched my own. In other words, I could do the same old thing I'd always done in similar situations. Or, I realized, I could listen to my passion drummer. I am fortunate that I'd already honed my skills at finding the elusive beat of the passion drummer that always, without fail, leads me to happiness. So I stopped for a moment and listened. I looked at Jason. I felt the love that I have for him. I chuckled at his at times irresponsible and boyish ways that landed us in an unfortunate game of stand-by at the airport two days before Christmas. I acknowledged that it was this very same pervasive focus on having fun of his that I'd fallen in love with, that had in a manner of speaking saved me from myself and a life of stress and self-imposed obligation and super-human responsibilities and ultimately an early grave. I realized I was extremely fortunate to be with him, living the new life I'd crafted for myself after much pain and turmoil, and that spending this holiday with him was more important than where we spent the holiday. It was Christmas time and I was in love. Who could ask for more than that? I thought about how happy I was. And, there it was, I was happy!

We got standby vouchers for the next flight out, which was heading to Denver. As luck would have it we got on that flight because it had been delayed for a few hours and several passengers had transferred to other flights so they could catch their connecting flights. We weren't sitting together but we didn't care. We were on our way.

When we got to Denver it was snowing and the airport was at capacity. All flights were booked. It was a mad house. But I was with Jason and we were having fun, even if we weren't quite sure if we would be spending the holiday in Denver or in Eugene, Oregon. When I told the airline rep that we were both on stand-by and that we wanted to be kept together, she looked stressed and said there was no way she could promise we would sit together. I quickly laughed and said "No, No! We don't care where we sit, we just want to be on the same plane!" She looked surprised and relieved for a split second before she reestablished the standard airline face. I was happy and nice and I guess that wasn't something she was used to in a stand-by passenger during the holidays. There were a lot of people holding standby vouchers, but she wasn't listing stand-by names on the overhead display. I was pretty certain we weren't getting on even with our having no checked luggage. The gate was standing room only. As the last group boarded she hadn't called a single stand-by passenger name. I walked up to her and asked what I needed to do to get on the next stand-by flight. As she grabbed passenger boarding passes and scanned them for Group 4, she said, "You automatically get put on the next stand-by list."  Then she looked up and said, wait, you're the couple right? I nodded. She said, "I want you to stick around. I'm going to try to get you on." And she did. Not only that, but we even got to sit together. Can you believe that?

When we arrived in Eugene, we found out that the rental car company had canceled our reservation when we didn't come in on the 10am flight, it was now around 5pm. We didn't get upset but instead just asked for her help. They didn't have any cars left, so she called down and found out there was a car that was just returned and was being cleaned. We waited 5 minutes or so for them to finish cleaning it and they even drove it up curbside for us, so we didn't even have to walk!

The rest of the vacation was delightful. I finally got to meet Jason's twin brother, Sean, along with a couple cousins, Jenny and Rufus, I had not yet met. It was simply an amazing time. Sean is extremely entertaining and he also makes one mean martini! And Jason, who hates his picture taken, even let me snap of picture of him with Santa Claus when he showed up to hand out presents to the kids on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, the kids missed seeing Santa take off from the roof with his sleigh and reindeer although they were all outside looking, and Sean reappeared shortly thereafter from upstairs after helping Santa prepare for his rooftop take off. Thanks Santa!! I can't wait to visit again. I also finally got to see Dinah's magnificent addition she made to her house and the meals were simply out of this world. Oh, and the wine!! Yummy.

Looking back at the holiday, we had a marvelous time, but I honestly think it was the passion drummer that made it happen. Had we been stressed and short with the travel professionals we encountered, I seriously doubt we'd have made those flights...particularly the Denver flight. You reap what you sow, as the saying goes. If you put out positive (happy) energy, and you have no set expectations, good things come. They may not always be what you wanted, or thought you needed, but you will get good things. In this case, it happened to be what we wanted too, but like I said, that isn't really the point. The point is that we followed our passion, we maintained happiness during an uncertain time and good things followed.

So it was, two days before Christmas, I was handed my final exam for the 2009 Year of Happiness quest, and I'm proud to announce that I passed with flying colors.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Last night I went to the sneak peak midnight showing of Avatar at Alamo Drafthouse (yes, in 3D). I loved the movie. No, it's not an epic film like LOTR or Star Wars despite the price tag. Could it have been? Maybe. I sorta hoped it would be. It had all the makings for it.

Avatar by both definitions is applicable. The story touches on both reincarnation (the sanskrit definition) as in the continuation of life energy (think Gia here) , along with the obvious modern day definition where it is something representing us that isnt' really us.

The storyline was basically Pocahontas but sci-fi (aliens, Gia, etc.). The Pocahontas equivalent was a strong female character, the likes of which I wished were available in the movies of my childhood, always craving for the strong competent independent female. The storyline wasn't big enough for me but I will still be going to view this movie on IMAX this Sunday. Yes, it was that good in my opinion.

The CG is awesome, the motion capture some of the best to hit the big screen, the acting sold, the characters well presented, the Pandora landscapes breathtaking and the story sufficient. There were a few "cheesy" parts, but nothing I couldn't overlook as a whole. If you like sci-fi and CG art, this is the film to see this holiday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Julie and Julia

I watched the movie "Julie and Julia" recently. I loved it. Of course I loved it. It's about women who follow their passions and one of them shares my passion for writing! It left me wanting for my own blog that was filled with purpose and passion like Julie's. The movie is about Julie, who wanted some focus in her life and decided to cook all of the recipes in one of Julia Child's cookbooks in a single year (no small feat). I loved it in concept and in execution. It not only entertained me, it inspired me. How I act on that inspiration is yet to be determined, but it has me thinking for certain.

I often find myself without a cause, desperately wanting to write but without inspiration. It's like a lightbulb in the dark...without electricity, so close and yet so far. I love to write. I really love to write. Am I any good at it? I don't particularly care how talented I am at it. It's a passion. So I blog. But blogs have themes, don't they? Shouldn't they? And Menagerie Mind has no focus?? It's my personal brain dumping ground. Instead of deciding upon a focus, I'm all over the place, wherever the wind or whim seems to take me.

Do I need a focus? Do I need an audience? I don't know if it matters to me at present. But they are good questions to explore.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Meeting New People

I realized something very important recently. I've always been good at making friends with people that had interests similar to mine, but had struggled with finding an effective way of connecting with people with whom I did not identify in any meaningful way. There are a few people that I know that are passion-drummer people (these are not status-conscious socialites) that seem to make friends with most everyone they meet. I think I've figured out how they do it. When they meet someone new, instead of looking for common interests like I do, they look for a person's passions. They ask open-ended questions that truly seek to find out what a person's passions are. Questions like, "What do you do for fun?" and "What are your hobbies?" When the person starts to "light up" about a topic, they know they've found a topic of passion. After this, it's just a matter of asking effective questions related to that person's interests. They learn about the really important things about the people they least in terms of passion that is. And these people come away from the introduction feeling cared about and of interest and in that way the people come away liking them because they made them feel good. These people felt good not because they pounced upon them with flattery, but because they took genuine interest in them. I always thought it had to be a topic of personal interest to me for that to happen. I now know that it's less about topics that interest me and more about finding something of passion to them. When that other person is talking about their passion, you can't help but feel the change in the person's energy. It is a positive energy that cannot be faked. Oddly enough, their passion, whether the topic is of interest to me or not, is of interest to me almost always (unless it violates a core value of mine). So I learned something really valuable today. Find the passion in others is the most important thing I can do when I meet a person for the first time. And every time I do, we'll both come away from a positive experience.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Bachelor's Degree Journey

Today is the beginning of a new dawn for me. You see, today, I completed the final exams for my last two classes to complete my Bachelor Degree. I understand this wouldn't be a big deal for a lot of individuals. My situation is a bit different. My parents were not college graduates. My grandparents were not college graduates. In fact, no one in my direct family had completed a four-year degree and only one other had completed an Associate Degree as I have. No money was set aside for education for me growing up. No evaluation or relevance was placed on my report cards either. My good grades went largely unnoticed. No expectations were set that I'd go to college and make something of myself. None of that existed in my adolescent world.

Luckily, I had a stepfather that gave me some priceless advice after the fifth grade about succeeding in school as a means of escaping the cycle of dependence to which all the females in my family had prescribed before me, actually, he just asked me if I wanted to end up like my mother...with a man because she needed him and not necessarily because she loved him. He said I could have the things a man could provide all on my own, if I went to school and got good grades...and went to college and got good grades...and got a good job and made my own money so I could marry a man because I loved him and not because I "needed" him financially. He changed my life albeit in a bit of a heartless fashion for a 5th grad girl. I'd taken his message to heart and started getting good grades the following school year. Straight A's in fact. Apparently, all I really ever needed was someone to tell me that it was important and that they believed I could do it. Odd how the encouragement of elders can impact a young mind...never underestimate that.

Although I never applied for any scholarship or expected any type of assistance, I paid for my Associate Degree and Bachelor Degree myself or via my employer's benefit packages and continued to take classes and consistently made the Dean's List.

I got married while completing my Associate Degree. Shortly thereafter, after my son was born, things became a bit more complicated. He was seriously disabled, and spend the first year and a half in the NICU. I worked full time to support my family as the primary breadwinner. We eventually brought my son home, requiring full time nursing home-care. I managed 18 nurses in my home, medications, hospitalizations, medical supply inventories, out-patient therapies, home schooling, nurse home-care scheduling. training, and managing as well as sharing uncovered nursing shifts to care for my son.

Somehow through all of that, I never gave up my goal of completing a Bachelor Degree. Call me determined...or insane.

Over the years, things have changed "a bit" for me. I've realized that I was a bit unhealthy in way of personal relationships, primarily because I'd been raised in them and somehow thought they were normal. During a light-bulb moment back in 2003, I realized it actually was unhealthy, the way I was living. I affectionately refer to that portion of my life as my "living with the enemy" phase. I kept taking classes during that time amazingly enough. Of course my son's frequent hospitalizations required me to withdraw from classes on occasion. Still I remained on the honor roll. Even through my abuse laden divorce I continued to take classes when I could.

After everything, I've discovered this wonderful place in my life, where I've found a partner that loves me for me, who loves his life, makes a living doing what he'd do for free because he's so passionate about it, and who totally supports me in finding the same for myself. It took about 5 years of soul searching (with his tutelage) before I came to a point where I allowed the same for myself. That's when I found my "passion drummer". After which, oddly enough, I found that homework toward a degree that wasn't remotely close to relevant to my passions in life of writing and self-expression was less than fulfilling and more closely equivalent to a root canal on a tooth.

But we both agreed that it was silly for me not to complete a degree where merely two classes remained between me and a graduation ceremony. These last two classes have been very educational for me. First, I learned how much I detested taking courses on topics that I held no passion for. Second, I learned how little I really needed to expend in terms of time and effort to attain an "A" in these classes. I really shouldn't admit how little I needed to learn to complete these final courses with grades of A's. On one hand I was upset because I could have done this with ALL my classes instead of my typically over-achiever style in which I alienated myself from all other students in my class. On the other hand, I now was upset that I'd invested so much time on classes that really didn't mean a thing to me in terms of relevance to my passions and yet only provided me with a grade I might have easily achieved with my new "slacker-make-due" persona when it came to the maintenance tasks of life.

Well, no worse for the wear, I've completed those last two classes and I can gladly await my graduation ceremony in the spring (after things defrost up there). I'll be the first in my family to have made such an accomplishment. Yes, a bit anti-climatic being over 40. But still.

It's more than just checking something off my list, even in my new passion-is-king world. It's about following through even when it's painful because it makes "sense" irregardless of any passion status. I'll unlikely make this sort of "mistake" again any time soon. Yet, after all these years, I don't think I can say that I regret either the investment, nor the gratification that I have at this moment, as I drink from a glass of bubbly that's been sitting bottled on my wine rack for quite some time now awaiting this day.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Seasons of Friendship

I've recently come to a realization about how my passion drummer is going to change my life. It comes with mixed emotion. I've read before that there is a season for all things. And in that fashion, friends move in and out of your life as they are relevant to your world. I've never been one that is good at letting go. I've been feeling a bit melancholy and realized (eventually) it was because I was letting go. It wasn't really a conscious decision, but like the closing of a chapter, I am finding that some relationships are not as compatible with my new passion-is-king outlook on life as perhaps I'd like them to be. As I focus on my passions, being the very social person that I am, I've naturally found myself wanting to share my time with others with similar passions. Oddly, I've been presented with situations since my passion drummer epiphany where I've been made fun of for following my passions. In other cases, I've been excluded from participating in activities that are directly related to my passions by people in my life that have similar interests. Both perplexing and hurtful, these encounters have been the catalyst for me to make a change. I have decided that I want to be around people that are just as excited about sharing their passions with me as I am with them. In my old goal and status driven world, I was able to overlook the incompatibilities and the little pissing contests that happened with friends. But now that isn't the case. When I find things becoming competitive, resulting in this conservative, judgemental and withholding stance by my friends I can no longer just ignore it. If it's not fun, and I can't freely share my passions, then I'm no longer engaged. I initially interpreted this behavior as rejection by my friends. Now I think it's more that I'm irritating them because they don't "get" this new me. Or perhaps it's more an issue of how I react to these situations now that I am in the passion drummer's world. After letting go a bit, I'm realizing it wasn't rejection as much as it was simply an inability of these people to meet me half way precisely because they didn't dance to the beat of the passion drummer. It's a sad realization on the one hand, but it is comforting at the same time. I'm free now to seek out new friendships cultivated in the ways of the passion drummer, where there is little room for competition because it's about passion and fun, and not about status and reach goals first. So slowly my melancholy turns to anticipation for what is to come in this new season of friendship.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Today’s luncheon topic was about cultivating expertise. The take away, for me, from the session was that you don’t have to have innate talent to succeed as much as you do dedication to stick the time and energy into becoming world class at whatever it is you’ve chosen to do. Statistics were provided showing that it takes roughly 4 years of full-time personal investment to become an expert in any given field without regard for pre-existing talent. Other topics touched upon included: the idea of quitting too soon (not investing the time to develop the skills necessary to succeed), not getting appropriate feedback from someone qualified to provide it, and not cutting loose when you need to walk away (although there wasn’t a lot of discussion around what criteria would be used to determine when it IS time to cut loose.)

One idea I brought to the table of discussion today was the idea of intrinsic motivation. Like many people in our lunch group, I am used to achieving my goals. I tend to “like” whatever I’ve become good at, up to a point. However, the road to get to that place where I’m good has rarely been enjoyable. In that, I think I’ve been approaching things with the wrong perspective. I think instead, I should have been following what I enjoyed, until it wasn’t fun any longer, like Curtis has been doing. By vectoring, you learn about yourself, what you enjoy, who you enjoy it with, and what aspects of activities are the most rewarding to you on a personal level. There is something to be said about knowing thyself.

One of the great points touched upon today is that we are not static beings and as we grow we may often outgrow a passion or focus and need to look for greener pastures. On a similar note we discussed how an intended goal might not bring the rewards originally expected and anticipated.Many of us have reached where we set out to be only to find the place where we’ve arrived is not as fulfilling as we’d imagined (not from a traditional success perspective necessarily but from a personal satisfaction and happiness viewpoint). Even after we realize this though, we may feel we’ve invested too much to just walk away, even if it will make us happier. We get “tied in.” In my experience, I have usually spent too much time focusing on the goal line to really pay attention to things that I now see as key factors on what I need to determine when to cut loose.Unlike others today, who said they think they may have abandoned their efforts too soon in some situations, I have been the person that sees things through at all costs. Cutting loose has been something I’ve had difficulty doing because I thought it meant I failed somehow.

In this new world I’ve discovered where passion is king, I no longer have that problem. My first question will always be: Is this enjoyable? Even the work at getting good at something I’m not yet good at has to have an aspect of fun, or it isn’t likely where I want to be investing my time, at least not in terms of following my passion. If I focus my time on something and it’s a grind, it is unlikely I will ever find that work to be truly fulfilling and “fun”.No, not everything is joy joy, cotton candy, and bubble gum. Anything you want to accomplish involves a lot of time and effort to get good at it…apparently 4 full years worth. But if the work really feels like work, and isn’t personally enjoyable and fulfilling, I will seriously reconsider if that is something I want to invest in and I won’t feel bad about walking away from something that isn’t working for me. Sure, sticking with it will get me to the goal I’ve set and I’ll be good at it and reap the rewards it holds. But I don’t want to end up someplace that isn’t fun or fulfilling simply to reach a goal. I think I would likely have abandoned (cut loose) from many a particular venture had I been evaluating my progress based on how much enjoyment and satisfaction I was getting in the present moment. Conversely, I definitely would not have cut loose from other focuses (passions) that I abandoned at an early age, had I evaluated their worth and my investment in them based on how they made me feel. Somewhere along the road, I turned off my feelings meter and started evaluating my activities based on a different measuring stick, right or wrong. I’ve learned how to get where I set out to go, now I just have to make a point of making sure it’s a destination, or more accurately a journey, that keeps me happy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Luck Is Where Preparation Meets Opportunity

A friend of mine told me recently that she didn’t think she’d ever have a “light-bulb moment” into happiness the way I did last month. She said she thought she’d have to work at it a long while before it happened for her. When she said it, she sounded a bit disappointed in that realization. It made me think about my situation and my light-bulb moment when I found the passion drummer.

After some reflection I came to the realization that my journey to happiness wasn’t overnight, but literally five years in the making. Happiness didn’t happen for me in a moment; although, the juxtaposition in my perspective did happen that way in my case.

Five years ago, I really thought I had it all. I was reasonably financially secure, had enjoyed academic and professional success, was respected by my peers, and had little difficulty in setting and achieving my goals. I felt fortunate and successful. Then I met Jason (who is now my partner.)

In our first conversations on, it was obvious to me that he viewed the world through a completely different set of glasses than I did. But opposites attract, and we had common interests that allowed us to connect on a few different levels.

I remember one of the first questions Jason asked me was: “What do you do for fun?”

I was like, “Fun? What do you mean? I work full-time as a database designer. I have a special needs child at home with around-the-clock nursing. I manage a staff of 18 nurses, hire, staff, train, schedule and deal with their personnel issues. I manage weekly inventories for medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. I coordinate occupational, physical, and speech outpatient therapies as well as home schooling. I take classes (as my son’s hospitalizations allow) at a local college toward an undergraduate degree that I started around the time my son was born and still maintain a 4.0 GPA. I maintain a beautiful home on 2-acres as any self-respecting DIY-er does. So you see, I really don’t have room for anything else.” What I was thinking in my head though was, “Fun isn’t important. It’s frivolous. It doesn’t get me anywhere. There are so many more productive things I can (and do) do with my time.”

Frankly, I’m surprised Jason didn’t hightail his butt out of my life after seeing how stark and driven my world was. I was the epitome of efficiency, productivity and seriousness. I had to be. That was my world. But he saw something of interest in me, and was able to overlook the seriously different modes of operation we prescribed to.

As I got to know him better, I learned how truly different his world was from mine. I learned how genuinely happy he was with life in almost every aspect. He had so little stress and few negative elements in his daily living. It seemed like he sort of just floated by in life while I struggled, tooth and nail, to make ends meet each day. And just weeks earlier, I thought I had it all.

Eventually, Jason and I moved in together. There is value in seeing someone that lives in the world of the passion drummer on a daily basis. I started to recognize the choices he made and the values he set and the way he evaluated things as different from mine at a basic level. I frequently asked how I could have a life like his. He would tell me what he thought, and I usually just discarded what he said because I felt it was too simplistic for my complicated life. But I did start setting goals for myself gradually that were a bit different. I started to focus on balance (work/play) and simplicity. I started spending less time with friends and family that were really negative to be around and gravitated toward people that were positive and authentic and who I felt good being around. I started taking time out to play and have fun. The more I did these things, the more I wanted to do them. It’s funny how “fun” works that way.

Each year, I moved closer to a world like Jason’s, but I wasn’t really completely conscious of this, although some of it took a huge amount of work and courage to do. It wasn’t easy. I was tied pretty tightly into the world I had made for myself so extricating myself was a slow and arduous process, a five-year process in fact.

I got out of the job that paid a great salary and gave me little self-fulfillment, and took a job that paid less but gave me more freedom. When I found myself in a situation without enough nursing coverage to bring my son home after a 7+ month hospitalization, it took time but eventually an ideal placement was found that is able to sustain the level and quality of nursing my son requires in a non-institutional setting (no easy feat with the national nursing crisis we’re experiencing) where he has other kids like him to share experiences with. He is so happy and his life is so much richer than I could have ever hoped to give him. And I now have a life again for myself too. That change was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done and not everyone has agreed with the decisions I made and I’ve lost friends as a result. I did other things too. I sold that beautiful home that was too much work for me to maintain and that didn’t really suit my needs and that held me to a place that I wanted to leave. I took work on the other side of the country, in a warm climate, which is something I've wanted to do for decades. I committed to completing my undergraduate degree in 2009. Looking back, I was slowly but systematically closing a chapter in my life that was no longer working for me.

Today my life is irrecognizable to the life I had five years ago. Nearly every aspect has changed. I made room in my life for a new way of thinking, for a new set of values, for a new type of decision making. I simplified, and removed the negative, and acknowledged my own limitations and needs. I learned to focus on what I valued more instead of focusing on what others thought I should do or be. In actuality, I don’t think I was ready to hear the passion drummer before now. I don’t think I would have comprehended it, even if I had heard it. I had to make room. I had to prepare. I had to ready myself.

Everyone’s journey is different and special. We come from different places with different needs and passions. My journey only proves that it can be done. You can unhook yourself from a life you didn’t intend, or did intend but now realize isn’t what you want. If you’re not happy, you can be. It’s a choice. No, it may not be easy. Mine certainly wasn’t. But when I finally “got it” it seemed like the easiest thing in the world. I just forgot to acknowledge (for a time) the preparations I made that allowed me the personal capacity to hear the passion drummer’s beat that first time.

As the saying goes, luck is where preparation meets opportunity. I guess I just got lucky. See you on the other side.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No More Road Rage

The other day, I was driving into work and the morning rush hour traffic was brutal. I've been told that I'm a good driver, but definitely on the "aggressive side." As I sped along in the "hammer lane" (the far left lane often referred to as the "passing lane"), invariably some moron going much slower pulled out in front of me without checking to see if faster traffic was coming, causing me to slam on my brakes far too hard for comfort, followed by a burst of choice expletives flowing forth from my mouth. The adrenalin begins to pump as this happens time after time as I try to navigate around these slowpokes interrupting the faster flow of traffic in my lane. It's going to be a long ride in this morning.

As I sat there at a red light, behind such a moron who just caused me to miss a perfectly good green light, I am fuming. Out of the blue, I asked myself: "Are you having fun?" The passion drummer's beat must have started playing on the radio for a moment. I thought "Hell, NO, I'm not having fun! Who can have fun with idiots like this getting in my way all the time!?!" I was hot. I was so "feeling the ugly." I wanted to get to work, and it wasn't happening fast enough for my tastes. Patience is not my strong suit.

But the question kept repeating in my head. "Are you having fun?"

At first I was pissed at myself for suggesting that I might find this experience fun in any sense of the word. But then, sitting at that light, an idea came into my head. Instead of getting upset at this anonymous person in front of me, why not have some fun with it? So I came up with the idea of a Moron Driver of the Day Award, and decided immediately that the best candidate for this award was the person directly in front of me looking innocently back at me from their rearview mirror. I was pleased with myself.

I start talking aloud to myself in my truck about this person. I wonder if this dude knows he drives like an idiot? I wonder if he'll ever have a lightbulb-moment when he says, "My goodness, I drive like an imbecile!" I wonder if his co-workers give him crap about his driving like a little old lady...I know I would!. I laugh at this, thinking of the poor soul that would drive like this and be in my lunch group. The heckling they would get from me! Ha!

As the light turns green, I see a pickup about 7 cars ahead of me, again in the passing lane, going way below the speed limit, but next to two lanes of 18-wheelers moving slowing up the hill as they move through their multitude of gears, thus effectively bottlenecking all 3 lanes of traffic. I exclaim with glee "No, wait! It's a two-way tie. The slow-poke in the hammer lane, and the semi that couldn't stay put behind the other semi. NICE! Look how effectively all three are going the exact same speed! It's like synchronized swimming!!" At this point, I'm certain if anyone peers into the cabin of my vehicle to see me talking to myself and bursting into fits of laughter, they are steering clear of my vehicle at this point and perhaps a bit concerned about my sanity.

As I laugh, the car pulls forward and pulls over infront of the semi in the middle lane. The hammer lane traffic floods forward. As each dummy pulls in front of me, I verbally jibe them with taunts of giving them my Moron Driver of the Day award. I'm sure some of them look back and see me laughing. Oddly enough, they all pull over in short order, and I get to work nearly a full fifteen minutes earlier than predicted.

As this happens, I'm thinking, come on now. This isn't happening. This can't be happening. It's not that easy. I just think happy thoughts and have "fun" and stuff works out? That's ridiculous. But that's what happened. It's scary that I have the conviction to even write this with the intent of sharing it with others. I'm sure I'm nuts at this point and that's how it will be viewed. But, hey, I'm happy so what do I care? It's definitely working for me.

See you on the other side! :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Like Oil and Water, or, You Can Lead A Horse To Water But You Can't Make Them Drink.

As I've shared with others my new perspective on attaining sustained happiness, those already dancing to the passion drummer continue to reinforce that I'm truly on the path to sustained and long-term happiness. I've been interested to see how many people I've talked to have shared with me the communication struggles they have with people on the other side. A co-worked told me of his difficulties communicating with his teenage daughter. He was marching to the goal-oriented drummer and his daughter is dancing to the passion drummer. My hair stylist told me of her difficulties with an older sister who is definitely marching to the goal-oriented drummer, while my stylist dances to the passion drummer. The list goes on.

The common pattern I see is that the goal-oriented folks tend to feel "in the right" and many like to impose their goal-oriented success-driven value system onto others that don't listen to the goal-oriented drummer. I used to be one of those people so I can say this with some certainty, and I more easily see those same traits in others, now that I'm on the other side.

The unfortunate result is that those people dancing to the passion drummer, being imposed upon by often judgmental (sometimes brutally so) goal-oriented marchers, often will retreat from communications. Since they don't chose to seek interactions that feel negative, they will avoid those individuals and the communications between the two individuals continue to degrade. The harder the goal-oriented person pushes, the less likely the passion-oriented person wants to be around them, because it simply isn't compatible with the way they view the world.

Usually what you see if the goal-oriented person telling the passion-oriented person that they are irresponsible, unmotivated, undisciplined, unorganized, lacking focus, lacking goals, and the like. As they push the passion-oriented person away, telling them they need to be more goal driven, they retreat and the goal-oriented person believes the passion-oriented person is now introverted and anti-social. Of course none of this is true of the passion-oriented person.

On the flip side, passion-oriented people are absolutely fine living with goal-oriented folks, not imposing their values on the goal marching folks. They are focused on passion so they don't feel compelled to control anything or anyone else. Yes, they tend to gravitate toward those that also have a focus on passion and often similar passion, but they do not push away non-passion folks, they don't judge them, and they are able to co-exist with them without any discomfort. As long as the goal-oriented people in their lives don't try to convert them to a goal and success (in the traditional sense of the world) driven world, things work out just fine.

The dynamics here are all one sided from my observations, except of course for me. Since I've crossed over, I've tried to figure out a way to help others that are also looking for sustained happiness and personal fulfillment, both with my blog writing and in-depth conversations with nearly everyone I meet (call it a passion ;) ). As I describe the cycle of marching to the goal-oriented drummer (feeling the ugly, troubleshooting, setting goal, working toward goal, achieving goal, enjoying success and short-lived happiness, rinse and repeat), so many of the people I've talked to (that said they are trying to find their passion/dream job and felt trapped in an unfulfilling job) said they could really identify with that cycle. But, when I try to explain the change in focus required to dance with the passion drummer, most of them completely check out. It's like flipping a switch. They don't want to hear it. It doesn't compute. That, or they, like I used to think, believe that dancing to the goal oriented drummer is hippy-dippy, or new-age, or too risky and open to chance.

So just as those marching to the goal-oriented drummer can't get those listening to the passion drummer's beat to prescribe to the world as they view it, neither can the passion drummer dancers (mostly just me) get those listening to the goal-oriented drummer to see the other side as legitimate and of value, even if they say they are looking for the passion in their lives, their dream jobs, and the secret to sustained happiness.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There Is No Rationalizing When Dancing With The Passion Drummer

This week I'm discovering the downside to dancing to the passion drummer. We all have times in our lives when we have obligations and tasks that are not enjoyable, but they are often pressing matters that must be done, however unpleasant. For those listening to the goal-oriented drummer, this becomes something you don't pay much attention to, because you learn to stay focused on your goals and you learn that you have to fight for the things you want and that accomplishing your goals often takes discipline and self-sacrifice. For those dancing to the passion drummer, the effects of doing something that isn't in alignment with a passion isn't something that can be as easily dealt with. I became intimately aware of this fact the past few weeks.

I happened to find my passion drummer on the week lull after completing midterm exams for my last two college courses to complete my college degree. Now that school is back in session, and I'm having to read assigned textbook chapters, study, complete homework, write reports and participate in online class discussions, I am experiencing a new type of "ugly." Why? Because I have come to the realization that completing my computer science degree is not in alignment with any of my passions, and, beside that, it has not been required for me professionally up to now, so it's likely that not having it not holding me back in discernible anyway. On top of that, neither Natural Science nor Macroeconomics are my cup'o'tea which is why I hadn't taken these two required courses until the very end.

I only had 6 weeks of class left to complete my degree requirements when I came to this realization that I didn't need a degree to be happy and fulfilled. As anyone in their right mind would tell you, it would be silly for me to withdraw from class at this point, even if I now dance to a drummer that clearly shows me this college degree is not relevant to my new way of valuated my investments in time/money/effort. I'm just too close to the goal line to walk away.

I now only have 4 weeks of class left and each consecutive week has become more of a burden, more challenging, and I even have found myself becoming resentful for how much time this homework is taking from my day. Try as I might, I cannot find any passion in this endeavor. I find myself becoming more unhappy with each night of studies. Now, after dancing with the passion drummer, knowing what it feels like to have days and days of effortless happiness, I REALLY don't like this dark feeling and I think somehow I am failing in my quest to dance to the passion drummer because I am becoming so unhappy due to school.

So I go to Roger and Jason today and I ask them what I'm doing wrong. Both of them told me that these types of tasks (Quadrant 1 tasks in Covey's Quadrants - Urgent and Important) that are not in alignment with passion, will require effort on my part to complete (tasks that are in alignment with passion never feel so much like effort as they do just plain having fun) and that joy will not be something likely to be experienced in the process. Both agreed that these tasks can be viewed as "necessary evils".

So, today, I came to understand that if you are doing something that you find no enjoyment in (not in alignment with any of your passions) and it's anything time consuming (something that can't be accomplished quickly), and you are truly dancing to your passion drummer, it is likely you will experience some degree of unhappiness, and perhaps even resentment for it taking you away from the passions in your life. This is normal.

The upside to this is that it completely reinforces your decision making to only pursue things that are in alignment with your vector of focus (passion) when dancing to the passion drummer. On the downside, when life gets in the way, and you have to do something that isn't a passion, the longer that task takes the more unhappiness you will experience. You just do it, and get it done so you move on to something more enjoyable.

Considering that I've always been an A student, and I used to love the accomplishment of getting good grades and learning pretty much anything, I still am coming to grips with this one. Roger points out that part of my problem is that I'm still investing the time necessary in my studies to get a high grade and that I could spend much less effort and still pass the course. Why I'm not compelled to slack a bit on my studies and take a lower grade so that I have more time to play with my passions is likely a remnant of the goal-oriented drummer (any job worth doing is worth doing well). The ROI isn't the same now, but I'm not entirely convinced that this remnant is a bad thing. I do understand now the new challenges I'll have in life dancing to the passion drummer are of a different nature than what I originally anticipated. There is no way of rationalizing your feelings away when dancing to the passion drummer. It just doesn't work that way like it does listening to the goal-oriented drummer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Swimming Up Stream or Going With The Flow And Hitting Every Rock Along The Way

I can remember more times than not in my life struggling to reach my goals. I used to think it was "character building" to fight tooth and nail for something I set my sights on. "Nothing worth having is easy" was the motto that seemed to fit in my world.

Part of that lightbulb moment I had last week, when I first heard the passion drummer, was that I was unhappy because I was fighting a natural law of the universe. By constantly fighting to swim up river, I was missing out on life! When a fellow AFS member asked if it wasn't good to struggle, when talking of dancing with the passion drummer, my reaction was adamantly to the contrary. If you have to fight too hard, I said, it's likely a red flag that you're moving in the wrong direction. Now, that is not to say that there are those that fulfill their dreams after much fighting. What I'm saying is that you don't have to fight like that to feel fulfillment. And it's much more enjoyable to not struggle like that. It's less stressful. I've been looking for the non-stress approach to life for a very long time and this truly has been the key for me.

Many people have tried to stop swimming up stream, to "go with the flow", maybe just to try it out. Often they end up feeling like they are out of control or that they keep getting battered by the rocks and other hurdles of life. Even though they try to maneuver to avoid them, they're mostly unsuccessful. Battered and bruised, they say "this isn't for me" and they turn around and start swimming up stream again thankful to be done with the whole thing.

But it is very apparent that those that listen to the passion drummer's beat aren't battered and bruised. The rest of us watch them going with the flow and think they must be lucky, living charmed lives, that they can avoid all those rocks as they ride through life's often turbulent waters. You know what? They aren't avoiding those rocks! They run into those rocks just like everyone else. So, what's the difference? Why don't they get battered and bruised? It's all about focus.

I remember Jason saying, "I just let it go" and "I don't dwell on hard knocks unless I have some control over the outcome (in this he means the ability to directly change the outcome) and that outcome impacts my happiness." So they do hit the rocks, but they don't focus on the rocks. We, getting battered and bruised, are focusing on the rocks. We see the rocks. We try to avoid the rocks. We try to maneuver around them. We worry about hitting them, setting expectations for what might happen. And, when we can't avoid them and we hit them, then we are still focused on the rock and its impact. Not only does it impact our level of happiness but we're already focusing on the next rocks we see up ahead. In contrast, those charmed people also see the rocks, but they don't care. They are enjoying the ride so they keep going without really worrying about the rocks they see and eventually hit, because they've been focusing on the fun of the ride so the bumps don't have the same power to impact them. Theoretical, you say? Okay, let's look at an example.

The River (aka Life):
Let's say you're really good at something. Someone you know asks you to share the inner working of that skill with them because there is an upcoming opportunity in which that skill is needed, that you both would be interested in.

The Rocks (aka Risks/Challenges):
There is a chance that by sharing your knowledge with this other person that you'll lose out on some opportunities because this other person will get them.

The Freaks of Nature (aka Passion Drummer view)
If you're one of those people, there really is only one choice. Of course, you'd love to share your passion with that other person and teach them what you know. As long as it's enjoyable, you're "in" and happy for the interaction with someone that shares your passion. You know there is a chance that person will get an opportunity that you'd also like to have, but it is irrelevant to your motivation to have fun and share your passion so you don't give it a second thought.

The Battered and Bruised (aka Goal Drummer view)
If you're like the rest, you're pretty hesitant to share your valuable skills with the other person. Sure you'd probably enjoy showing them the ins and out of what you know, but you don't want to be used or taken advantage of, and you especially don't want to lose out on some really valuable opportunities that you've worked so hard at preparing for.

Rocks Up Ahead!
A) Going With The Flow and Getting Battered and Bruised (aka Goal Drummer choices)
You decide to share your knowledge despite your concerns and "better judgement." You're going to try to embrace this "going with the flow" thing. You're still a bit worried how this is all going to work out though. You're just hoping you're not going to regret it.

B) Maneuvering To Avoid The Rocks (aka Goal Drummer choices)
You decide not to share your knowledge with the other person because you see the trouble that it could cause later on and you have too much at risk, too much to lose. You see yourself as being a strategic thinker and proud of yourself for having avoided a potential pitfall.

C) Truly Going With The Flow (aka Passion Drummer choice)
You share your knowledge with the other person and have a really good time with them. You don't worry about what is going to happen down the road as a result of this interaction. The important thing is that you had fun.

The Rocks
A) Battered and Bruised
The other person gets that opportunity that would have been perfect for you. You knew you should have listened to your instincts and not let them use you! You saw this coming and you just let it happen. You really regret the choices you made. You feel taken advantage of and a little bitter. You will be more cautious in the future. You won't let this happen again!

B) Steering Clear
You get that 'perfect' opportunity, and you know you helped level the playing field by not sharing your skills with that other person. You feel like you are on top of the world. You have realized another goal, achieved another success.

C) Just Another Bump In The Road
You're new friend lands this great opportunity and you're really happy for them. Yes, you would have enjoyed that opportunity yourself, but, hey, it's no biggy. You are already really happy and in the whole scheme of things it really doesn't impact you. It's no skin off your back and besides, your friend and you have plenty to talk about these days as their new opportunity unfolds.

The Universe Works in Mysterious Ways (aka You Reap What You Sow)
A) Battered and Bruised and Bitter
You become a bit cynical over time. You struggle to feel good because of the bitterness that is pent up inside of you. You want more out of life and you feel like every time you turn around life hits you again with another challenge, another set back, another loss. You see your friends that stayed focused on their goals and the success they've realized and you envy them. You see those charmed people in your office that are high on life and you want to punch them most of the time just to wipe that smile off their face. You're miserable but you don't know how to get out of the life you're tied into.

B) Successfully Limited By Your Goals, Round and Round You Go!
You go on restricting and conserving yourself, only sharing yourself when it benefits you. Most of your connections with others are based on mutual opportunity. You've networked with all the successful people with similar mindsets. You're a winner. You make your moves with a strategic mind. No one is going to pull one over on you. You're successful. You achieve close to everything you set your mind to. You aren't aware of this, but by constantly focusing on setting and achieving your goals, you are only achieving your goals. You don't leave any room for other opportunities to come into your life because you can't see them, or you don't value them for what they are. You limit your personal development to that which you conceive. You definitely feel successful but somehow you always feel like there is something missing, and you're hoping to fulfill it with the accomplishment of that next goal.

C) Passion, Happiness, Fulfillment, and Other Things You Never Imagined For Yourself
While your friend is busy working on that new opportunity, out of the blue you get this email from someone you similarly helped out several years ago. You haven't heard from them in ages. They ask if you're available for this great opportunity that you never would have even thought was possible. This opportunity would never have been something you could have accepted if you were knee-deep in the first one that your friend got. This opportunity catapults you into a completely different and unexpected arena. You're now a leader in this field, not that you really tried to. It's really amazing how things work out. You don't really look for them, but they just seem to appear at the right time. You've becoming an expert in your field without really ever having to work at it, you just followed your passion. You develop lasting and meaningful relationships with others following their passions and in that way surround yourself with people with similar values and you all seem to help each other and learn and grow from each other. It's almost like "paying it foward." You love your life, you love what you do, you didn't really plan to be where you are. Frankly, you're a little amazed how things have worked out for you, but, hey, things always seem to have a way of working themselves out like this. You may not really think about it, but you just "get" how the universe works. No struggling. No fighting. Your needs are met. No worries. You are happy.

Those of you dancing to the goal drummer may think this is more than a tad bit silly. I used to. But I've seen all of these people described above in my life over and over again. I can tell you that I don't want to be A or B. I opt for C. I used to be a B, and at times was even an A when the chips were down. Mostly as a B, I found C's to be naive and vulnerable, or worse, just plain dumb. There was no way, I thought, that their happy-go-lucky meandering could be a superior approach to life than my carefully articulated and educated plans based on years of experience and knowledge development. Think again.

Somehow I found my way to personal fulfillment. I, by chance really, heard that passion drummer and took that other road. It's something I'll never regret. It has profoundly changed my life in just 8 days. I can't wait to see where this road less traveled takes me! I'm making choices still, I'm setting goals still, but I'm not limiting my experiences anymore or myself. I'm not fighting life anymore either. There is another approach with the passion drummer. Don't worry, be happy. I have to laugh as I write that last sentence, because I know what that sounds like to the goal drummer crowd.

Here's hoping to seeing you on the other side, dancing to your passion drummer!

What if you don't hear the beat of either drummer?

I've been marching to the beat of the goal drummer for so many years, I've pretty much forgotten what life was like before living for goals. I think I first heard the beat of the goal-oriented drummer in the summer break between 5th and 6th grades. That means I lived in a world permeated by that beat for more than 30 years. In comparison, I've only spent 8 days in the midst of the beat of the passion drummer. But being without either drummer is something I only vaguely remember.

It begs the question, what other drummers are out there, if any? I don't know the answer to that question. Do you have to have a drummer at all? No, I don't think you do. What kind of existence is that? I don't know that either. I do know that if those people without a drummer are looking to change because of an unmet need, these drummers are probably what they are looking for.

If someone is looking for personal fulfillment, happiness, inner peace and meaning in their lives, they are probably looking for the passion drummer.

If they are looking for financial security, accomplishments, control, influence, recognition or anything else associated with traditional views of success, then the goal drummer is likely the beat for them.

If a person is looking for something else, like loving their job, those come only after a period of time dancing with the passion drummer, I think...but I'm not there yet so let me get back to you on that.

If a person is looking to meet some other sort of need, I don't know if these drummers can help them.

I hear both drummers, but I only live by one (the passion drummer). The other (the goal drummer) is used as a maintenance task, a tool, and no longer a way of life. I focus on passion. I set goals to enhance the experiences related to that passion. Life is fulfilling, and that is paramount to me now, that is my focus.

Having Fun? Come Now, It Can't Be That Simple?! Really!?

We've all met a person or two that was insanely happy to be alive. You know the ones I'm talking about. Those odd ducks that love life, have passion in their work, and possess a positive energy so palpable that it is infectious to all those around them. I, for one, have always found these sorts of people to be a bit of an anomaly...freaks of nature if you will. I've heard some speculate that there is an actual "happy gene" that you either possess or do not possess, a precursor to whether you will be generally happy or disgruntled with life. That's just plain depressing, particularly for me, since I have spent most of my life believing I could be much happier and that's been a common theme for me...the pursuit of happiness. Last week I had one of those moments where you see things clearly in new ways that change your life. I call my new found knowledge "dancing with my passion drummer." I have not felt this level of sustained happiness ever before in my adult life. It's been a week, and I'm still just as excited about the revelation I've had. I want to share it with others, in hopes that others can find this inner peace that I now share with those "freaks of nature" that I'd never understood before. I understand them now. The problem is that I seemed to have crossed a chasm between two worlds, the old world that I lived in where I was searching for something that was missing in my life, and the new world where I'm genuinely happy and content, and now that I'm over here, I see how difficult it is to explain to those still on the other side how to cross that chasm themselves. The really frustrating thing is that it is so easy. The other really frustrating thing is that everything I want to say is stuff I heard from others that had made the transition but from the other side, it never really made sense, I never really "got it." So I sit here now trying to figure out how to explain what has just happened to me, how I found happiness, and how to provide those on the other side trying to get over here the information they need on how to do it. I wish that were as easy as it was to find this place, once I finally got it.

Shortly after I came to my discovery of how to be happy, how to dance with my passion drummer, I had several deeply profound discussions with my non-husband, Jason. He, being one of those freaks of nature (always happy about life), had tried for years to help me find my passion drummer. During those talks he told me that he honestly thought I didn't care to find happiness, that I actually LIKED the spinning around in circles that I've described in earlier blog posts. That isn't true of course and he knew it, but he couldn't find any other explanation for why I wasn't doing it. Looking back, I guess I just never bought into the whole idea. I thought it too simple and too shallow to actually hold any value. I thought I was already on the right road (to happiness) and that I just needed to try a bit harder. I guess, in a way, I thought I was smarter than to follow the freaks of nature...that I had it all figured out already and "knew better." I see that sort of thing in others now, in those on the other side. It's hard for me to see that in them, because I know how self-defeating that type of thought process is, and I know it's never going to get them where they want to be. It can't. It never will. But the good news is that it is a choice. A simple choice, deceptively simple in fact.

During my discussions with Jason, I discovered something that is a prime difference between the freaks of nature and the rest of us still in the pursuit of happiness. I remember a time when my high school creative writing instructor, Mr. Rowe, stopped me in the hallway and asked why I wasn't enrolled in any of his writing classes my junior year. I told him I didn't have room for his electives because I needed to take the new computer classes that were being offered. In my mind, I was making a "smart" choice, because I knew that a career in computer science would be lucrative and frankly I was tired of growing up poor. Mr. Rowe looked at me in disbelief that quickly turned to anger. He said, "As far as I'm concerned, you're flushing a perfectly good talent down the tubes." He slapped his notebook and portfolio together in a definitive crack and walked off. Until that moment, I didn't really know Mr. Rowe found talent in my writing. I got A's in his class, but I got A's in all my classes. I never talked to Mr Rowe again and I didn't continue writing, even though I loved it and still do. The moral of the story is: I gave up a passion for writing, to pursue a goal of financial security. I asked Jason during our talks if he would ever consider giving up what he enjoyed, to reach a goal. He said, without pause, "absolutely not." That is the prime difference between us. Happy people do not sacrifice happiness to reach a goal. If the goal isn't in line with their happiness, they don't have that goal. It's that simple.

There is no mathematical formula here linking happiness with success. All people that are happy are not successful (in traditional terms of success...think: "the starving artist") and not all people that are successful in traditional terms of wealth and power are happy (think: "millionaire commits suicide, news at 11"). What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to be rich to be happy and you don't have to be happy to be rich. But the people we aspire to be are those that are rich AND happy. From my observations, I don't think one is dependent upon the other. I also believe you can attain them in either order (success first or happiness first). The problem with this is the apparent goals to become rich are often in direct conflict with those of being happy. This is where most of us check out when the freaks of nature tell us to just be happy, to enjoy life and to stop trying so hard. We can't fathom doing that because we have goals, I tell you and we're not giving up on them!! What I'm telling you is that these people that are happy and rich do not sacrifice happiness to obtain success. They are just having fun and in the process of playing with their passion, dancing to their passion drummer, the universe has seen fit to provide them with what they need. Feels like a gamble? It did to me too. But now that I'm here, looking across the chasm to the other side, I can see there really is no other way to be happy.

I was recently in a workshop in which the instructor, a full-time artist, told me that when she followed her passion to create what she loved, she found success in the material sense, but as soon as she tried to create for the masses (to please others instead of herself) she found that success quickly died. It's not a particularly intuitive thing for us goal-oriented sorts, but it is one of the key secrets of the universe as I've come to understand it. So just have fun. If you meet someone and you have fun around them, if you enjoy their company, be their friend. And if you meet someone and afterward you "feel the ugly," don't be their friend (even if your goal-oriented mind tells you this is the type of person you should be networking with, or a valuable contact to get your foot in the door somewhere). If it doesn't feel good, don't pursue it. Do the same with job opportunities. With hobbies. With studies. With goal setting. Yes, you will give up opportunities. And they may feel like the "right" opportunities. But by leaving your plate open instead of filling it with those unhappy experiences, with those seemingly right opportunities, you leave yourself open for other experiences of your choosing, that make you happy, and opportunities that are truly meant for you. In the end, you end up following your dreams, without ever having set a goal, and you will be happy before the goal is reached not just afterwards. Now add to that, actually setting goals that are in alignment with what you enjoy and just imagine the possibilities. This is not rocket science. But I tell you that I know with every fiber of my being that this knowledge and acting (via choices) on that knowledge has changed my life. Yes, it really is that simple.

Feeling The Ugly

In these first days of true happiness, dancing to the beat of a new drummer, the passion drummer, I have been asked more often than not what my strategy is going to be to not fall back into my old ways, to not start dancing with my old familiar, the goal-oriented drummer. I can see how this might be a big concern to someone. But oddly enough, this hasn't been a problem for me. All the reinforcement I'll ever need to keep dancing to the passion drummer is right here, and it rears its nasty head on a regular basis. I like to call it "feeling the ugly."

You know that "thing" you feel when you start wondering what you're missing, that void within yourself that you yearn to fill? That's "feeling the ugly." As soon as I feel the ugly, I know that I'm dancing to the wrong drummer's beat. It really is that simple. When I feel unfulfilled, I realize I'm focusing on the future, placing expectations upon myself, and not living in the moment and focusing on passion, enjoyment and having fun.

Sure "feeling the ugly" has been a catalyst to good things in my life. Feeling the ugly has spurred me into creating any number of goals in my life that I went on to accomplish. And I think feeling the ugly can and should be used to help determine which goals you want to set for yourself. I'm all for goal setting and self-exploration. What I don't want to ever happen again in my life is to think that feeling (the ugly) is anything but a want for something not yet attained. It isn't anything I need to internalize as some sort of failure in myself, some sort of missing puzzle piece in my psyche, or some sort of measure of success. It's simply the mechanism by which I know it's time to start another cycle of dance with the goal-oriented drummer. It's then that I stop and listen for the passion drummer.

The passion drummer could give two rips about the ugly. Sure, we have goals but they have no bearing on happiness or self-worth. Sure we have wants but those things not yet attained aren't going to make us any happier than we already are. Why? Because we're already happy, we're already having fun! So every time I feel the ugly (which still happens a half-dozen times or more each day), I realize what it is I'm doing and I stop and I find the passion in that moment, and that alone quiets the ugly. It's the simplest, most beautiful of Geiger counters for happiness!

Hi I'm Tracy, I'm a Problem Solver, I'm a Fast Learner, and I'm Creative

Before our first AFS lunch, I thought I understood something important about myself, about my inner-workings. I'd spent a great deal of time analyzing and searching for my passion. Although I hadn't yet figured out what my passion was yet, I had come up with a few attributes about myself that I thought captured important aspects that would be incorporated in that passion whatever it ended up being. Those attributes were the things I shared during our introductions at the AFS lunch. "Hi I'm Tracy, I haven't found my passion yet, but I do know that I'm a Problem Solver, I'm a Fast Learner, and I'm Creative. I'm here today because I am hoping that by surrounding myself with like-minded people I'll learn the skills that I need to achieve my goals and find true happiness and fulfillment." Okay, I'm a bit more long-winded than that, but that was the essence of my intro.

After listening to the introductions from the others at the lunch, I was pretty shocked to learn that EVERYONE (except for Roger) felt their passions also incorporated being a good problem solver, being a good learner, and being a creative mind. Here I thought I was identifying unique attributes about myself. But all seven of us had the same attributes. It was a common theme, a profile if you will, of those searching for success and personal fulfillment in a most serious manner. We had come to different conclusions about how to leverage those traits, but we were all still talking about the same base traits. I realized that I had stumbled upon something important.

Later that day, I heard the beat of "the passion drummer" for the first time. It was a paradigm shift in which I finally grasped that my old "goal drummer" had led me astray. In my opinion, the goal drummer has lead all of us goal-oriented souls astray. We feel something is lacking in our life. We want meaning. We want purpose. We want fulfillment. We have learned that to fix things in our life, we must identify the problem, analyze it (troubleshooting), come up with a strategy to fix it (a goal), and go about reaching the goal (learn the new skills needed to accomplish the new goal). We feel great (usually) when we accomplish the goal, but it's short-lived. Not long after the glow of accomplishment is gone, we're back to feeling something is missing again. We reassess our situation, identify the problem, analyze it, set a goal to fix it, and set off toward the new goal line. We do this over and over and over. I, for one, was getting pretty frustrated. I invested so much time and effort in this process that some days that best way for me to feel good was to make sure I checked a couple things off my to-do list. I actually felt a small slice of "happy" just by checking something off my list. It was my little treat to myself. I thought I was being clever. Seriously!

Now I see that the repetition of that goal-oriented cycle: (I feel something is missing, Analyze the something, Set a goal to fix the something, Achieve the goal to master the something, Feel a short-lived happy, Rinse and Repeat).
Now I see that repetition cultivates specific skills. Problem solving skills. Thinking outside the box. Being creative. Finding patterns in the seemingly unrelated. Being a fast learner. I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. Being driven. Being a go-getter. I realized then that we shared these base traits because we are completing the same goal-oriented cycle over and over again so of course we had developed the same skills. The sad thing is that long lasting happiness isn't found in the goal oriented cycle (or dancing to the goal drummer as I like to say). It isn't designed to, nor can it. Why? Because happiness isn't a task. It isn't a checklist item. It isn't something you set out to find or achieve. It's a state of being. It is a mindset. Oh, yes, we've all heard this a billion times before. Slow down and enjoy the process. Don't forget to smell the roses. It's the journey not the destination. But, before this week, I thought that was just another check list item. So I tried to incorporate that into my cycle, my goal oriented cycle. Learn to enjoy learning. Learn to enjoy accomplishing my goals. Make a conscious effort to acknowledge my own accomplishments. What a silly girl I was! The goal drummer had me running in circles, had me thinking that my life was going to be fulfilling by way of efficient processes and well constructed goals and finding enjoyment in running in circles!

Yes, today I still have goals. And, yes, I'm really good at planning, analyzing, and achieving them. But that is just a maintenance task in my life. It's not going to (ever) bring me happiness. I'm happy today because I am listening to the beat of the passion drummer. I choose to follow and focus on that which brings enjoyment. I choose to see myself in this moment as whole and I choose to have fun. I am not left wanting for things not yet done. Those tasks aren't going anywhere. They'll be there tomorrow and the next day and the next until I get to them. Whether I do them at all really becomes irrelevant in my level of happiness in this moment. The passion drummer beats on, oblivious to what is done or undone. There is no expectation to fulfill anything, and in that is where I found fulfillment and happiness, in that place where I dance with the passion drummer. In the 48-hours since I found the passion drummer, I have been happy. Not just some of that time. But deep and sustained happiness for this entire period. This is going to change my life in ways I can't yet fathom. Thanks for providing a place for me to share my journey!

Rita's Soldering Workshop

After the Silver Fusing class I took a while back over at Blue Moon Glassworks, I decided I wanted to attempt soldering again. My first few experiences with soldering had been pretty negative and I was almost phobic when it came to torch work. But after the glass bead lampwork glasses and then Gwen's Silver Fusing class, I really felt like I needed to give it another chance. I'd heard several people say really good things about a local artist here in Austin that holds soldering workshops. Her name is Rita Marie Ross. She has two day workshops in which she teaches design, sawing, sanding/grinding, soldering, placing and setting bezels, and polishing.

I could not recommend this class more to a beginner looking for great one-on-one instruction. You come away from this class with a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry, as well as coming away super confident and educated about the torch, and everything else that went into the process of making your first original piece. Another really unexpected thing that I didn't feel very comfortable with initially, but which ended up being something I was extremely thankful for as things progressed through the workshop, was that Rita really pushes you to think outside the box and come up with a design that really reflects you unique personal artistic vision, not just something you'd buy out of a catalog.

After it was finished, we were looking at some of the other pieces I brought in to show her and found that a green piece of viking knit I'd already made worked perfectly with it, so I went home that night, added an extension of jens pind chain weave to get the length I wanted and finished the piece with a fancy store bought clasp. I think my first finished piece is really stunning, very unique, and something I will always cherish as a huge milestone in my creative arts education.

Thank you, Rita, for a wonderful workshop, excellent instruction, and a genuinely fun experience.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Advanced Kumihimo

I took the Advanced Kumihimo class at Nomadic Notions, taught by my fav, Mick Mcnulty. Again I found myself taking this home and making strand after strand. I didn't do the featured class project though where beads are added periodically throughout the weaved piece, but instead did all of mine with one bead per weave move so that the weave is nearly invisible as the entire strand is just beads. With the green and blue strand, I used different size beads which created texture and a very different look. The others are all with the same size beads but just different bead color positioning changes which makes a different pattern in the final product just like regular kumihimo (without the beads).

I'm guessing Mick didn't like me talking in class and interrupting the other students that needed to really focus on what they were doing, so she asked (er, told?) me to work on hers for awhile. OMG! She had these steel washer weights on each of her plastic bobbins and it totally changed the whole experience. What an improvement. I went straight to Home Depot after work the following day and picked up washers and glued them on with E6000. It completely changes the tension of the piece and makes the whole thing much more even. Only problem is Bosley, my cowardly cocker spaniel, was already afraid of that big white disk, but now with the clanking of the washers he won't even get up on the couch when I'm weaving :(