Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Is My Passion? Outrunning Fear and Regret

Underneath the sculpture "Cloud Gate"  by Anish Kapoor at Millenium Park in Chicago.
The locals call it "the bean," as in "I'll wait for you at the bean." Our passions frequently
are as unfocused as our reflection under the sculpture.
What’s your passion?  How often do you get to surround yourself with the best of the best behind it?  How far do you go to pursue it?  This past weekend I took a step closer to my own when I flew to Chicago to attend the AWP Conference for writers and writing program directors.  (Of course, the actual traveling to the Windy City was not my passion if you read any of my tweets or Facebook posts from that fateful day.  It was an experience best never spoken of again.)

In this middle part of my life I’m changing courses, trying to return to the writing that had been such an essential part of my identity when I was young.  It got pushed to the periphery as more and more daily responsibilities claimed its space in my life.  One day the lid blew on the pressure cooker of adulthood and I pulled out a yellow legal pad and pen and started writing for survival.  It came in fits and starts because I had almost forgotten how to put one sentence after another on a page.

As I wrote, I read.  I started seeking out people who shared my rediscovered passion.  Yet something was missing because I hadn’t yet found that one thing that would push me to my A-game or focus my efforts.  Except for this blog, my writing stayed hidden because (if I’m being honest) not sharing it with the world meant I didn’t risk having it rejected.  No rain would ever fall on my parade if I didn’t leave my room.

Fear prevents many from mastering change in their lives or taking risks.  Joe Robinson, author of Don’t Miss Your Life, talks about this fear and its effects here.  We’re biologically conditioned since the days of the mastodons and saber-tooth tigers to live with fear as our default mode.  It’s that willingness to take risks, however, that turn us into explorers, inventors, and artists.  Or even simply to change our job or try waterskiing.  As Robinson points out “Fear is momentary; regrets are forever.”  We can pay for living with safety as a default mode with a life of boredom.

Embracing risk doesn’t mean we all need to thumb our noses at it by climbing Mt. McKinley next year.  For Robinson, even taking on a simmering passion like salsa dancing late in your life asks you to overcome fears, even if it is only the fear of looking foolish.  Last year, I wrote about how I was making a vow to open my arms wide to failure and gather it in.  With my writing, however, I stayed huddled in the back of my cave, hoping the wild beasts out there didn’t see me and eat me.

There’s an antidote to this fear.  According to Robinson, risk is about managing uncertainty.  The more you know about what you fear, the more prepared you are to take on this new challenge.  You don’t make your first race the Indianapolis 500.  What has scared you is no longer a threat as you learn more; it becomes an act of exploration and actually changes your memory of that fear.  “Each time you recall a memory and add or subtract from it, you are defanging the initial fear,” Robinson says.

So I took on my fear of actually calling myself a writer and leading a writing life.  When Annette Gendler, a writer and teacher of writing I had met through an online class, said, “Come to Chicago.  There will be lots of writers.  It will be good.”  I took her up on it. I put my money down and committed to wading through the waves of 8000 people I didn’t know to see what life was like among those who dared to call themselves “writers.”

I came, I saw, I was invigorated by the passion of all of these people following my same passion.  I met and talked to people who were where I want to be.  I began to understand the steps I needed to take to walk the writing path.  It was like reaching the top of my first mountain.  Robinson says of achieving an initial goal, “There's an extra incentive of bagging a ‘first,’ a distinction we can use to turn the discomfort of doing something new to its flip-side: excitement.”  He doesn’t tell us how to maintain the momentum, but it probably involves keeping alive this new memory of success rather than the older, more entrenched memory of fear.

And maybe each week I can ask myself what will be my “first” that week – my first submission, my first new piece I start writing that week, the first time I make it around the park on my bike without pushing it up any of the hills.  Salsa dancing or yoga may not be mountain climbing or hang gliding, but we’re all capable of outrunning fear and regret.  Notch a “first” on your belt before the month is out.

Did you start following a passion later in your life?  What was the trigger that made you get up off the couch and say “I’m going to do that”?  What “first” do you want to bag?  Share your fears and your risks and your passions in the comments box and get us fired up to do something new and exciting ourselves.

The Chicago skyline reflected in "the bean."  You can see my reflection, too, taking the photo.


Astra said...

Congratulations on your recent success in pursuing your passion! I'm sure your attendance at the conference will serve you well.

This post resonated well with me as I do have a full time career in a field other than writing. Writing is a passion which has developed only in recent years. However, I am taking my first big step and attending the Erma Bombeck Writers Conference in Ohio in April. Maybe next year - the one in Chicaco! May next year - a career change... who knows! the fear is still part of me for sure.

Great post!

Nadine Feldman said...

Great post as always, Julie. I'm so glad you're embracing your passion, because your writing brings me great pleasure!

I've moved to a small community with a high per capita concentration of writers. I've noticed a new level of fear as I actually meet people face to face to read my words. I'm used to hiding out behind my computer in the city and communicating online! This should be interesting...

I began writing when an illness temporarily took away my ability. It scared me that I wouldn't get another chance, so once I had some level of recovery I started writing and haven't stopped since...a painful lesson that has been my greatest blessing.

Julie Farrar said...

Astra - Erma Bombeck was always my mom's favorite. She would read her column to me as she ate breakfast, with tears running down her face from laughing. Writing humor is one of the hardest things. I know, because I try.

Nadine - That's what AWP did to me. People were standing in front of me wanting an answer to "What are you working on." I made a new friend there and on the last night we sat in a hotel room reading our words to each other. Scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Julie. I have to admit I was drawn in by "the Bean" since I am from Chicago. :) But as always, your posts give me something to think about. I remember going to my first writer's conference and being in awe of the talent around me in the presenters and attendees. I left that first conference feeling both overwhelmed and inspired.

Laura@Catharsis said...

Wonderful post. I am pursuing a passion - writing - even though it depends on who you ask with regard to whether or not I'm in the middle of my life. Thanks to blogging, I found a way to make my writing come to life last year. I had an audience other than just myself, which is key. Keep pursuing your passion, even if it requires journeys, like the one to Chicago, you'd rather avoid (I'm thinking of my own apprehension about flying and traveling as of late).

Liv Rancourt said...

The conference sounded like a great experience, Julie. And you just told the story of my life. Writing is a passion that I've discovered mid-stream, and in many ways it's the most satisfying thing I've ever done.

Julie Farrar said...

Thanks for all the great comments. Even if your passion is collecting buttons, if you do it to dig in to the history of fashion or everyday cultural trends or express your artistic side instead of simply to accumulate (like when my kids were hoarding happy meal toys), then it is something that you can take that step out into the realm of risk, i.e., trying to up your game.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic photos, Julie! And yeah, we all know about the fear of being perceived as foolish. That fear so often prevents us from trying new things, choosing new roads. I cheer for you that you were able to chuck it off, to free yourself of it. It’s a shackle. My grandma had a saying: “Better do and regret than not do and regret.” In any case, doing is much more interesting and makes for good memories.

monicastangledweb said...

Love this post. Yes, I am a late-bloomer, too. I discovered my passion for writing in high school, but it laid dormant for many years and I didn't rediscover it until August 2010, when I began my blog. I write nearly every waking hour when I'm not at work. Some people say to me, "Wow,you're so disciplined." I wonder, what are they talking about? I'm doing my bliss and, when passion is the drive, there's no need for discipline. I'm with Nike, which is why I "just do it." I need to get myself a license plate frame that says, "I'd rather be writing." ;)

Cora said...

That first picture of the bean is a real hook. Glad you are putting teeth into your new passion by going to a writers conference. Good luck and great post.

Ellen Gregory said...

I love attending writers conferences and conventions. So fabulous to hangout with like-minded people.

Stobby said...

Nice post. Speaking french has become my greatest passion and fear. It sounds stupid but despite taking several lessons and being surrounded by people that speak it, I SO don't like making grammatical mistakes.

I've said things like, 'I'm not interesting'...instead of 'I'm not interested' and 'I'm dead' instead of I'm finished'. It's not death defying but that wall of fear of haunts me ever time I open my mouth.

Danielle B said...

Hello Julie! What a wonderful post and I am so happy that you decided to follow your passion rather than live a safe life full of regrets. Your post struck a particular chord with me because I experienced almost exactly the same thing one year ago. I had bought into what everyone was telling me that I should be doing with my life and then I had a moment when I remembered my life-long passion for Ferrari and the promise that I had made to myself when I was a little girl to one day live near the Ferrari factory in Maranello. I decided that I could no longer live my life wondering what could have been. I quit my job, put my apartment up for sub-let and began a whole new life in a foreign country. I am having the best time and I have come to realise that the safe option is just an illusion. There is no such thing as safe because you never know what tomorrow will bring. From now on I will live each day as if it is my last and I will do everything that my heart desires!
It's nice to read that I am not the only one!


Julie Farrar said...

Oh, Danielle. I've come to know so many who have done just what you've done. I'm not sure I can take it that far because my French is crap (I make far worse mistakes than N. Scott) and would never be able to qualify for a French driver's license. That scares me more than, say, being taken to a foreign hospital with a heart attack. But one day I'll own property there and go whenever I feel like it.

Annette Gendler said...

I'm glad you made it to Chicago and the conference; it was nice to meet you in person. I love your first picture of the bean!

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