LSR #7: Pursuing Passion

pas·sion/ˈpaSHən/ Strong and barely controllable emotion. N.

—Dictionary.com

Before I transitioned from acting/modeling/writing to writing full-time, I felt like I was in a polygamist marriage of four in a house made for two. Once I filed for “divorce” (ex-nayed the first two), I hit what some might call…popularity. I called it turbulence.

The acting career I’d been neglecting, after months of angst over lost passion, ignited. I was in higher demand than I’d been in ages. What, were the thousands of other actress on strike??? I tried to ignore agents’ calls, but they kept coming. And the more I ignored, the more prevalent they became.

One day my theatrical rep called with a “huge” opportunity. “I know you’re thinking of ending your contract,” he said, “but you’re a shoe-in for this. They asked for you specifically. Please, tell me you can make it… For me?”

Ugh! Wah! I don’t wanna!  “Sure, if it’s that important to you,” I said, shunning myself for caving in. I felt like a hypocritical brat.

Shortly thereafter, my commercial agent called:  “Hey, remember that yoga casting last month?” (Uh, the one I hoped I wouldn’t get?) “The client wants to check your availability for tomorrow.”

And so I surrendered to one more day of pounding the Hollywood pavement—a fit model job followed by a director’s meeting for a primetime show. I could put the modeling cash toward writing expenses, I rationalized. They said it shouldn’t take more than an hour. Maybe I’d write about an actress one day. Chalk the audition up to research. I even went so far as to meet with my acting coach to prepare.

The “short” modeling job went loong, landing me with a hefty parking ticket and audition tardiness. The time and money I’d spent preparing the three-page monologue in part-woman/part-alient dialect went down the tubes when a “star name” arrived at the studio. The casting director shrieked, hugged her and brought her in ahead of me. When I had my chance an hour later, I was ready to put all of my frustration into that monologue. (Take that!)

“Just give me the last two lines, Amber,” the CD instructed, barely looking up.

“It’s August,” I said.

“Huh?” she replied. “Oh, right. Go ahead, Autumn.”

Grrr…I considered improvising—something like: $%*($#(%*&*&(#*$&%($#*%&!!!! Instead, I recited the lines like a learning-to-read robot in need of a battery recharge and walked out, more certain than ever that my heart belonged with the page.

The whole ordeal felt a test from the universe, God, Buddha and Mother Earth combined, assessing whether I was really up for the career change.

So when my agent phoned with a call-back request—the CD must’ve been smoking crack—I declined. I felt terrible saying “no.” I respect and like the guy and he’d put energy and work into my career and this audition. But if I didn’t learn from my earlier choices, I’d learn soon. And my gut told me that the repercussions of repeat choices would be harsher.

The next day, when I could have been alien-ing it out at the call-back, I finished the first draft of my first novel. Tears filled my eyes as I typed the last word, confidant I’d made the right decision.

All goals and dreams require some amount of sacrifice. Prioritizing our passion can feel selfish, but it’s the farthest thing from it.

How would you feel if your favorite author never scripted her series because she chose to pursue a job she hated and spent all of her free time cleaning, partying or running errands for friends? What if Mozart, the Beatles or Elvis chose accounting careers because the arts seemed foolish?

We have a responsibility to nurture and prioritize our passions, particularly if we desire successful careers. 

Like the other Lifesaving Resolutions, pursuing our passions can help save or elongate our lives. Numerous studies have linked happiness and job satisfaction with boosted physical and emotional health. Researchers at the University College London found that happy people are 35 percent less likely to die within the next five years compared to their less giddy counterparts. Happy people are also more likely to eat well, keep up with physical and dental exams, practice gratitude and exercise.

“Generally, people flourish when they’re doing something they like and what they’re good at,” said Daniel H. Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” in an interview with the New York Times. Put another way, following our hearts and working our butts off lends itself to financial and overall success.

I’ve found this to be true time and time again. Within weeks of cutting ties with the acting and fashion worlds I had new writing clients. Six months later, I met my soon-to-be literary agent—during a time I would have been in Sweden, had I accepted a TV gig. And I’m far from a solitary case.

A few famous examples: Susie Orman started her career as a broke waitress. Walt Disney was an ambulance driver. Brad Pitt handed out flyers in a chicken suit. Robin Williams began as a street mime. And before her mystery writing success, Mary Higgins Clark was a single, full-time working mother of five. A common thread among these successful celebs is the desire, willingness and commitment to pursuing their passion.

Whether you’re passionate about writing, painting, dancing, singing, ping pong or marketing, I believe the following steps can help fuel your passion, increasing your odds of health, happiness and success.

Eight Ways to Pursue Your Passion with Gusto

1. Talk about it. Having a passion means we’re crazy-hyped up about something. Sharing it with others amplifies our excitement, motivating us to forge on. We gain and give ideas and plant our enthusiasm and commitment more firmly in our minds. And you never know where the conversation may lead. (Charlize Theron met her agent at a bank.)

2. Learn to say no. Before our passions become full-time careers, others may not take them seriously. But we should. When I write, I’m working. This means that, barring emergencies, I’m not available to tend to the neighbors’ cat (cute as she is), pick up the dry-cleaning (bare as the closet may be) or meet a friend on the opposite side of town for lunch (fun as it sounds).

3. Limit distraction. Phone calls, Facebook, Twitter and web surfing all have places in our lives and, in many ways, help our careers. But spending more time social networking and promoting and less time creating work we can promote is counterproductive. Commit to working in a work-friendly, distraction-free environment whenever possible.

4. Congregate with passionate people. Passion is contagious! Spending time with other passionate folks boosts our morale, inspires passion-geared conversations and makes for an overall better existence. Conferences, aerobics classes, upbeat church services, Twitter #MyWANA conversations (for writers) and motivational speaker events are great places to start.

5. Don’t let others—or you—get you down. Negativity is also contagious. Passion and success can stir up envy, harsh criticism and greed in others. These aren’t the people we best hang out with or listen to. Our own fears and insecurities can function similarly. Keep a distance from negative influences. If it’s you, consider an attitude makeover or “check up from the neck up.” 😉 Talk to supportive friends and keep moving forward. Eventually, your emotions will catch up with your proactivity.

6. Study others’ success. As soon as I started writing my first novel, I purchased and read How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words. While I wasn’t sure how my own path would pan out, reading others’ tales inspired me on multiple levels. We can learn oodles from our successful forefathers/mothers.

7. Give back. Having passion generally means we have something to give—our energy, knowledge, talents… Volunteer to share your talents with others. Support the work of others with similar passions. When it comes to social media, sharing of ourselves and supporting others are the BEST ways to go. To learn more, visit best-selling author/social media guru Kristen Lamb’s fantastic post: Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books.

8. Just do it. Suddenly quitting one job to pursue a passionate alternative isn’t always realistic, easy or wise. But whether your passions fall into the brand-spanking-new or hobby categories or you’ve been plugging away at or resisting them for years, action is necessary and doable, as in right now, today.

More rockin’ resources:
The Year to Slay Your Dragon: Ingrid Shaffenburg inspires us to get rid of heavy breathing “dragons” and dream big.
2012 and Planning for Success in the New YearKristen Lamb provides practical tips and inspiration for goal setting and seeking.
Gene Lempp’s Goals and Gremlins, posted on Lyn Midnight’s blog, reminds us to share our goals and allow some wiggle room.
Entrepreneur magazine: Steve Jobs and the Seven Rules of Success, by Carmine Gallo
Oprah.com: What to do if You Can’t Find Your Passion, by Elizabeth Gilbert

What do you do to empower to your passion? What additional steps are you willing to commit to? Any areas you struggle with? I’d love to cheer you on.

Speaking of PASSION, this Friday, I’ll be cheering talented bloggers on as part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest. If you’d like to participate by sharing a story or donating a prize, click here. To participate as a cheerleader and have a blast, visit my blog Friday. You just might win a Kindle/$99 Amazon.com gift card or other fab prizes! 🙂

LSR #5: Groovy Moving

Of the countless available writing guidelines, I believe that one applies to all of us. We hafta write. Sure, we might daydream up some doozies of stories, but without sitting our butts down to the page consistently, the world’s greatest tales might never take flight. A sedentary writing lifestyle leads to one thing: creative atrophy. (Ah… You see where I’m going with this. ;)) Welcome to Lifesaving Resolution #5.

As writers, failure to care for our bodies is like a big time business exec building his or her office out of rotted wood. (What good are our minds if the casing wears out?)

Inactivity runs so rampant in the U.S., researchers have coined the term sedentary death syndrome (SDS): an expanding list of medical conditions exacerbated by a lack of physical activity that causes premature disability and death in millions of Americans each year. The less we move, the greater our chances become for developing arthritis, obesity, breathing problems, depression, gallstones, hypertension, osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, colon cancer, memory loss and sudden death.

WOW. That was happy! Why don’t we all pause to do a few jumping jacks?

Yes, the stats are depressing. But I’m guessing they’re not exactly news to most of you. You probably also know the common reasons exercise gets missed—too little time, exhaustion, lack of motivation, strong-hold habits, pain or difficulty, allergic reactions to sweat… (That last one might be emotional. ;)) Here’s the irony: regular physical activity can improve or rectify these hurdles and guard against SDS—once we’re on track.

Groovy Moving Guidelines

Getting and staying fit isn’t as hard, boring or horrible as it seems. (I’m not speaking of the Svens in the room!) With experience at all parts of the exercise spectrum personally and professionally, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. If a girl who wrote papers to get out gym class can do it, so can you. 😉

1. Set realistic, positive goals. Signing up for a marathon when you haven’t run since high school is like aiming to churn out a novel per month. It may seem like a fantastic goal, but for most of us, it’s a setup for failure. And fixating on weight or calories is a bit like striving toward a specific word count, rather than your best quality work. Realistic goals promote steady, gradual change. They also support your wellness and happiness.

2. Consider your motivation. You know how important it is for our main characters to have intense motivation? The same applies to physical fitness. How boring would “Silence of the Lambs” be if Jodi Foster’s character met Hannibal Lector and said, “I’d stay and chat but I could really use a pedicure. Think I’ll hit up Google from the salon.” No. She has to WANT the information in his head as desperately as he wants to withhold it, taunt her and manipulate. We must feel moved, in order to more. Why do you want to exercise?

3. Apply your work style. Personality, worth ethic and overall style play an important role in fitness success. Are you a super independent writer? You may not need much handholding regarding fitness either. If you work best with an agent or mentor, seek the support of a personal trainer or fitness-savvy friend. Do you rely upon schedules and meticulous outlines? Apply similar techniques to your exercise routine. Bore easily and use your calendar for scratch paper? Try something new each week or month. Dig critique groups? Join an aerobics class or boot camp.

4. Savor the path. While there’s nothing wrong with envisioning your book at the airport shop or rolling in so much dough you use twenties as wallpaper, the real prize is the process. Losing ourselves in our stories. Experiencing them as they grow and change. Writing most every day because, even if we hit a rough patch, we’d feel sad if we didn’t. Fitness is similar—or, at least, it should be.

By choosing activities we enjoy, seeking ways to add pleasure and focusing on the positives, fitness success isn’t about a finish line or simple calories in/calories out. It’s about cherishing our bodies, recognizing the miraculous work they do for us and dancing around in our boosted creativity, better sex lives, sounder sleep and kick-butt yippee-hoo moods. (Got your attention there, didn’t I? ;))

5. Rest. As with most things, too much exercise causes damage. Breaks and days off enhance our creative work, emotional well-being and physical fitness. Out tissues repair themselves and strengthen and we’re less likely to get bored. Unless you’re a professional athlete, exercising 60 minutes or longer seven days a week is generally considered excessive. (Getting enough good-quality sleep, water and nutritious food is also important.)

Groovy Moves for the Un-Athletically-Enthused

Walk your story. Ever have an epiphany smack in the middle of a workout? There’s a reason. Movement naturally boosts brain function. (More on this below.) The moment you feel stuck or your eyes feel computer-buggied-out, slip on your sneakers and go.

Walk your dog. One of my favorites! And according to a study featured in TIME magazine, dog walkers are more likely to reach their fitness goals versus their non-pooch-walker counterparts.

Sweatin’ to the Moldies: Okay, kind of gross. But the idea rocks IMHO. 😉 Actively cleaning your house is exercise! In other words, you need not make like a hamster at the gym. Pump tunes if you like, preferably with a peppy beat. Wear workout attire. (This is also an awesome time to contemplate your WIP.)

TV Triathalon: Pick a show, any show. Choose three activities you can do on the spot, such as crunches, lunges and jumping jacks. Each time the program moves to a commercial, switch to another activity.

Play! I still love swinging on the big metal and rubber swings at parks. Play with your kids, your nieces and nephews, your best friend, your spouse. Throw a football or frisbee. Remember, the key is finding something you enjoy and doing it.

For more information, check out these fabulous links:

Research Journal: Effects of Exercise on Cognitive Potential: Immediate and Residual Results (2005) That’s right, folks! Exercise immediately increases brain sharpness and creativity. Nothing kicks “writer’s block” like a little tae bo…

MayoClinic.com: Seven Benefits of Regular Physical Activity

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Key Fitness Guidelines for Active Adults

Dr. Weil: Making Aerobic Exercise Simple and Fun

Dr. Oz Show: 10-Minute Exercise Ideas

Gary W. Small, MD: Keep Walking to Stay Mentally Sharp (via JaneFonda.com)

Jenny Hansen: Fear of the Week: Hot Yoga Might Kill Me. While not a fan of sweaty yoga myself, I highly condone the kind of laughter Jenny inspires. 😉

What groovy moving tip resonates with you? Any you’d like to add? Challenges or goals we can support you toward? If leading a healthy lifestyle helps you feel beautiful, visit The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest—just 9 days away! Spread the word or enter as a blogger for a chance at a Kindle and more…

LSR #4: Trusting Your Instincts

“The solution to violence in America is the acceptance of reality.”
― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence


I first read The Gift of Fear after flowers arrived at my door from a man I could barely call an acquaintance. The enclosed card had a sentimental message and his phone number. Once I realized who the guy was, I felt an odd mix of emotions. Not only did I have a boyfriend at the time, the sender shouldn’t have known where I lived. I considered calling him to say, “Gosh, thanks, but…” (Ever heard the term Minnesota Nice? ;))

According to de Becker, a world-renowned expert on the prediction and management of violence, that’s the last thing I should have done, next to asking the guy out or proposing. The Gift of Fear taught me not only how to respond, but how lucky I’d been numerous times before—one time in particular.

A Close Call

I was living in midtown Manhattan and had just finished a long work day on the lower East side. I stepped onto the subway, eager to return to my apartment and swap my dress for sweats. My thoughts drifted miles away as the train prodded forward. Then I felt it: Eyes. Staring. Burning into my face like molten cigarettes.

It’s nothing, I told myself, then glanced up to see a man at the opposite end of the train car, his steely stare on me. He’s probably as spaced out as I am, I decided, though my insides quivered and chills coated my skin. One-thousand percent uncomfortable with our eye-lock, I looked away and shuffled my position to block his view. Soon, I was back in daydream oblivion.

After transferring trains twice, per my usual route, I exited and walked three blocks to my building. Once inside, I beelined for the elevator.

“Hey!” The security guard’s booming voice jolted me.

I spun around and nearly ran into the man from the subway. Had the guard not intervened, he would’ve entered the elevator with me. The sneak and I—alone in a locked, metal cube. Instead, he lost his wrestling match with the guard and landed back on the street.

This incident resurfaced again and again as I read The Gift of Fear. Had something worse resulted, I would have blamed the creepy dude—it’s never the victim’s fault, after all. But ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ matter little when our lives and safety are at stake.

“Intuition is always right in at least two important ways,” says de Becker. “It is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart.”

My intuition kicked in that night. But rather than trust my fears, I talked myself out of them.

Instincts versus Intuition

Instincts are “natural or inherent aptitudes, impulses, or capacities,” according to Merriam-Webster. Unlike animals, who act upon their instincts with ease, we humans often reason ourselves out of responding. (I have no good reason to think he/she’s harmful. I’m just paranoid. I’ve watched too many Lifetime movies…) Intuition is the ability to understand something right away, without the need for conscious reasoning. (I just know it’s the right multiple choice answer; I can feel it.) 

And although instincts and intuition can seem like supernatural silliness, they’re extremely scientific.

As we accumulate knowledge, our brains create what social scientist Herbert Simon PhD called chunks. Gradually, our brains link these chunks together and begins recognizing patterns—an act called “chunking.” When we observe familiar details, our brains see a larger composition—flashes we know as instincts or intuition.

Psychologist, David Myers PhD, author of Intuition, puts it another way. He says, “Gut instincts are mental shortcuts used to make a snap judgment based on experience and environment.”

And while we don’t need to know all of the details, why those gut feelings kick in, observing, respecting and responding to them can help save our lives.

Note: Since this post is part of my Lifesaving Resolutions series, I’m focusing on personal safety. But keep in mind that our instincts play an important role in everything from our book writing and publishing success to making wise purchases and dating decisions.

Steps Toward Trusting Your Instincts to Save Your Life

Purchase and read The Gift of Fear, if you haven’t. If you have, I suggest routine review—something I’m in the midst of doing.

Limit distractions when you’re alone in public, whether you’re walking to your car, jogging at the park or getting the mail. (Cell phones and iPods can make your inner voice inaudible. Or make it sound more like Beyoncé.)

If you sense that someone’s following you, de Becker suggests you turn and look them in the eyes. Then take mental notes on their appearance. Note their apparel, body size, ethnicity and age. Yelling the details of an impending attacker’s appearance can help by revealing your preparedness, etching the details into your mind and notifying others.

If someone creeps you out, chuck niceness out the window. In The Gift of Fear, de Becker makes a great point on this: A rational person will understand and not press if you turn them down for, say, a date. An irrational person, on the other hand, wants the attention—even negative. From “Wow, I really like you but I’m super busy right now,” the irrational person perceives that you’re into them, fixates only on the word “like.” And calling them up, even to say, “Leave me alone,” can be perceived as welcomed attention.

Never let a captor take you to a second location, even if he/she threatens you. Your chance of severe assault and injuries are far greater in a second location, such as the person’s home or car. And your chance of rescue drops significantly. To view police sergeant Sanford Strong’s insight on the tactic, check out Life-Saving Advice from the Oprah Winfrey Show. (Fab stuff!)

Use intuition as one, but not your only, tool. Instincts and intuition won’t pull out your mace and spray an offender, but they may prompt you to pull it out of your pocket. Keeping yourself out of high-risk places and situations, such as grocery store parking lots and public restrooms in the wee hours of the morning, lowers your risk of needing to rely on your instincts in the first place. In other words, listen to your “gut,” then guide with logic.

Super Safety-Savvy Resources

How do you think I responded to Flower Man? The first person to guess right will get a brand spankin’ new copy of The Gift of Fear. 🙂 Has following your instincts kept you out of harm’s way? Have you learned these lessons the hard way? Any thoughts on The Gift of Fear? I love hearing from you!
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