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Personal Growth

If you read a lot of lifestyle blogs like I do, I’m sure you have come across the word “passion” a few times. We are encouraged to “follow our passion” or if we don’t know what it is, to “find our passion”. People with multiple interests are encouraged to merge their many passions into one over-arching mega passion, or be dextrous multi-passionate plate spinners.

The idea of following a passion has certainly caught on in the collective imagination, with many people are getting out of their comfort zones (or discomfort zones) and pursuing what they are passionate about. This is exciting stuff; its energising to think that one really can live a passionate life.

Having said that I’m more of your moderate, middle of the road kind of personality. I have things that interest and concern me, but I try to keep calm about it. I don’t generally describe myself as passionate about things because I’m not an exuberantly emotional person.

I have been looking through the job ads for casual and part-time work, and this is given me cause to question the marketability of my tranquil nature. I have seen a few jobs that I might be interested in, but then I come across this requirement:

Must be passionate about …..

Hmm. So if I want a job as a casual sales assistant in an office supplies store, I need to be passionate about stationery. Really?

Now I must confess I do like stationery. I have been known to get excited about a matching set of six well made highlighter pens in pretty colours. I do get it, that people like stationery. But its not one of my life’s passions.

It seems that employers are also attracted to the passion principle, and are seeking staff with a passion for their products. But I wonder if passion really is an essential criteria for a successful working arrangement. A declaration of passion seems like a lot to ask for in a job application, particularly if is a role that doesn’t offer high pay or a long term commitment in return.

This puts me in a tricky position because if I am going to be passionate about anything its going to be a value or a principle, rather than a physical object. For example I could get passionate about “authenticity”. That’s inconvenient. It makes it difficult for me claim that I am passionate about pens and pencils.

Actually think I’d make a pretty good stationery store employee if what they are looking for is calm and friendly competence. But I can’t pretend to be what I’m not. I don’t want to fake an over-inflated enthusiasm I don’t feel and it bothers me that job applicants are put in the position of having to distort their personality to fit in with a narrow corporate culture.

So here’s my dilemma. If I am passionate about authenticity and honesty, then I’m going to be tempted to use my blog to holdup a mirror to the values of our culture. Thats going to mean writing blog posts that make it difficult to get a job in a chain store. Unless that chain store recognises that casual and part-time workers are there to fulfill a worthwhile purpose, but it’s not necessarily a life’s passion, and they’re going to bring their own personalities and interests with them.

Related Links:

Lorilee Lippincott on Passion and Purpose.

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I am loving all the great ideas thats out there in blogland. There’s so many great writers and so much useful information. It makes me realise again that the world if full of interesting thoughtful people, and we can all learn from each other. Sometimes I read blog post and think, wow, I wish I had read this years ago, because that perspective would have really helped me along my way.

Even so, I have to remind myself that I have been reading and learning and experiencing and growing throughout my whole life, and will continue to do so. Personal growth is a slow process. Growth, by its very nature, happens gradually over time. It usually takes place so slowly that you can’t see it, although you can start to discern the effects.

It seems like it would be handy to have all the necessary wisdom for living in a 10 point list, but it doesn’t work that way. Lists of fabulous advice abound, but its not as simple as just reading what to do and doing it. Developing as a person isn’t just a rational process, is an integrative process that involves our hearts, minds and souls. We need time to absorb and adjust to each new learning in order to be ready to learn the next thing.

Growth is also often about healing, and healing takes time. There’s are no shortcuts to working through the grief and pain of the past that we might feel are holding us back. Some of the things we struggle with run very deep, and are best healed through ongoing relationships with other people, and through experiences in the everyday world. Its not as simple as reading a list of good advice and applying mind over matter. Even the best advice can be hard to take in when you feel like you can’t trust your own mind, you are paralysed by lack of confidence, or your heart is aching.

Growing as a person is a process to be taken slowly and savoured. It may not always be fun and the way may not always clear, but it can be interesting, and even enjoyable. Hope and confidence will grow if you remind yourself that you are on a journey of learning and discovery, and allow yourself to believe (or even just hope) that healing and change are possible.

Some of my deepest learning has come from long term participation in therapy and meditation practices which allow a gradual deepening in understanding. Although reading is a great source of wisdom and encouragement, at the end of the day personal development is primarily an experiential process. I probably wont be writing a blog post on 10 steps to happiness because I know there’s a lot more to it. What I can do is share a little bit about my perspective, and if it helpful, then thats great. Lets enjoy each other’s company in the slow lane.

I follow quite a few blogs and have started noting posts that stand out to me for the Linking Back post each week. What I am noticing is that a number of the blogs I follow are written by people who have been influenced by Christianity or Buddhism. This presents me with a dilemma, as I am not aiming to promote any particular religion. If I had to fill out religion on an emergency room admittance form, I would probably put Nil or Not Applicable. However these two traditions have both been a big influence on my life and my thinking, and continue to influence me through the blogs I am reading.

What strikes me about the blogs I follow is that very different religious and philosophical starting points can lead people to hold similar social values or come to similar conclusions about what is important in life. This is certainly the case with simplicity and minimalism, which attracts people from humanist, christian and buddhist traditions, among others. It seems like intentional living and the desire to live more simply can be the fruit of any many different belief systems if thoughtfully applied. I like to think that the things which unite us are stronger than our differences and try to remain open to learning from people writing from different perspectives.

So in this spirit, I am going to mention a blog on which I find a lot of thought provoking material, which is Storyline Blog. This is the most overtly Christian blog that I follow; however much of the focus of the posts is on how we choose to live our lives. I can’t comment on the theology of the Storyline crew, because that’s not my department, but I do find some of the fruit of their thinking valuable. I like the respectful and thoughtful tone that the host Donald Miller adopts, and I feel like although we might be on different sides of some debates, we could have a respectful and rewarding conversation.

A post by Donald Miller that I enjoyed is 2 Things I do that Increase My Creative Output the Most. He describes creative work as a dance, and adopts an approach he calls “write where the wind is blowing”. His description of working on what wants to be written, rather than forcing himself to stick to a scheduled topic, is a lot like the way that I prefer to work. I feels more effective for me to go with the flow than force myself to do something when I am in the wrong frame of mind. I must admit I like it when I come across other people flying the flag for this more flexible approach.

Also on Storyline Blog was a post called The Question That Changed Everything for Me by Allison Vesterfelt. Allison writes about the impact of conversation where a friend asks her What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to worry about money.” This question prompted Allison to challenge her worries about money and embark on a road trip across the USA. Of course money is a significant factor in our life decisions, and not everyone is in a position to quit their job and take off in their car for an adventure. But I  think we can limit ourselves unnecessarily in a quest for ironclad financial security, I know that’s what I used to do. I admire Allison’s willingness to challenge those self-limiting beliefs.

Finally, I want to mention an inspiring talk which I found in the post Sunday Morning Sermon: Caitlin Crosby “Love is the Key”. Caitlin has been able to generate work and hope for homeless people by starting a business manufacturing keys engraved with hopeful messages. I was struck by her message about helping the people in front of you. I also liked the description of how the business evolved, particularly the fact that she waited six months for the right solution for manufacturing the keys to present itself, rather than just leaping in with her first idea. In the song at the end Caitlin has a line about being “Too safe to feel”. That certainly struck a chord with me. As I choose less safety and certainty, I find I am more open to feeling connected with other people.

I have started going on Sunshine Walks after lunch. Late autumn and early winter still supply a fair share of sunshine most days, but unfortunately it does not reach into my south facing unit (ie facing Antarctica). When I get the chance I take an afternoon stroll and seek out the sun. Here it is, backing up a poinsettia tree.

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For those of you interested in photography I have put up a few photos of Sydney Harbour in Lights on the ImageChest Photography website.

Yesterday I got a FaceTime call from my teenage protegee who was looking for assistance with maths problems based on Pythagoras Theorum. I am happy to report that I was able to quote the theorum off the top of my head and assist in the calculation of the height of a kite from the ground, and the bottom of a ladder from a wall. Go Aunty Linda. Not much help was needed and I fear I will soon be left behind on the maths front, however I do enjoy our little video homework hook-ups. (Clicking on the link to the Theorum is not mandatory.)

I enjoyed a thoughtful post titled Is Minimalism Naive? at The Other Side of Complexity. Mike has picked up on an interesting concept, that there is simplicity on the other side of complexity, but you need to get through some complexity to get there. This post provides encouragement to work through that complexity to get yourself into a better position. Anyone who has tried to do a significant decluttering project will probably relate to this concept. It also resonated with me as I was resolving my dispute with the internet advertising company earlier in the week. Letting go of my idealised view of what should be happening and taking on the battle was necessary to get out of a messy situation.

Joshua Becker wrote a post this week called 5 Live-Giving Truths From 5 Years of Living with Less, marking the 5 year anniversary of his minimalist journey. I could relate to his first truth, that “Desiring less is even more valuable than owning less”. I find it encouraging when people writing about minimalist lifestyles go beyond the benefits of having less physical clutter and express the deeper benefits of a less materially oriented way of living.

Leo Babauta from Zen Habits has recently released The Little Book of Contentment. There’s plenty of great advice and wisdom in this little eBook. I particularly liked his description of Where Happiness Comes from and Finding Happiness Within.

The most moving thing I saw this week was the video of My Last Days: Meet Zac Sobiech.  If you haven’t come across this story, then I suggest you take a look when you have 20 minutes of quiet time. The video is a celebration of Zac’s life, and a farewell to his family and friends as he faces death from bone cancer. I understand he passed away since the making of the video. What a wonderful young man he was. I hope I can face life and death as well as he did.

A number of bloggers who I greatly respect recommend strategies to build better habits or bring more structure into your day to make sure you give time and attention to your highest priorities. This might mean getting up at 6am to write, or meditate or walk. It might also include commitments about exercise, diet and other healthy activities. This all makes good sense.

So why am I travelling in the opposite direction? The project I am engaged upon is about letting go of  structures and schedules, and avoiding setting up “rules” about what I should be doing at a particular time.

This discrepancy has been bugging me in a quiet, grumbly sort of way. Every now and then I get cross or defensive when I come across a suggestion that I need more structure, more commitments, and more accountability.

On reflection, it occurred to me that building better habits is great, but bad habits were never my main problem. Strategies to build better routines and practicies and use time more wisely are are most useful to address problems to do with bad habits and poor time management.  But that wasn’t my main problem. I tend to be fairly moderate in my habits, and fairly organised, so solutions on building better habits are not addressing my main area of weakness.

I began to wonder if I was kidding myself that I didn’t need advice on dealing with habits, when I remembered something I had come across in the Buddhist literature. The Buddhists talk about Greed, Hatred and Delusion as a source of suffering. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember hearing a theory that although we all suffer from all three, we each have a tendency in a particular direction. These manifest as a tendency to Addictions, Anger, and Confusion.

Greed represents the constant desire to have more. The problem of never being satisfied. It relates to habits of excess. This isn’t an exercise in name calling. Its not about saying people are “greedy”. Its about acknowledging this human tendency to feel unsatisfied and try to address that by consuming more and more which can lead to bad habits, such as eating too much junkfood or playing too much Warcraft.

I think strategies that are focussed on creating structure and replacing bad habits with good habits are particularly useful for addressing this particular foible, building good habits that counter balance the desire to consume more and more.

So where do I fit in? Problems of addiction and excess have not been my main battle. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my battles, but I think they are in a different area. If I were to pick from the three causes of suffering, I’d say my struggles have been in the area of Delusion and Confusion. My problem has not been about going too far in anyone direction; its been about not knowing which direction to take or why.

The strategy I am adopting for my own project is to stop listening to the voice in my head telling what I “should” do because its expected by other people, or my imagining of what other people expect. I have stopped over-structuring my experience, and subjecting myself to self-made rules about what I should do in my day. I am actively resisting the tendency to want to over schedule and over organise myself.  I am making space for the quiet voice of intuition to be heard.

So this is my experiment, my exercise, my practice. To let go of artificially imposed structures and rules and find out who I really am in the quiet of my own heart. Its about building trust in myself, that I can make good decisions on a daily basis, without the need for strict rules or external accountabilities. Having been living this way for over a year, the voice of intuition is beginning to speak more loudly, and I feel happier and more confident than I have ever felt before.

So there is not conflict between Habits and No Habits. We are all in the process of learning, and we need to choose the antidote that best meets our dis-ease. Some of us will choose more structure, some less, but in the end, its all the same project. The project of living more happily and wisely.

This week I have been feeling the need to cut back on ‘Self Help’ and ‘How To’ style reading, whether books or blogs. I need to reduce the level of input and work with what I already have. I know what to do, I just need to keep on with doing it.  What I do like to read is the personal stories of other people who are  getting on with it too, and creating their own unique lifestyles.

One task that has been on the back burner until this week is the Happy Music Project. Last year it was suggested that I listen to more music that makes me happy. You would think that would be easy to do, but I found it difficult to get into. I tend to operate more in the sphere of words and images, and don’t listen to a lot of music. This week I have made a small start and have been on the lookout for music that makes me smile.

At the risk of being uncool, I recommend you get your hands on the Readers Digest Wonderful World of Music For Children and put on Record 2 Side 1. This features guaranteed happy makers such as Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat, A Bushel and a Peck, and the Surry with the Fringe on Top.  Fun songs beautifully sung by an adult male choir. Great while doing the ironing. On a more adult vein, there is the Tom Jones compliationUnforgetable featuring Love is in the Air and Letter to Lucile. Great vocals for cleaning the bathroom. I see now that I am definitely am uncool. But thats the thing about happy music. Its light and fun and silly and makes you smile.

Since getting an iPad and discovering the blogosphere I have switched most of my reading time over to blog reading. However I feel the need for reading matter that is more detailed and weighty.  So another fun thing I am doing is reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I mentioned this as a joke in a comment, but I do actually have it on the shelf, and decided to make a start. Its such a difference reading an old style novel full of detailed description.

Melville has a cheeky sense of humour and inventive turn of phrase. I thought I would pass on his very useful advice that you should not heat your bedroom in winter so that you can get the maximum enjoyment from snuggling under the blanket.

…have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.

(Moby Dick Chapter 11)

The ship has not yet sailed in my reading of Moby DIck but I will let you know how we get on in with travels. I enjoyed this post from SMART Living 365 titled Love to Travel – Love to Come Home by Kathy Gottberg. She talks about creating the kind of life you enjoy so that coming home from holidays is not met with dread. Heres a quick snippet:

What it comes down to is that my holidays are no longer escapes to take me away from my life—instead they are just alternate journeys of discovery and adventure…. no matter where my home is, no matter what is going on there, whenever I return I feel welcome and glad to be home.http://smartliving365.com/love-to-travel-love-to-come-home/

I went around the world last year, but since returning I don’t really have itchy feet, because I am happy at home. I will probably travel again, but its not a burning need.

On a similar theme Minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn talks about Subtractive Creation in a post called A Well Edited Life. He uses the analogy of a sculptor removing excess stone or clay to reveal an artwork to talk about building a more meaningful life by removing things that are superfluous.

I loved this line from a recent post by Courtney Carver from Be More With Less on the topic Simplify Your Life and Quiet Your Mind:

leaning on simplicity eases the stress of the more complicated things

I have been drawing inspiration from all these sources, particularly leaning on simplicity, as I try to get myself out of a somewhat disastrous internet advertising arrangement that I undertook six weeks ago. I am being presented as a cleaner rather than a professional organiser, and can’t seem to find anyone in the company interested enough to either fix the ad or take it down.

In hindsight I can see that going with a large company for my internet advertising was a mistake. Given the problems I have had so far with calls and emails being ignored, I have decided to push for cancellation, rather than fixing the problem.  Although this means I have to start from scratch with my internet advertising, I don’t want to continue a business relationship with a company that could let me down so badly, and then see no urgency to fix their mistakes.

Solving this internet advertising problem is testing my capacity to keep things in perspective. It drives me crazy that I get no response to my questions and complaints. Nevertheless, I am fighting back for happiness and simplicity making sure that I take time to think, write and blog on constructive topics that represent the direction I want to be heading in.

When I was in the USA last year I stumbled upon and open-mike comedy night at the downstairs bar at my hotel. I joined in with the 30 or so people crowded into the small room to hear the performers. It was a tightknit group who got together on a regular basis to display their comedy skills, with a friendly and jovial atmosphere as you might expect. Gradually I realised that I was one of about five people in the audience who weren’t performing.

One performer was a young woman, who was clearly known to the group. For her few minutes in the spotlight, she talked about a recent experience with abortion and her families reaction to it. It wasn’t funny. She seemed extremely vulnerable, and the audience didn’t know how to react. The experience she was sharing was too recent; too raw; too painful. Whatever happens to transform a personal story into a comedy routine that everyone can laugh at wasn’t happening.

I wanted to grab an overcoat, wrap her up and take her off the stage. I wanted to somehow protect her from her painful experience, and the sharing of it. I wanted to tell her that this wasn’t the place to find the solace she was looking for. I was a stranger in a strange environment, and I didn’t do any of those things. I watched her sit down. It seemed that her story had not connected her more deeply with anyone in the group, and I feared the experience would deepen her sense of isolation.

I have also seen and experienced this type of raw over exposure in writing groups where people read their work aloud, and in sometimes in reading blogs. I have read blog posts that suggest struggles with depression that have not been met by supportive comments. I have stumbled upon one post, months old, that suggested that the person might be suicidal, with no follow up comments or posts. It saddens and frightens me when I find people reaching out for help to the internet, only to be met with silence.

When it works well, the process of creating a song, a poem, a blog post or a joke converts our personal experience into a universal story that others can relate to and understand. This very process can be healing, and create a sense of perspective about the subject matter and a feeling of connection with others. But sometimes, it doesn’t quite happen. Sometimes it comes across as just raw feeling, uncovered and unprotected.

For myself, I try to write about things that I have some perspective on, that might be of help or interest to others. Although some of these topics can be personal, I don’t write about things if I am feeling very shaken up and vulnerable. If I was seriously in need of help, I’d talk to a real person about it.

So by all means, share what is going on for you, if that feels comfortable and helpful. But remember to take care of yourself. Its not necessary to tell the world your troubles if you don’t feel OK about it. You don’t have to bleed your heart onto the stage, or the page. Your sensitive sould needs to be protected, and the best person to do that is you.