(I originally wrote this piece nine years ago and re-publish it each holiday season because of all the requests I receive. It seems a good time of year to look for the joy in our lives and find ways to show it to others on a daily basis. Sadly, our friend’s mom who was the inspiration for this article passed away several years ago, but her passion and memory lives on in my mind.)
Elaine Feder’s Smile
We sat in the dining room of a friend’s home, having just finished a delicious and filling Thanksgiving meal. My wife, our two sons and I had taken a road trip to Florida to visit friends with children the same age as ours, albeit girls. Our friend’s mom, Elaine Feder, a former dance instructor and now in her late 70s, sat across from me and it was she that asked the question, “What’s your joy?” One by one, we went around the table as she queried each of us, looking for an answer that came from our hearts.
For one of us, it was traveling and being able to help others go to the places she had been. Another told us reading was his passion—and taking naps (one with which I could strong identify!). Yet another loved woodworking and spending time in his shop creating things others would use and enjoy.
When she got to me, I answered, “My joy is my family and the time we spend together as I realize how, before we know it, our children will be grown and gone.” She responded that family should be a joy, but she probed deeper, wanting to know what lit my fire and what was it inside of me that sparked passion? I told her I loved to write and touch people’s hearts with the words I strung together to form the articles, stories and plays I create. I told her I also loved to teach about our industry and help others understand what a diverse and creative medium it is.
What this wise woman was hoping to do was to get me—and all of us around the table—thinking about what brought joy to our lives and how we could tap into it more often.
The sad part is that to survive in the work-a-day world, the majority of us have suppressed those things that make us passionate. Many have so repressed the things that bring them joy they can’t even tell you what really gets them fired up. In each of us though, no matter how deeply we’ve buried it, there is a passion that if brought to light and developed can not only make us happier as individuals but also bring joy to others as well.
Your work may be your passion, but chances are it is not. You may love to paint pictures, play an instrument, work in your garden or cook—and odds are you do this outside of your job. But why does this have to be?
I have a friend who is very good at sketching and has turned this love into a career by drawing people’s homes in pen and ink. She then sells these pictures to homeowners to frame for their walls, put on note cards, holiday cards and other things with the house prominently displayed. She loves what she does and is able to touch people’s hearts with the artistic gifts she’s been given.
So how do you go about finding your joy, your passion? Here are a few steps that may help:
- During some quiet time in your life, ask yourself what you consider fun? What do you get a kick out of doing? Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, says, “Imagine you’re at a party and you overhear someone talking about a subject that fascinates you, one that makes you want to join in the conversation. Ask yourself, what would that subject be?” Also, think back to your childhood and try to remember what you enjoyed doing back then. Chances are if you were passionate about something as a child, it’s probably something you can be passionate about as an adult as well.
- Determine your talents. Take a sheet of paper and brainstorm those things you enjoy doing and at which you’re good. We all have things we do that we enjoy and at which are skilled, but if you have trouble listing your gifts, ask those you trust what they think your best skills are. These might include sports, artistic endeavors, working with your hands or being mechanical.
- Find the significance in your current work. Stephen Covey, author of the bestseller The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, suggests asking yourself three questions:
1. Do I like what I’m doing?
2. Am I good at it?
3. Does the world need it?
If you’re passionate about something, but the world doesn’t need it, chances are you’ll eventually get frustrated. But if you’re really good at something, enjoy doing it and it’s something the world needs, what a chance to make a difference and earn a living at the same time. I truly believe we choose our career paths intuitively. If you can come to understand why you’re on the path you are, you’ll become empowered to make future choices to do the most good for yourself and the world around you.
Let’s face it, you’re going to spend tens of thousands of hours working during the course of your life, so why not spend that time doing something that will leave a positive imprint on those people and things you touch?
One of my passions is continuing education, and I agree with Oprah Winfrey who said, “Education is freedom.” As a result, I take classes on a regular basis to advance myself and had been working with Junior Achievement to teach business skills to 7th and 8th graders. These kids learn about science, math and social studies through a core curriculum, but business skills are something they may not learn until college, if then. I realize these kids won’t take what I teach them and become the next Bill Gates, Ted Turner or Fred Smith (founder of FedEx); but I pray I can reach just one in each class and touch something inside that one to help make a positive difference for the future. The key is I don’t know which of the kids I’ll reach, so I treat them all as though they are the one—and who knows, maybe one day I will reach them all!
What Brings You Joy?
Finding your joy and a way to share it with others, as your life’s work or a hobby, is an adventure that can bring bountiful rewards. To me, it’s what life is all about, the reason I’m here and why I wake up each day excited about the opportunities I’ll encounter. That’s not to say it’s always an easy adventure, but what in life that’s worthwhile is easy? Katherine Graham, owner and former publisher of the Washington Post, sums it up for me, “To love what you do and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”