Tag Archives: passion

Being Alone and Lonely in Japan: An Introvert’s Perspective

 

Listen, you’ll need bottles of cheap wine, 500+ tracks of good music, some of it mindless like 2000s pop, a deeper appreciation for introversion, a good activity to speed up time—mine is writing (thank God or else I would’ve jumped in front of a Shinkansen already)—Netflix playing in the background, a quick dismissal of whatever qualms you’ve had about talking to yourself in public, your Kindle to tackle all that reading you’ve long neglected, and a big healthy dose of IDGAF anymore because it’s that serious.

Loneliness and being alone.

Two different concepts but living in a small town in Japan, I can no longer tell the difference.

Being alone is loving your own company because you think you’re the coolest even when you’re not, but it doesn’t matter. You must believe you’re the coolest if you’re going to get onboard with being alone.

You relish the silence that comes once you’ve entered your place after work. You don’t want to bang your head over the deafening sound of your endlessly rolling thoughts.

You can relax, stretch your limbs, get stuff done, eat ugly, forget the pants, and curse loudly at the stupidity of whatever show you’re watching. Sleep late or early. Read or waste time on YouTube videos or scrolling through Facebook.

No one is there to nag you. No one is there to ask you for any favors. No one is there to annoy you. No one is there to judge you.

No. One. Is. There.

Back home, I enjoyed being alone. But here in Japan, it’s a different story because I’m alone every day even when I’m with people, sometimes especially when I’m with people.

Back home, I’m not alone every day because when I’m over being alone, I can go ahead and be with people I love and enjoy talking with. I can take a break from being alone. I have a choice.

But here, six thousand plus miles away from people who like hugging (I’m a hugger; people aren’t huggers here), who can keep me engaged in a good conversation, and who have a strong connection with the real me, I can’t take a break from being alone. Guess what happens? My time alone eventually turns into the beast called loneliness.

Hold on tight because I’m about to drop some bombs about loneliness in Japan, especially when you live in a rural town where the most exciting thing is an earthquake tremor.

First, let me get this one simple thought out of the way: being lonely in Japan sucks.

Okay, now we can go ahead and hit the deeper points.

1.) Communication:

If I ever plan to live in a foreign country where the people don’t speak either French, English, or Spanish, I’ll make sure to be enrolled in real, not online, language classes. My Japanese ability is enough to get me by and fulfill essential needs: shopping, eating out, traveling, and banking.

But a person needs more to maintain a healthy mind. A person needs conversations that go beyond likes and dislikes and what you think about Japan or why you’re here.

After answering these questions multiple times, you don’t want to talk to anyone anymore. You instead end up talking to yourself since you’re under the impression that you’re the most interesting person you know.

Just kidding, of course. Maybe.

There have been times when I didn’t make any attempt to start a conversation because I knew it wouldn’t lead anywhere significant. I chose to stay quiet and only talk when spoken to.

As an introvert, keeping up a superficial conversation drains so much energy out of me. It augments my depression and feelings of loneliness. In fact, relief  spreads all over me when the conversation ends.

Of course, I talk with my family and friends back home and it helps a great deal, sometimes even saves my life. But nothing can match the simple joy of talking to someone in person, seeing each other’s eyes, smiles, funny grimaces, and feeling each other’s energies.

Here, I am no better than a talking doll with a string you can pull on her back. A doll’s probably more alive, though.

2.) Weekends:

In a previous post, I wrote about how Japan has been great for my writing in term of getting the words down. Why? Because my weekends consist mostly of drinking white wine, cleaning my apartment, and writing.

I’ve written more than I’ve ever had here. It’s the result of not having my weekends booked with the laughter and joy of family and friends. Instead, it’s me, the laptop, and a fiery passion to get work done.

Writing is great. I love it to death. You all know that already. But my sanity needs more than writing. In fact, too much writing has made me colder, more introverted (yes, that can be a bad thing; balance is key, people), and a tad more obsessed with writing itself, which I didn’t think was even possible considering how passionate I am already.

I’m sad to say that I’ve also lost a good chunk of interest in traveling to other cities here. Depression does that to you. Robs you of things you once enjoyed like traveling and exploring new places (thank goodness it hasn’t taken writing yet; the universe knows I’d end it if I lost that). So I prefer to stay in and write at my desk or sit in the corner of my favorite café in town and spend hours writing there.

Another culprit behind my not traveling so much is having to do it alone. This is hard for me to admit, but I don’t like traveling alone.

Kudos to those who can do it, but it’s not for me. I can live alone, no problem, but traveling alone pushes me further into my head and thoughts, which makes me talk out loud more than I’m comfortable with before I can check myself.

If I do have to travel alone, it needs to be in nature with a sparse sprinkling of folks. I can’t stay in crowded places or else I’ll suffocate. So it’s hard to explore a new city because those have lots of people, right? What can I do except run away back to my room where—spoiler alert—no people.

But if I’m with someone, my mind takes a break from the crowds and inner thoughts to focus on the person beside me. I feel better and can endure a trip for quite a long time. I become a happy traveler.

3.) Daily Life:

No. I don’t exist in my daily life. Reality doesn’t exist in my daily life. Nothing exists in my daily life. Monday morning through Friday night is known as THE VOID, the zenith of my loneliness. I escape it somewhat unscathed on Friday nights with lots of wine.

They say life is what you make it. Yeah, well, I’m hanging by my teeth on the highest ledge of the Burj Khalifa to make it through the rest of my stay here in Japan. But the key to surviving this great leviathan called loneliness is not giving in to it.

Never give in, just keep pushing and another day will come one after the other until it’s all over, and you can go back and ask yourself, “What the hell was I doing with my life then?”

Living. You were living and you keep doing it, except way smarter this time around.

So, what are your experiences with being alone and lonely? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Stay amazing,

Samantha

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Feeding on Rejection, Criticism, and Reality Checks

This is how it goes. I submitted a short story to a horror magazine last month and received a response about four days later. Before I clicked open the email, I knew it’d be a rejection, and lo and behold, it was a rejection. I promptly dropped it into my Rejections Folder, bringing the count up to 63 big fat NOs from literary agents and magazines.

Now, some might say I brought the rejection to myself for calling it out. Negative. As a writer, I’ve learned to expect rejection 99% of the time and hope for a positive response 1% of the time. It’s not that I think I’m a shitty writer, or else I would’ve quit torturing myself years ago and slide into living a more normal and stable life like most people. You know, be happy.

But I can’t quit writing because a powerful spirit of creation possesses my body: I must write, create, or I die. I’m totally seriously. This is deeper than a calling. It’s like having a second heart. Kill it and my real heart will die soon after. Try to take it away from me and I’ll cut you off cold. Writing has been with me for twenty-one years. Guess who will win in a relationship? Yes, that’s right.

I live in a passionate hell of my own making: it burns, but the flames are never hot enough to destroy me. Sometimes the flames purify me before they go back to burning again. And so I keep writing and grinding hard to get my work published.

Each literary rejection I receive adds a layer of steel around my heart where now even the criticisms, both helpful and painful, I receive from people in situations unrelated to writing have a minuscule effect on me.

I used to be a highly sensitive person with a raging temper who would chew your head off if you offended me. My response to heated environments would turn me into a twister of dramatic outbursts, rushing to make a series of bad decisions based on my current emotional state. In short, I was a walking bomb of rage, ready to explode at the slightest mean poke.

When I received my first batch of rejections, I wanted to throw my laptop out the window and eat a carton of ice cream to heal my scorched soul. The second and third wave of rejections forced me to work harder to improve my craft, read, write more, edit, rinse and repeat. By the fourth and fifth wave, I knew and understood why I was rejected and simply worked on fixing that.

This is what goes through my head now when I receive a rejection:

Oh, I probably should’ve done this and that, or my style doesn’t suit their tastes. Ok, back at it to do some edits or find new people to submit.

I get a small prick in my chest, of course, because I’m human, but I’m no longer devastated or start cursing everything aside from that one obligatory ah, f**k. My hardened writer mindset propels me forward so I don’t stay stuck in a haze of self-pity or low self-esteem.

I don’t have time for that. There’s writing, editing, reading, and learning to be done, and I, unfortunately, don’t have an android version of myself to do it all. It can be hard and frustrating, but I’ve got to do it anyway.

They say writing to get published is a long waiting game, but for me, it’s also a race against myself. How can I be better than my old self in terms of writing speed, quality, word choice, characterization, pacing, tension, and making a reader laugh out loud or get teary-eyed?

The truth is that this race never ends. I’ve signed up for a lifetime journey of self-discovery, pushing my limits, and experiencing the amazing exhilaration of bringing worlds and characters to life.

All the negatives that come with writing—the self-isolation, neurosis, deadlines, rainstorm of rejections and critiques, and so on—can’t compete with the deep self-satisfaction, self-affirmation, and, definitely for my case, the pure thrill of creating.

Sometimes it’s beyond logic and reason, beyond getting published, beyond living forever in your books; it’s knowing exactly why you exist despite what everyone and everything believes and suggests.

And so it goes like this. I feed on rejections, the criticisms, and the occasional harsh reality checks. I don’t ignore them, though. That’s different and unwise. I use them as fertilizer to help my craft grow into a robust green garden full of vitality and beauty.

As a writer, creative, or any person pursuing a project with an insane passion, we can’t let the failures and defeats snuff us out from under the soles of their feet. We push back, get ourselves back up and running again, and seek to learn more. Always. Because what doesn’t kill us shouldn’t only make us stronger, it should make us smarter so that the same old shit doesn’t keep happening again.

And while rejections are important for growth, victories are still better. And that’s what I want. Victory.

What’s your experience with rejection or criticism? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Stay amazing,

Samantha

Featured Image credit: by Park Pyeongjun via totorrl0107 

 

Passion and the Creative Functional Depressive

Waking up is the hardest. The pressure starts between your eyes, throbbing and pushing at the same time, and won’t let up. You burrow your head into your pillows to hide from the sunlight streaming out of the curtains you opened last night as one of your many efforts to help drag your limp body out of bed in the mornings.

Because you know. You know well.

You turned off the blaring alarm from your cell phone about two hours ago. Snoozing is useless and no longer exists as an option. Guilt and the high pitch tone of attracting consequences prick your mind as the clock marches onward to the third hour after your desired wake-up time, another pebble in a mountain of promises to self your never keep.

Work.
Money.
Could get fired.
Concerned talks.
Calls.
Write.
Stop.
You care.
WAKE UP, NOW!

You care.

Your brain fires these words and phrases at you, grabbing unto your shoulders to pull your up from the deep waters of depression. Out of your coffin. Out of your grave where you wish you could stay forever, forgotten, alone, and fortunately dead.

Dead.
Dead.
Dead.

You open your eyes.

I have to stay alive. I have to move. I have to get through the day, you think.

With resolve coming out of thin air, you throw back the comforts of the covers and swing your legs over the edge of your bed. You reach for your cell phone and check messages, email, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and the current news, none of it ever good, always explosions and people being assholes to one another.

You get lost in all of it, becoming robotic as your thumb scrolls up faster and faster. You’re not even reading anymore, just skimming and seeing how much you can cram into your skull.

Another forty minutes goes by. You curse your deplorable time management skills and put the phone face down on your bed in disgust, hating it and promising never again to start your mornings burning the surface of your eyes with the glare of its screen.

You promise to read a good book. To write instead. To exercise or meditate. Prepare a good breakfast. But tomorrow morning, you’ll do the same thing, phone in hand, making promises again.

Your morning routine happens in a blur. You check in and out of reality, in and out of your actions, with a pace both slow and fast, followed by long glances in the mirror. Your eyes pierce into that of another person who smiles, grimaces, frowns, and returns a blank face belonging to the ranks of the dead.

I don’t want to go to work today. I wish I could write instead, you think as you do your hair and face. But when you had no work, you couldn’t write like you wanted to. A paradox. Or a catch-22. Your creative process has never made sense to you. It most likely never will.

You write nonetheless because you’re the tin person and writing is your oil. Without it, you remain still and sink further back into your coffin, your grave, your deep underwater world of endless, stretching darkness.

You manage to drag yourself from the mirror and pack your bag, making sure to put your cell phone, earbuds, and wallet in there. Double-check because you’re terribly forgetful. You can’t count how many times you’ve forgotten your wallet somewhere, your phone, along with other useful items. You’ve recovered much though. For some reason you’re lucky in that area. Why can’t luck love you in the many other countless ways it can love you?

On your bike, your mind is on the music. Always on the music. It’s how you meditate, inserting yourself into the now, never the past, never the future, never anything of importance, sometimes not even your writing. Only the music.

On the train and streets, strangers see your true self, your true face. It’s a face not even your family sees. Not your friends. Not your coworkers. Not your students. No one. A face where the lines break through the surface of your skin, which droops to the ground from the weights of endless, tortuous pain. Your real self mirrors the darkness within, ugly and broken.

Maybe your loved ones and those near you have seen that face, and you only think you’ve successfully hid it behind the many masks you wear to present as a highly functioning human, adult, person, and loved one.

You have many masks. Many of which you create on the spot when the occasion rises.

They should call you a chameleon. You change your face and adjust your energy to match the frequency of those around you. Yes, you have a unique face and energy for every situation and person. Sometimes you succeed. Sometimes you fail. In an attempt to undo the conditioning of making sure those around you are well and comfortable at your expense, you work on eliminating your anxiety, but the tension escapes, oozing into the air, choking others, making them tense too, uncomfortable, stiff, unsure of how to proceed, looking for ways to vacuum the cold, rigid air your aura blows.

You can’t get closer to me. That’s what you think and believe. It’s why you prefer to be alone. You know the darkness within is too intense, sleeping with your ambitious passion to write great works, which makes you even more distant, so deeply embedded in your world and far removed from reality.

You only feel pain and love. The other emotions come to you on the surface, never penetrating the diamond barrier around your soul and heart: happiness, joy, guilt, anger, pleasure, hate, annoyance, and on and on. Even when you smile and your eyes light up, even when you’re having a good time, even when you’re so sure you’re happy and elated, the darkness, the pain, the depression, pierces behind your head, ballooning up in the space between your ears. It becomes harder to breathe, move, and think. Your actions become delayed, irrational, erratic. Everything is malfunction.

And so you withdraw and stay alone. Sometimes for long periods of time. You have to. To fill up the energy lost, drained, depleted. If you don’t, they’ll all see your true self. Listless. Emotionless. Dead. Worse than an android. Not even an empty shell. Invisible. Gone. In another dimension in time and space where you think you can never be reached.

Come back to me.

Those are the words someone needs to say when you’re with them and have checked out. When you have left with your whole body and soul. Once someone says it, you slowly turn back on and look up into their eyes and smile.

Okay, I’m back now, you say.

And you return for a while, secretly wishing to be alone again even though you enjoy and need the company. But you have to turn the crank attached to your mind to keep yourself going. You want to stay longer, talk longer, laugh longer, hold on a little longer, but with time, it gets harder to spin the lever because thick chunks of hardened darkness fill the nooks of the wheel.

Mental exhaustion morphs into physical exhaustion. Your entire existence screams for a break. A pause. For silence quieter than the sound coming from a TV without signal put on mute. You need a long hard stare into space, looking through the cores of the atoms themselves. You long for a complete and total shut down. But that would mean death, wouldn’t it?

wallpaper-1731613
via sf.co.ua

Your brain flutters awake, reminding yourself that you can’t stay like this. You snap out of your stupor, crank the wheels, and resume functioning.

You observe the smallest details with intense attention in hopes it will add accent to a bland life. From the faintest lines on a face to the curve of a fingernail. The smallest chip on a tooth often obscured by moving lips. The tiny piece of squiggly red thread on a black shirt. The individual tiny dust balls on a desk, irking you. The misplaced eyelash tucked in the folds of an eyelid or a single strand of hair sticking out from a groomed eyebrow.

You miss nothing and everything at the same time, hoping to live fully and presently, only to be swept away by your own daydreams, paddling you into the future.

Come back to me, they say.

Okay, I’m back now, you say.

And for all your darkness, pain, suffering, and occasional bursts of suicidal thoughts, you remain highly optimistic, confident, possibly borderline delusional in the attainment of your dreams. You widen your eyes, pupils dilating, heart beating, and fingers trembling, from anticipation of what’s to come, of what you’ll achieve.

You pant hungrily for the sun’s brilliance and stretch your ears for the soothing songs of ocean waves. The sea salt smell teases your nose and sand climbs in between your toes, massaging out the stress, pulling out cord after cord of curling darkness from the bottom of your heart straight out of your feet.

But inside your darkness is beauty that you let out from time to time. It’s as gentle as the rays of a setting sun. Calm like a quiet river. Resilient like tall stalks of grass getting buffeted by the wind. It’s a beauty you share freely because it comes from a deep love of others, a deep love for all who have experienced pain and suffering, for those who know what it means to be in the dark.

wallpaper-19023
via  sf.co.ua

You can’t stay still in one location and suffer from bouncing knees eager to keep moving to the newest place with fresh faces and unfamiliar buildings and roads. You’re a butterfly perpetually returning into a caterpillar only to transform into a butterfly again and so on.

You’re a collector of brief, wondrous experiences, instantaneous connections and interactions, accidental meet-ups, and short-term relationships. Those who can stomach your erratic, capricious behavior and your longs bouts of silence for years, even after you’re gone, have your deepest gratitude and love.

In your haze of darkness, you still have faith and believe everything will be all right. And so you release your pain every day and let time heal as it can and should.

I’m not a good person, you think. And you’re right, but you strive to be, despite failing time and time again. You forget the the hard lessons from your mistakes, but your awareness of your actions become acute in the aftermath and you somehow end up learning anyway.

You’re tired of running, but you’re always running away from yourself so you think if you jump from one location to the next, you’ll get away, but you can’t. No matter how far you go, you’re always stuck with yourself. And this drives up your headaches and deepens the furrows between your forehead. You have to learn to live with your thoughts, the constant chatter in your head from sources within and the outside, good and bad, deep and shallow, powerful and weak.

At the end of the day, you don’t congratulate yourself for making it through the day, for operating in your functional depressive state. You don’t think you deserve a shiny medal because you know you’re not the only one. You’re one of millions hunkering their way through the trials and errors of this brief experiment called life.

It ain’t easy. It ain’t easy at all, but you do it anyway.

You live, anyway.

 

Feature image credit: “Underwater room” has been published on October 07, 2012 by Paul Mood.

On Being “Normal”

Millions of people live scripted lives, carrying out roles of normal functioning individuals socialized to suppress whatever makes them unique or stand out too much. Some people enjoy this performance and are quite content with being a star in this movie, taking directions from their family, friends, employers, the media, culture, and society in general.

Many carry out these performances to preserve their lives and social presentation, along with preventing what could be deadly repercussions for any form of deviance.

Many adhere to their culture’s definition of normal because it confers benefits in terms of seemingly pleasant social interactions, employment, and approval.
For others, being told to put on this veil of normalcy for the sake of social preservation is pure torture. It makes us sick inside to have to follow a plan or script set out for us. We walk through our days feeling incomplete and trapped in what we consider lies that people have created for us, lies that we have created for ourselves.

Many of us knew from an early age that we were different and understood that it wasn’t always a good thing in society’s eyes.

In fact, children recognize and understand social norms as early as 2 or 3 years old*. In an experiment with puppets conducted by Marco Schmidt and Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, along with Hannes Rokoczy of the University of Göttingen, 2 and 3-year-olds objected when puppets performed actions different from what they had seen adults doing. Furthermore, these norms are not necessarily taught. Children usually learn norms by observing and following adults who expect life to be performed in a specific way.

Therefore, some of us have learned to hide or suppress our uniqueness in fear of coming across as a deviant who will eventually become rejected.

But for most of us, hiding what makes us different is close to impossible; as a result, we risk experiencing familial and social rejection. We get plastered with labels, used mostly in a derogatory manner, that forcibly categorize our uniqueness or eccentricities.

In other words, we’re punished for making others feel uncomfortable and confused by our behavior or identity, which may or may not have been self-assigned.

For all our trumpeting of individualism here in the United States, our society still punishes and marginalizes those who stand outside of what’s considered “normal”: white, straight, cis-gendered (gender matches sex assigned at birth), able-bodied, pro-authoritarian, pro-patriarchal ideals, pro-capitalism, pro-assimilation, pro-assigned gender roles, pro-groupthink, pro-consumerism, and pro-white supremacy.

People falling outside of this range are often encouraged to change their ways to be accepted by the majority who are given the title “normal”. These calls for assimilation are bullshit. The truth is that we “abnormal” ones will never be truly accepted or understood by those considered “normal” or adhere to being “normal”.

Depriving ourselves of our uniqueness or identity to become something we are not brings more harm than good. This forced erasure censors our creativity and voices, and stilts our ability to confront our present realities and usher change into our world.

For those of us who have no choice but to play the game of appearing normal, we feel smothered, chained, and sometimes even alone in our performances as the people we interact with contradict or vehemently oppose ideas or identities that we support or identify with on a personal, social, or political level.

We are not allowed to express ourselves openly due to our fears of social isolation, financial vulnerability, or even violence. For those of us whose situations are less extreme, but no less poignant, we may admonish ourselves for not being braver or stronger enough in taking advantage of our more open-minded environments.

Such self-criticism can reinforce negative thinking that makes us less vocal and active in issues or projects needing our participation and strengths. We may erroneously believe that our silence in regards to our identities or ideals delegitimizes us from taking a stand in issues of gross injustices. We may wrongly believe we cannot participate in resistances to restore human dignity to marginalized and oppressed groups.

We find ourselves living two lives: the one on the outside and the one on the inside. If we’re lucky to find understanding souls, for a time, we may be able to align our outside lives to match our lives on the inside.

Bravery can manifest itself in multiple ways instead of being confined to the Western mainstream idea of being loud and open for everyone to see, admire, reject, or criticize. Small, accumulating acts of courage in customized personal resistances are valuable. Each person’s familial, religious, cultural, or spiritual experience does not necessarily mirror the mainstream images widely portrayed and distributed.

Even in spaces where outsiders, rejects, and the marginalized come together, it’s important not to enforce and applaud only one brand of bravery or resistance. We should encourage a multiplicity of differences, and seek to understand each unique life that comes in our presence without rushing to shut a person down or force them to change.

Life grows through difference. Change grows through difference. A better and more open world grows through difference.

I’ve been brave enough to upset both allies and opponents, becoming more of who I need to be at the present moment and not following anyone’s vision of how I should be. Choosing this way is far from easy and is sometimes fraught with frustration, confusion, loneliness, impatience, failure, self-doubt, depression, pain, and discouragement. It’s a difficult journey, but a necessary one to take to peel away the layers of false identities created by others while growing.

It’s one of the few ways to reach the true core of our true selves and figure out where we need to take ourselves next. Of course the core of our inmost identities will contain influences of our upbringing and our environments growing up, but somehow or another we’ve developed our own ideas of what matters most to us that differs drastically from anyone else’s; it’s something akin to a fingerprint.

We won’t reach these oftentimes buried ideas or identities without doing the hard work required to survive being thrown out into the wolves called the real world and society.

We can shield ourselves from this hard work or ignore it completely by following the scripts handed to us. That way we avoid the painful processes of undergoing the fiery baptism of confronting our childhood demons, figuring out our true core values, understanding our fiercest passions, wandering in the deserts and wastelands of confusion and instability, and developing the strategy to achieve our dreams.

In eschewing this difficult path, we accrue financial rewards and stability quickly, prestige, honor, and other accolades from our satisfied loved ones and society.

But the human soul is hardly ever satisfied. Sooner or later, it demands far greater things from us than wealth, prestige, and praise. It tortures us for living lives that go against its true essence, something different for each person, but with overlapping similarities. Our minds persistently present us with questions about the why of everything going on all around us. Meaning and purpose knock relentlessly on our doors despite our desires to ignore or dismiss them.

We can’t hide forever unless we are content with leading empty lives all the way to the grave. Some accept doing it and some have done it happily. But for the passionate dreamer, this life is impossible. This may be both the curse and blessing of the passionate dreamer.

It’s okay for supporters and loved ones to imagine highly successful lives for us or to envision futures in which we make significant impacts on the world. It’s not okay when they want us to follow a particular path or box us in how we should go about accomplishing these amazing feats.

We all deserve the respect of forging our own lives without our loved ones or allies shaming us for doing things outside of what they think is best. We get enough grief from our opponents and society without having to deal with the psychological drama of navigating spaces where we expect to receive love and support.
If we choose to be different in the countless multiples way there are to be different, we need to remember to be patient with ourselves. We will stumble and make mistakes.

Our decisions won’t always be the best, and we’ll sometimes follow advice that hurts more than helps. We may also ignore advice that might have helped more than hurt. Our eyesight might be poor so we may miss great opportunities or fail to see the failure waiting at the end of ventures we’ve decided to pursue.

We may have days when we feel hopeless and directionless, looking up at ceilings with no answers or guidance. Days we feel broken, useless, or frauds. We may find ourselves questioning every act we make and cursing the universe or God for our rotten luck. We may find ourselves waiting for something beautiful to happen instead of realizing that we ourselves are responsible for making something beautiful happen.

We may find ourselves with little to no patience and may consider following the script handed to us. After all, it’s so easy and promises the stability lacking in our lives. We may walk through our lives unsure and hurt by all of these feelings, feelings for which there might be no escape from. We might even feel that being stuck in limbo is our fate.

But it is not our fate. Our lives our made richer for being passionate dreamers. We may not see it now or even believe or accept it. But we are made stronger, bolder, and more open minded, maybe even more lovable and accepting of difference.

We may not see it now, but on the other side awaits the rewards of our labor of passion. If we are more introspective and matured, we already experience and see the rewards of our passion. We understand and accept the beauty of our differences and the difficult process of becoming our higher selves.

Although our loved ones, opponents, and society are blind to it, we have put on glasses giving us a clear vision of what awaits. Sometimes our minds are already there, waiting for our physical bodies to catch up and experience the beauty and magic of living our ideal lives.

We envision new worlds, unaware of how our decisions influence and impact the people around us, bring us all closer together as a family of sorts, hoping to create a better reality for both present and future lives. The world needs passionate dreamers, those who are different, weird, quirky, eccentric, marginalized, oppressed, or othered in any way by the dominant culture.

We should let ourselves be ourselves in whatever ways we know we can or are willing to be. We have to be for the sake of a more open world where more and more people can live lives fulfilling their deepest dreams and passions. A world where more people can reach self-determination and fulfillment, reaching further into the depths of their souls to uncover meaning.

Passion is beautiful. Passion is ugly. Passion is freedom. Passion is pain. Passion is peace. Passion is war. Passion is life. Passion is difference.

We cannot relinquish what makes us different because our difference is our strength as humans.

*Nair, Drishya (2012) “Children Understand Social Norms Very Early” Current Directions in Psychological Science. August 2012.

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Be sure to look out for my e-book, The Passionate Dreamer’s Notebook: For Those Who Refuse to Quit, coming out soon!

The Things She Carried; The Things She Conquered

A woman stands in front of a black and brown house with large second story windows. The edges of the house turn black from rot and crumble into the ground, becoming like the fine grains of sand falling in an hourglass.

Shoulders shaking, the woman slaps a hand over her mouth and sobs at the destruction unfolding before her. She wants to go inside and save all the things she’s worked so hard for—all the things that showcase her prestige and worth as a human being.

She takes a step toward the crumbling house, and it roars back at her with the bellow of deep thunder. The hair on her skin bristles from the goose bumps coating her arms, and the woman shuffles back. She gapes at the house now halfway destroyed.

I have to go inside, she thinks. I need to save my things. I can’t lose them. I can’t lose anything more at this point. I’ve worked too hard. Nobody knows it except me.

She ignores the house’s growls and swings open the front door, forcing her trembling body to go inside the blackness ahead. The woman stretches her arms forward in the dark, fingers groping the walls for a light switch. She curses her bad luck, wishing she had a flashlight or even a match to give her light and help her find and save her things.

The house creaks in protest, sounding like scraps of metal in a blender. The woman has no bearing in the darkness all around her. The whole house shakes, and she loses her balance and falls to her knees. The sound of a child weeping stops her breath, and she looks up, eyes scanning the dark. She knows that cry. It’s hers. It’s her cry when she was a child. But what is it doing here? It’s not supposed to be in this house.

The house creaks louder than before. The woman plugs her ears with her fingers. A gust of wind hits her face, and she cowers into the ground, head tucked between her knees. Tears form tracks over her cheeks. She wants to get out where it’s safe, but her she can’t move a muscle.

What if she ends up here all alone forever, trapped in this dying house?

The wind whistles harder and the woman grips her shoulders, holding on to herself to keep from being blown away. In the wind, she hears voices, all of them familiar, most of them hers:

“You’re ugly.”
“You’re fat.”
“Your body is gross.”
“You haven’t accomplished anything of value yet.”
“Why is your skin dark?”
“What’s wrong with your hair?”
“You didn’t earn this. It’s not yours. It was given to you.”
“Why can’t you be smarter? More capable? Look at her. Why can’t you be like her? Be like her.”
“Stop dreaming. You’re an adult now.”
“You’ll be poor for the rest of your life.”
“Why are you such a disappointment?”
“You are a disappointment.”
“Why are you so stupid?”
“They’re all better than you are.”
“I didn’t work this hard so you could just repeat this suffering again.”
“Stop trying so hard.”
“You should just give up.”
“You should just kill yourself.”
“Nothing matters anymore.”
“It’s not worth it.”
“Why do you lie so much?”
“Why do I lie so much?
“You failed.”
“I failed.”
“I’ve failed.”
“I’m failing.”
“Why am I always failing?”

The woman sinks her head further into her stomach, hoping to make the voices disappear, but they saturate the air, getting louder and louder. The woman ransacks her mind for answers, looking for anything to help her get out of her crumbling house, but her search yields nothing.

Why am I trying so hard? I should just give up. I’m so tired. I’m so tired, she repeats.

I’m so tired.

She hears the crying child again faintly beneath the cacophony of adult voices.

The cries of her child-self tighten her chest with more pain than all the voices barraging her.

“I’m sorry,” the woman says out loud. “I’m sorry you thought were never good enough. I’m sorry you thought you were ugly, fat and stupid.”

The house buckles and invisible beams crash loudly all around her. The wind wails as it unleashes its most powerful gust, dialing up the volume of the adult voices.

“I can’t hear you,” her child-self says.

The woman raises her voice. “I’m sorry you had to lie so much to escape feeling unworthy. I’m sorry you tied your worth to what you accomplished, what schools you went to, what things you owned, and what places you’ve been to! I’m sorry you didn’t believe in yourself. I’m sorry you hated yourself. I’m sorry you failed to trust in the power and beauty within you. I’m sorry you couldn’t see any of those good things in you. I’m sorry you let people decide for you. Decide who you were and what you were supposed to be.

I’m sorry you couldn’t be honest with who you really were. That you pretended to be happy and didn’t get help. I’m sorry that you were afraid and alone. That you didn’t feel loved or wanted. That you thought something was wrong with you. I’m sorry you wasted your years thinking about the past and the future. I’m sorry you lost time pleasing other people. I’m sorry you wanted to kill yourself. That you suffered so much pain to even want to do that. I’m sorry you couldn’t see that you were in charge of your own self worth.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the nights you cried. For the days you walked with your heart in pieces, your mind heavy with worry. I’m sorry about the people who couldn’t see your pain. I’m sorry you felt so unworthy to talk to someone because you feared of becoming a burden. I’m sorry you gave up the interests and dreams you loved become someone told you they were worthless.

I’m sorry that you had to mourn for the deaths of your dreams, some at infancy. I’m sorry for the callous people, the shallow ones, the racist ones, the sexist ones, the homophobic ones—all those people who brought you down because of their own insecurities and because of society. I’m sorry for the people who hurt you. I’m sorry for the friends and family you lost. Some to death, others to distance, a few to time, several because of your pain.

I’m sorry. Sorry that you felt trapped, stuck, and incapable of moving forward. I’m sorry you had to shut down and withdraw. Sorry you couldn’t hear the music or appreciate beauty because of your pain. I’m sorry you couldn’t find the time to sit down and breathe. I’m sorry for the times you needed a hug and no one was there. The times you needed a touch of assurance, a word of encouragement, and a voice of understanding, but found none.

I’m sorry. Sorry for the times you failed and felt incompetent. I’m sorry you thought had to give up so quickly. Sorry you gave up so quickly. I’m sorry you lost your way and couldn’t find it back. I’m sorry you thought you could never find it back. I’m sorry for the shame and guilt you were made to feel because of who you were, because of your body, because of your desires. I’m sorry you didn’t love yourself, your body, and your spirit.”

The house ceased to shake and the wind stopped howling. The woman uncurled her head from her stomach and pushed her palms against the ground to stand up straight, her shoulders squared and her chin high. Hands dangling by her side, her child-self appeared across from her. A small flame of light appeared above them.

“I’m so sorry,” the woman continues, her voice calm and clear. “But I want you to know one thing. I love you. I love you more than you can ever know. I won’t let anyone hurt you anymore. I won’t let anyone make you feel inferior. I won’t let anyone steal your hopes and dreams. I will always be here to defend you. I will always be here to hold you and give you strength. I will always be here to fight for your cause.

I know I can’t remove all the hurt, pain, and suffering you’ve already been through, but I want you to know I can help you from now on, giving you my guidance and strength. I will help you experience the rest of your days with beauty, dignity, and most of all, love. You don’t have to be afraid anymore because I am here, always by your side.”

The woman reaches her hands out, and her child-like self runs to her arm. The woman hugs her in a tight hold.

Her child-self asks, “What about the things you were looking for?”

“I can’t remember what I was looking for. I found you and that’s all that matters.”

The flame above them bursts into a huge conflagration, lightening up the dark space and consuming the house from the inside out. The fire leaves the woman and her child-self untouched. The house destroyed,the woman now stands alone in the middle of a field with her arms wrapped around herself. She searches left and right for her child-self but the little girl is nowhere in sight.

She sits down on the grass with her legs crossed and stares ahead at the field stretching for eternity. There is no sky, only pure white above her and the green of the swaying grass blades.

The woman closes her eyes. I need to build a new house.

~~~

The woman stands at the window of her kitchen’s apartment and follows the drops of rain trickling down the pane. A mug of black tea is nestled between her hands, sending much needed warmth to her cold hands. A smile tugs at the corners of her lips.

Today is a perfect day to write, she thinks. So she leaves the window and brings her coffee mug to her desk. She sits down and lifts open the lid of her laptop. Her fingers tap the keyboards without pressing down. She thinks for a minute.

The words come and the woman writes.

Kidnapped by Passion; Beaten by Reality

An eight-year-old girl studying in a Catholic school in Dorchester, Massachusetts sits at her desk, doing spelling exercises as her third grade teacher corrects the assignments from last night.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she already understands the importance of hard work and achieving excellence, but the pressure is light. The pressure won’t start bending her back until she gets into middle school.

But for now her days are simple and routines predictable. School is easy. Her friends are nice enough. Life is still kind and time slow. Nothing has yet to capture her interest; nothing has yet to set off a spark in her young heart.

The girl fiddles with her pencil and stares out the window, taking a break from writing words multiple times on dotted lines. She daydreams about swinging at the park close to her apartment building. That playground atop a hill is her most favorite place in the world.

She loves it so much that she once sneaked out of her apartment building and crossed a busy street to get to the playground. Her parents’ fury rained on her in the form of spankings, and she never sneaked out again.

The girl sighs. All she wants is to swing up to the sky, above the Boston skyline, and reach out to touch the clouds.

“Hey everyone, listen to this story that — wrote,” her teacher says.

The young girl’s head jerks up at the mention of her name. Her heartbeat races, her chest tightening with excitement.

What’s going on? she thinks.

Her teacher wears a toothy smile and chuckles. She reads aloud the young girl’s story about a detective rabbit that solves a high-profile crime in an imaginary world of personified rabbits.

The young girl wrote the story last night as part of her homework: the class had to write a story using this week’s spelling words. It was the first time she had so much fun doing an assignment, creating this silly tale. The words poured out her pencil with ease, almost like magic. The characters came alive around her as she wrote them. She talked to them too and they responded in kind.

The girl has always talked to imaginary beings. Doing so almost made her repeat the first grade because she talked to these made-up characters aloud in class, constantly distracting herself and others. However, once she stepped into the second grade, her father made sure she kept her conversations inside her head.

The girl’s eyes rove around over the classroom, observing each student enthralled in her story. A wide grin pinches her cheeks when her classmates erupt in applause  at the end of the story.

“Fantastic job!” her teacher says and hands the girl her story.

Giddy on everyone’s praises, the girl pushes her chair out from the square-shaped desk and walks up to her teacher. She nervously pulls down the hem of her uniform’s navy blue skirt and accepts her paper. A big golden star and a red 100 sits on top of the page. She scans her story.

Did I really write this?

Back at her desk, her friends sprinkle compliments on her.

“That was a funny story!”

“I liked it!”

“It was good!”

“Thanks! Thanks!” she says many times and wishes this moment could last forever.
Pride cartwheels around her head. She wants to tell her family right away so they can share in her accomplishment and praise her too. She desires more compliments, more cheers, more exclamations about her newly discovered talent.

Her teacher dropped a bead of oil in her soul, and the tiny flame within her flared into a brush fire, growing with praise and warming her body with pleasure. The girl sees light at the corners of her vision, and her heart sings these three words to her, “Write. More. Stories.”

I have to write more stories, the girl thinks, and with this thought, she creates the foundation of her life’s mission, her calling, her raison d’être, completely unaware of both the bright and very dark places it will take her.

But of course she pays no attention to these things. She simply wants others to keep praising her for her stories.

The school day ends, and as soon as she jumps into the front passenger seat of her father’s car, she tells him the amazing news. He’s happy and hugs her, giving her the praise she seeks. At home, she shows off her story to her mother and a visiting cousin. They all like it and pat her shoulder and head, telling her it’s very good. The girl falls happily asleep to thoughts about detective rabbits and the new stories she wants to write.

However, as the days pass one after the other, emptiness unlike any other pierces her heart and soul. Darkness seeps out from her chest and casts a veil over her world. The young girl learns that this darkness can only be chased her away when she reads, but foremost, when she writes. Reading and writing plugs the hole created in her chest, and so she reads and writes like the devil is at her heels.

Each new world she falls into by writing or reading, creates a wider and wider hole, expanding almost infinitely. It swallows her whole world, and sets the stones to a path with room for only one traveler. The young girl tumbles awkwardly into her early teens, and experiences an inexplicable sadness, taking the shape of loneliness.

Maybe this loneliness has more to do with her new school in the suburbs of Boston. Once greeted by a familiar sea of faces of her old Catholic school, she now sees only strangers in the large halls of a public school. She walks down the corridors with her eyes fixed on her sneakers, wishing to disappear, wishing to escape all of these people.

When speaking, her words seem to always stay stuck in her throat, and when they do manage to come out, they fall on top of each other in a jumbled mess, making little meaning to the listener. Writing is so much easier than speaking, and she decides to stay quiet for most of the time. She imagines a world where people have to communicate only through text, and with a small smile, she thinks how wonderful her life would be if it were reality.

Her only solace is the school’s library. At least the librarian is nice since she visits so often. The girl sits cross-legged between the stacks, reading fiction, both old and new. An ache gnaws at the back of her mind once she finishes a satisfying book. She slams it shut with a deep sigh.

How can I write like this author? How can I make magic like this? I want to know. I want to know.

She looks at the cover of her book, mind still thinking about writing. The book cover features a pretty white girl. Most of the stories she has read featured white boys and girls going off to amazing adventures, saving worlds, overcoming hardships, experiencing loss and pain, growing up, and reveling in triumph. She sees this in the cartoons she enjoys as well. There are little to no characters that look like her, no Black girls saving the world.

An idea hits her and the girl jumps to her feet in excitement. The great hole and darkness in her life evaporates for one amazing instant. Light fills her vision again, and her feet skip with anticipation. She eyes the time on her watch, willing it to become 2:10pm, the end of classes, as soon as possible. On her way home, she taps her fingers on her bouncing knees.

Why didn’t she do this before? Why did she wait so long?

Her dinner disappears into her stomach without effort, confusing her parents. She rushes through her homework, annoyed at it for interfering with what she believes is the most important thing right now. The only thing that matters.

With her assignments finished, the girl sits down at a desk with a newly purchased desktop computer. She searches for a blank diskette with 2MB of memory and slides it into the mouth of the black computer tower. Her hand falls on the curving mouse, and she opens a new Microsoft Word document. The blinking cursor is a wand awaiting her creative power.

The girl begins to type about three girls who share different parts of her such as her face, color, personality, and quirks, along with characteristics she wished she had like bravery and gusto. These three girls are sisters, and they have to discover their true identity so they can save the world.

She works on her book every day after school, and it grows. The three sisters become real. The girl lives in the world she creates for them. She talks out their conversations. She puts them in great danger. They laugh. They cry. They fight battles, but they are the most powerful when they fight together.

The girl finishes the book and works on a title. The Fusion Girls. No, the Elementals. No, Daughters of Destiny. No, Destiny’s Trials. Wait, Trials of Destiny. She shrugs at the possible names and reads her book.

At the end, she itches to share this amazing story with as many people as possible. She remembers how happy she felt when she wrote that story back in third grade and how everyone liked it. She wrote more stories in the fourth and fifth grade, and her classmates enjoyed those too. She felt powerful then. Needed. Important. Not like the invisible girl she is at school now.

The girl decides she should publish her novel.

She is thirteen years old.

~~~

The young woman sits at the desk in her room, staring at her Dell laptop, stuck on what she should write for her college’s admissions essay. The pressure to get into a good college and become a medical doctor threatens to snap her in half. Her grades are good, she’s currently ranked fifth in her class of about 200, and she’s taken nearly all of the AP courses offered at her high school.  Even with all of her accomplishments, doubt stirs fear in her heart about whether she’ll get into her top school.

She has little time to show love to her writing these days. She rewrote her science-fiction novel about the three sisters several times now, but she’s never satisfied with the finished product. Something is always missing. The story doesn’t say everything she wants to say. Her writing feels substandard and is nowhere like the greats she reads every day.

Annoyed with her slow pace in becoming a better writer, the young woman finds editing her book to be a chore and prefers to journal her thoughts instead. And yet, even with these frustrations, she dreams of becoming a published author. The dream haunts her days and nights, never letting her go.

The highlight of her high school career was in tenth grade when her English teacher praised her for her short story. She’ll never forget the words her teacher said after handing her the stapled papers with a red A+ in the front, “Never stop writing. You should never stop writing.”

The young woman sighs and drops her head over her folded arms. Am I really a good writer?

The path to publication is pretty competitive and scary. She researched what it took to get her book out to the masses. What if people don’t want to read her story? What if her story isn’t competitive enough to stand out in the countless grains of sands that make up all the other writers?

Thinking about publication discourages her, weighing down her shoulders as if two-ton weights rested on top of them. She counts the number of times the courser blinks against the blank document.

What should I write my college essay about?

Writing, of course.

The answer is so simple, and she bolts straight up in her chair, the gears in her creative mind cranking up and turning. Her entire life is writing: making up stories, wanting to move people with her words, and struggling to get it out there for more to read and experience.

Writing helped her survive high school, the heated arguments with her father, the insecurities built up from her family, society, and herself, crushing her insides and self-esteem. Without writing, she wouldn’t know how to release isolation’s sting or relieve the pain from feeling different all the time, being an outsider in a world that pretended to accept her and her skin.

She finishes her essay in an hour, satisfied at the end product. She prints it out for her English teacher to read and edit. Feeling inspired, she opens her book’s document and works on finishing up a revised chapter. Things are okay for now.

~~~

The young woman sits in the basement of her top college’s library. Chemistry books, handouts, and class notes are sprawled over her desk. She sinks into her extra large hoodie that she bought for more than fifty dollars at the school’s bookstore. Her knees are up against her chest, and her heavy eyes blink away sleep’s tug. It’s almost two in the morning. The library will close soon, but she doesn’t budge.

She has her third General Chemistry II test this Friday. She sighs for the millionth time, thinking how she really needs to ace this one. She failed her last two exams. Her lab and homework grades keep her slightly above a D average for the class. She stares into the page of her Chemistry book, hurting her head with the Acid-Base problem in front of her. The letters and symbols swirl and become blurry. Tears fall, and she wipes her tears away with the sleeve of her hoodie.

Why am I studying this? What am I even doing here?

The students at her college look smarter and more capable than she is. Her science teachers hand out tests that make her want to pluck out every hair in her eyebrows. And her social life is barely breathing.

Forget romance. She has yet to go on a single date. People scare her, turning her insecurities about her face, weight, hair, intelligence, and self-worth into seemingly unbeatable monsters. She always seeks refuge in the library and her room. Although she’s a third year college student, she’s never had a roommate, and doesn’t want one.

It’s a struggle to even eat in the dining halls because she usually sits alone, and this aggravates her loneliness. She feels completely helpless in the manner and doesn’t believe she’ll ever have a tight group of friends like the other students milling about, laughing with their heads tilted back.

If it weren’t for her English and American Studies classes, the young woman is sure she would have dropped out college already, or lost her mind. Although she has little time to write and read what she wants, she finds strength and meaning in written words.

Her awe of great writers has only grown with exposure to more complex and mind-opening literature from authors across different races, classes, and nationalities. College has challenged her politics and internal prejudices, and helped unravel the systematic wrongs stemming from racism, classism, and sexism. Her world has expanded, and passion for rectifying the injustices imposed against marginalized groups consumes her as much as her desire to write.

With her admiration for elevated and socially conscious reading came more admonition toward her own writing. She feels more behind in her craft than ever before. How can she put together words to move people to act and make the world a better place for those suffering under unjust systems? How can she pierce the soul the way Morrison or Wright did? Or expose inequalities the way Kozol did? Or inspire action the way the many revolutionary authors and visionaries she read inspired action within her.

Her former and current English professors have told her she’s a good writer.

Why can’t I believe them? What is stopping me from believing them? She stares down at her chemistry book and wants to hurl it across the room. She doesn’t want to be a doctor. Physical healing is not her calling. She contemplated once about being a geneticist and doing research at some big name school. Or maybe working as researcher for a big biotech company.

However, all of these career paths stem from a desire to please her parents. Her parents have worked too hard and sacrificed too much for her to throw it all away for pursuits of passion: writing and social change. She leans back into her chair and sighs, wishing she only majored in English instead of English and Biology.

She says it again to herself: I don’t want to be a doctor. I want to be…a writer? She laughs bitterly. No, I can’t do that. I should just get a PhD in something important to me like sociology or education.

The young woman collects her books and papers and walks out of the library just as the attendants are locking up. With two books tucked under her arm, she lugs her heavy bag across the campus to her dorm room and thinks about her future. The darkness outside can’t touch the darkness from her depression.

Her mind wanders to her unpublished book about the three sisters. The novel has changed dramatically from when she first wrote it. The young woman lost count of the number of rewrites she has done now. There are times when she wants to give up on the book and forget the story forever.

“Why am I still writing this ridiculous book? There are more important things to write,” she says aloud.

“Because you want to fulfill the wish of your thirteen-year-old self. She’s waiting for the book to be published,” she answers.

A ghost of her at thirteen stands across from her and smiles. “Don’t stop writing. Please, finish the story.”

The young woman stands in the middle of the field and with her head bowed, she cries.

Is it Wrong to Follow Your Passion?

“Define success in your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” – Anne Sweeney

Graduations evoke a myriad of emotions such as joy, relief, pride, triumph, completion, and anticipation for the next phase in life. Thousands of fresh bloods are and will be listening to speeches inspiring and encouraging them to make the world a better place, to build something of value, or to be aware of their true selves and that of the people around them and beyond among many other pieces of counsel.

Counsel is needed because real world out there isn’t a pretty place, a truth that can sometimes be forgotten in the insular walls of academia. Our world is a tough, ugly reality where dishonest and ruthless people prey on the vulnerable and amass exorbitant riches by stepping on the necks of the exploited and oppressed, using their backs as stairs for selfish and greedy ambition. It’s a world where we continue to be deaf to the cries of those in the desert advocating for our environment, the poor, the abused, the conquered, and the violated. It’s a world with much darkness, but also with countless potential for light if we look carefully enough.

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“There is a crack in everything.That’s how the light gets in.” ― Leonard Cohen

Sooner or later in this life, for those of us who are lucky enough to have options, we have to make a choice about the kind of life we wish to live on this Earth. Will we be the bolts keeping the Machine alive and running as we live from paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet? Will we pursue lucrative careers to be financially set and secure for the rest of our days and maybe even until our grandchildren’s days? Or will we be different and be among the few who make the bold, oftentimes risky decision to forgo the status quo and societal conventions to pursue our passions?

Pursuing a passion is serious business. It’s not a romance or a fantasy of instantly making millions or living a blissful life on a private island somewhere in the Pacific. Passion involves deeply strong feelings, brutal honesty, fire, sweat, grit, and a whole lot of work, along with shouldering the ridicule and doubt that may come from family, friends, and yes, even from ourselves.

So, is it wrong to follow after our passion and let it lead our lives? Here are four questions to help us get closer to the answer.

  1. Am I willing to endure suffering for a period of time for my passion?

First of all, what is passion? The Merriam Webster dictionary describes it as a strong feeling or excitement for something or about doing something. The word passion originates from the Latin word passio, meaning suffering, along with the Latin word pati, meaning to suffer.

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Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. — Helen Keller

When we’ve made the choice to pursue our passion, it’s guaranteed we will endure discomfort of varying degrees in more ways than one whether it’s emotional, physical, or financial. Our relationships might also hurt if we’re surrounded by loved ones and mentors who don’t support our decisions to pursue our passions because in their eyes our pursuits appear misguided, risky, or, every critic’s favorite word, unrealistic.

How many times have I heard that one and its other variations?

Get your head out of the clouds

Come down to earth.

Put your feet on the ground.

Countless times, but I’m receiving a lot less of these sayings lately because it’s become apparent to the people close to me that I’m not giving up on doing what I love and can never let go of despite failing on numerous occasions: writing.

If we make an honest self-evaluation of ourselves and realize we’re not made to endure any particular type of suffering for a period of time, which could be long or short term depending on a lot of factors like our mindset or work ethic, then pursuing our passion may not be the best way to go in our lives.

  1. Do I have a strong purpose guiding my life?
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“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” ― Gautama Buddha

Moving away from cold dictionary definitions, passion has other meanings, especially when it’s intertwined with business, art, technology, social work, or any other endeavor stirring within a person’s mind. I like John Hagel’s description of passion as a force orienting us in a specific direction, giving us focus. Suzanne Fetting describes it as the alignment of our actions with our authentic selves. I say passion is obsession—a crazy energy within us desperately needing to manifest itself through our work, or else it will consume us. The source of this energy is one’s purpose.

Some use this energy from an early start, others get to it later, but it’s definitely within each person whether awake or dormant. Where does this purpose come from? From knowing the authentic self. What is the authentic self? It is awareness of the thoughts occupying our minds most of the time, the ideas making us excited about life and its potential, and the vision we have for how the world could be if we had all the resources available at our disposal. It’s filtering out the voices of our parents, family, friends, teachers, experts, and society until we’re left with the kernels of our own voices, our own desires, hopes, and dreams. It’s knowledge of who we really are when we’re alone.

By understanding our authentic selves, we can tailor our purpose precisely to our passions. Celestine Chua provides a series of questions worth answering if we’re serious about understanding who we are.

If we’re thinking about pursuing our passions without a clear idea of who we are, or if we’re unwilling to do the work of self-introspection, then we might as well be signing up for a journey of wasted hours and endless frustration.

  1. Am I willing to put faith and trust into the unknown?
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“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Some people get stuck on evidence, and won’t invest in anything unless they can see real results right away. This makes perfect sense. Who wants to waste money, time, and energy on a project yielding little to no real results? It’s one of the reasons why many of us work for reliable jobs that give us paychecks: real money dispensed into our accounts at specific times. This is comfort. This is security. This is stability. Therefore, it’s easy to believe in what is known and predictable. All power to people who desire predictable lives. No judgment here whatsoever. One of my favorite sayings is you do you.

However…

Following our passion is the opposite of this. If our passion is to create something that will change the world, how the world thinks or uses something, or how the world consumes knowledge or entertainment, or offer the world new stories, art, technology, or give whatever it is we have cooking up in our minds to benefit people, AND make a living from it, then we must embrace uncertainty and have faith.

We don’t know how it will happen; we just believe it will happen. We have faith in ourselves and in the universe to deliver whatever is we want to see happen, all while working on hard on our endeavors, of course.

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“You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.” ― Tom Hiddleston

If we’re unable to trust in the unknown and believe that things will end up being more than okay, then we should look to other more predictable and safe paths.

  1. Does perseverance flow in my blood?
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“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

More than in any other time, our present world pays homage to instant gratification and access. The precipitous rise of technology continues to cut down the time for receiving items and getting services done. Who has time to wait anymore? With our phones already becoming extensions of our bodies, we have quick access to anyone and anything, and get upset over simple things like late text replies.

Patience, persistence, and perseverance are dying, and experts are concerned that school children are lacking grit. These three Ps must make up the internal vocabulary of any soul pursuing a passion. Passion cannot live without perseverance; I’d go as far to say that passion doesn’t exist without perseverance. When pursuing passions, we’re in it for the long haul and patience grows and becomes a fiber of our being.

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“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” ― Ovid

That’s not to say we keep doing the same things over and over with no results forever and ever. No, because we are passionate, we are willing to learn from mistakes and others and change courses to get to our destinations and beyond. Hagel describes this type of passion as the passion of the explorers. People with this sort of passion are not focused on the particulars of how something will be done, but rather the big picture, knowing many paths exist toward the vision in their minds.

If we can’t imagine ourselves sticking to something for the long-term and developing the mental fortitude it takes to keep at our passion while ignoring side-eyes and whispers from people who think you’re crazy or obsessed, then we should opt for a career where patience and perseverance can take a seat.

Following your passion is a serious decision.

Many times we hear people throw out expressions like “Follow your heart!” or “Do something you’re passionate about!” or “Go after your dreams!”

To the naïve mind, these phrases sound sweet and enticing, possibly conjuring up images of an easy life without much work. ‘Easy’ is a foreign word to those following their passions. Short-cuts, cheat codes, and other quick schemes to produce the fruits of passion almost always lead to disappointments, lost, frustrations, and desires to give up right away.

This isn’t meant to turn people away from going after what makes their hearts sing early in the morning. We need an honest picture from time to time of how life is before we make a big decision affecting our lives in so many different ways.

I will end with this, however. You’ll never know until you try.

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.” ― John Greenleaf Whittier
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” ― John Greenleaf Whittier

How about you? What other questions should we ask before we decide to follow our passion? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Stay amazing,

Sammy

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Be sure to look out for my e-book, The Passionate Dreamer’s Notebook: For Those Who Refuse to Quit, coming out soon!