What drives me – what can’t I stop doing?

Every few months I seem to need to reset my creative goals. It is hard to stay on track even when I am not working outside the house. When I was working full time I was sure this slipping and lack of follow through was due to just to much to get done. There was little energy left once I took care of family – food, kids, household tasks and work – lesson plans, grading, etc. So I thought my lack of follow through was natural. The garden did not get the full attention it needed. My artist endeavors did not either. So the writing, drawing, painting and quilting were always in process but never finished.

Some 40 years later my professional work life has ended, my children are grown and off on their own. So I have little reason to not see more progress on these artistic tasks. They sit staring at me. Teasing me to get something done. I work in spurts. Last spring I was really moving on getting my quilt finished and then summer arrived. The flowers and veggies took over so I shifted leaving the quilt to sit in the corner once again undone. My drawing and painting sit spread out over my desk ready at a moments notice to be picked up and pushed along its way. This fall as the flowers and veggie beds closed up for the winter I found moments on rainy Saturdays or Sundays to practice drawing flowers again. Painting a few plants in the new journal I had started earlier. But never getting very far. Never really becoming good and having a product of quality since there were long stretches of time between the times I worked on these endeavors.

All this thinking came about because of a journal prompt that popped up this week from The Isolation Journals blog (https://www.suleikajaouad.com/the-isolation-journals). A web site and blog developed by Seulika Jaouade. Seulika is the author of the NYT column titled Life Interrupted and a new book call Between two Kingdoms: a Memoir of a Life Interrupted. (I have not read it yet but looks to be worth a read – but that is for another blog post)

Post #118 was titled The Thing I Can’t Stop Doing. The prompt had us reflect back to when we were 15. Here is the prompt –

“What was your 15-year-old self doing that you couldn’t stop doing? Drawing? Writing? Running? And what did it give you then? What could it give you now?
Write about what drives you—not what you get paid for, not what others want you to do. Write about the thing you can’t stop doing.”

This prompt looks to the heart of what drives you or what is your passion. When I think back to that time long, long ago I was doing exactly as I am now – my hands, heart and mind were/are into way to many things. I was working with plants a little. I was refinished furniture and weaving seats for chairs a little. I was sewing clothes a little. I was drawing a little. I was biking a little. I was hiking a little and learning and hunting after wild plants a little.

As it appears I was as unfocused then as I am now. There are threads that remain and connect – interest in plants, being outside in nature, drawing (although I am not good at it), doing things with my hands and being active.

I was never the kid that found one passion and dove into it with all its glory and intensity. I never road my bike for miles and entered races (although I have to say there were no bike races for woman in the 1960’s that I knew of in middle America)

I was not the kid who learned to sew and then made clothes to sell and design. I gardened when land was available which was a few months here and there but mostly not something I had since I was a city kid. I longed for the land of the family farm in Southern Iowa but also knew living in small town Iowa was not going to make me a happy camper.

So I come to the question – What does this give me now? After a life of dipping my fingers into all kinds of activities and learning a little about a whole lot of things where do I stand now. It was great as an elementary teachers I had skills and information to start kids off on great journey’s of learning. But what does it give me?

I have a huge amount of little bits of skills. All this can get shared with my grandchild as he grows for sure. But I am also now looking to what it gives me as an aging adult with more open time and a need to engage in life in a new way. How does this fill in my life and soul as my life narrows with age and with the current life we are living during a pandemic.

Maybe the question for me is not what it will give me now but how do I move from this scattered adventure of learning in tiny bits to develop a deep passion in one area? How do I move to a focus of one area when my brain and hands want to go in twenty different directions all the time. (this may be the remains of a hyper-active person learning how to focus in their late 60’s)

What is it that lead or leads people to develop a great passion where they dive deeply into a something? What drives that type of focused learning and work?

How do we establish that within yourself? How is passion developed?

I did a bit of snooping on the internet today and discovered a lot of people have asked this question. I found that there are different answers but they seems to come down to this:

One you create your passion it is not just there. I like the analogy that you are not a milk carton that you pour passion out of you like milk. You need to take action. Passion is about creating. You start with one small step and it builds over time.

 Two you need feedback. Both automatic feedback that you can measure so you know you are moving forward. Feedback like the number of miles walked or ridden on your bike. The number of drawings you have done or the hours you have practiced. Also feedback that you don’t control. Feedback like you realize your muscles are getting stronger as you bike, the speed or distance in your walking or that it is getting easier for you. It might be you can see the change in the quality of the drawing you are doing.

Three is praise. People need to give themselves a pat on the back for what they are working on. Just the act of working toward something is worth praise. Also accepting positive comments from those around you helps.

This leads to number four – finding a community that share this interest. People to talk about it with, learn from and who not only are positive with you but can give you ideas and push back to help you grow or learn.

Five is about sticking with it. When you are working on something the fact that you are willing to keeping going even when it is hard. You get out on the bike because if feels good and you feel good even if it is cold, wet and your muscles hurt. You keep going. Or the drawings don’t look like the flower or image you had hoped so you try again instead of pitching the whole thing.

Six leads us to the time, the effort, the costs, the blood and sweat we choose to put into it. The work is not always positive energy – sometimes our passion lead to anger and hard work.  

Seven is being ok with what ever you have chosen to do and not worrying about what others think. You just know you want to keep doing it.

Eight comes down to the prompt we started with – you can’t stop doing it. It’s always with you. It is in your heart and thinking. Your mind does not switch off. You can’t turn it off or tone it down. You are always thinking about biking – that would be a great path to take, I could us that set of new pencils or the sunset would be perfect to draw. This endeavor stays with you always.

When you have walked through these steps over time and without thinking about creating passion you have found it. Passion shows up in the actions you have taken over time. Passion is really something you have created – a by product of hard work and putting one foot in front of the other.

When I look at creating passion then I begin to realize that maybe I am on my way. It is just that I have taken my time. My life time to be exact. I have in these last few years begun to pull together the steps that are leading me to something I love and care about deeply. It is just a more complete view of things – coming from many angles.

So as I spend some time think about my passion towards plants, nature and art and how to express that to others. What would you say to this prompt?

What could you not stop doing when you were 15? Are you doing it now? or like me are you taking your life time to develop a passion?

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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1 Response to What drives me – what can’t I stop doing?

  1. Ramona says:

    Lots to think about here. I’m in a group that has a mantra, never too late. And it reminds us that we can always develop new interests and passions. My fifteen year old self loved reading and baking. My sixty-five year old self still loves those things. And now I’ve added family history to the mix. It’s fun to look back over our lives and see what drives us. I like the idea that you create your passion and it’s never too late to do so.

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