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How to Find Your Life’s Passion

pathJust do things. That’s my answer to that question.

Just do things. That’s my answer to that question. Most advice about finding your passion tends to be either ‘follow your heart,’ or, ‘don’t follow your heart, they’re lying to you.’ What neither of these pieces of advice take into account is—how does your heart know what it loves? How do you know you’ll love being an astronaut if you’ve never done it? And how do you know a career as an archaeologist won’t surprise you?

We all know people who from birth knew what their passion was, achieved it, and love what they do. But we may also know people who achieved their dream and hate it. Lawyering bores them to tears. Charity work stresses them out more than they realized it would. Etc. And both of these types of people had to experience their passion in order to find this out. Your heart’s inclinations in and of themselves do not guarantee joy in what you do.

So if life is in fact rather capricious, leading you on to think your love of numbers would make you a great accountant when it really doesn’t, how do you find a passion at all?

First, let’s clear away the issue of whether we should have passions. We can argue all day about whether we should be searching for a passion in life. It is fair to say you should be practical and support yourself. It is fair to say you shouldn’t think of yourself only, but also of other people (as someone has to do the dirty work). It’s fair to tear down the myth of ‘following your heart.’ However, it is also undeniable that passion motivates us in a way nothing else does. We can’t ignore it completely, and force people to slot themselves into open careers like some kind of dictatorial sci-fi society.

But keep in mind that you can be passionate about more than what rises up in your dreams. You can be surprised about what enjoy (and what you don’t enjoy). And by having an open mind and trying all sorts of things you can feel out your way.

I thought I’d hate being a salesperson because I thought I’d hate being measured by sales targets. Then I discovered I really loved knowing exactly how well I was performing at any given moment, just by looking at my sales numbers. I also far exceeded my wildest sales expectations (which, admittedly, weren’t very high at first).

I thought I’d enjoy learning about computers, but I didn’t want to spend the thousands on education needed to work in the field. But an agency recruited me to work in a computer store, an opportunity that I definitely wasn’t sure about. After all, agency work can be unreliable, and my education had nothing to do with retail. But doing something is better than nothing, and it was something I’d always wanted to learn about. Several positions later I am still constantly using tech troubleshooting skills that I picked up, because I confirmed I really do have a passion for that kind of thing.

I thought I’d love having a worthwhile career that contributed to society and was indispensable, so I went to nursing school. I learned all of the abstract reasoning of selflessness did not translate into me being a good nurse.

And presently I have made another major life decision—to go back to school to study theology. I know I have a passion for the subject, but I don’t know that that passion will translate into academic study on a daily basis. It may not. I’ll find out.

If you already have a passion and a reasonable opportunity to pursue, go for it. If you have a passion and there’s no open opportunities at the moment, you have an opportunity to try something else. Experience something new. Don’t go and try something you know you’ll hate, but if you can’t do something you know you’ll love, do something you don’t know if you’ll love or hate. Experience allows you to find out.

And if you’re really groping in the dark, as I’ve been for periods of my life, you can’t sit back and wait till you’re one-hundred-percent sure you’ve found your passion before you do anything. Granted, life usually doesn’t let you sit back and do nothing (bills to pay and all that), but ESPECIALLY if nothing sounds appealing you’ve just got to try things. Try to pick things that might lead to other things to try.

Because after all you don’t find your passion by looking deep inside and thinking as hard as you can about what your heart is telling you. Your heart doesn’t know what’s out there in the world. Your heart is ruling out a thousand careers you didn’t even know existed, simply because you haven’t heart of them. Go out and discover what you didn’t know before.

Passion springs from being busy, not from sitting still.

 

What do you think?

 

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How to Catch a Man 101: Show More Affection Than You Feel

AKA Dating Advice from Dear Jane Austen

Bingley&Jane_CH_55

Bingley and Jane, by C.E. Brooks. {PD-US}

“There are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement,” [said Charlotte]. “In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 6

Here’s the trouble with romance!

Let me start off by saying this is not true in most books and movies out there. If you took the romance advice of most plots, you’d begin to think the way to fall in love with someone is to be as deliberately antagonistic as possible. Insult him to his face! Slap him! Try to avoid him as much as possible – if he’s really fallen in love with you during that half second that you met, he’ll keep coming back for more. Beyond any reasonable expectation, he’ll keep coming back again and again and again, no matter how much you insist you don’t want to see him. He’ll wait for you to change your mind.

Isn’t that ridiculous?

So – more evidence Jane Austen is a cut above (many) other romance writers out there! She’s dealing with reality here. She’s dealing with the reality most people aren’t masochistic enough to keep chasing someone who keeps pushing them down. Most people aren’t that good with rejection.

But I said this was the trouble with romance, didn’t I? Why is this a reality a problem?

Well, mostly because you have to show a lot of interest before you even know you’re interested, logically.

Most people aren’t going to hang around forever while the person they just felt a flash of attraction to makes up their mind, especially if that dithering looks a shade too similar to rejection. Move on. Plenty of fish in the sea. No time for this.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this – it’s just reality! Just the crazy system we have to live in. It makes us appreciate the true romances that actually work out, that’s all.

And in case you think I’m reading too much into Jane Austen, I don’t think she completely disagrees with her character, Charlotte Lucas (the character I’m quoting up at the top). After all, Elizabeth’s sister Jane does lose Bingley because she is too guarded and he can’t tell how much she likes him. Neither can any of Bingley’s friends.

Elizabeth argues to Charlotte that Jane is just taking her time to get to know Bingley (which seems to be quite sensible). Charlotte doubts whether this is a good strategy for the situation.

Here is Charlotte’s very practical (perhaps cynical?) solution:

“Jane should therefore make the most of every half hour in which she can command his attention. When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses.”

Here’s where I (and perhaps Jane Austen) part ways with Charlotte’s logic. Making someone else fall for you first, before you decide to fall – that seems little self-centered. A little too self-centered.

What’s the solution then?

There isn’t one. That’s why romance is a mystery. That’s why it’s beautiful when it sprouts mutually for two people at the same time, and miserable when it only sprouts for one of them. That’s why we eternally write books and movies and plays about it. Because we can’t figure it out.

There’s my thoughts on it, anyway. Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Oh, and stay tuned to this blog in the upcoming weeks! There may be some exciting changes and experiments in the new year!)

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How to Learn Languages

Why do we do it wrong?

Three languages

{{PD}}

Knowing another language is a “good thing.” People love to emphasize this to the kids complaining about having to learn French/Spanish/whatever in school. Languages have frustrated and confused travellers and students ever since the Tower of Babel, and being able to communicate with other is always a useful skill. It makes you look sophisticated as a writer too, if you’re always inserting foreign phrases in your dialogue. However, you really want to know what you’re doing with this, or you could end up looking like Dan Brown, whose French and Italian in the Da Vinci Code is reportedly atrocious.

One major problem, as I see it, is that it is far too easy to go to a million language classes and never pick up the language at all.

The Problem, A Solution

This problem is especially obvious in Canada. Ever since our lovely Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, decided it would be nicer if everyone in Canada could speak both English and French, kids all over Canada have been given French in school. Our cereal was re-labelled Corn Flakes/Flocon de maïs, and our teachers promised us the possibility of a cushy government job if we ever mastered the language. Despite this attempt at immersing the country in bilingual labels, almost no one I know can speak French. Why is this? Because out west where I live, setting eyes on someone who speaks French is about as common as sighting a blue heron. It can happen, but not often.

See? The key to actually learning a language is using it.

Another example – in university, large numbers of students take Spanish because they never did manage to learn French in school, and the university makes you take upper-level French courses whether you actually absorbed any French vocabulary in your highschool days or not. Despite this, no one can speak Spanish either. I am currently taking Spanish, and the problem I see is that it consists mostly of equally clueless students talking to each other in broken sentences, interrupted by long English passages of, “is that right? I don’t know” or “What’s the verb conjugation for ‘estar’ again?” Which means, of course, that even though we use more Spanish in class than in we used French in French class, we’re probably just perpetuating each others’ horrible pronunciations and mistakes, because a professor with thirty students doesn’t have time to make sure each student has it right.

Then, by contrast, take my mother, who as a good little European, learned German, French, English and Dutch in school. She is by no means fluent in all of them. But the ones she had to actually use, she knows more of – meaning she could actually speak a little English before moving to Canada. In Europe, you’re far more likely to run into a German or French person who can’t communicate with you, than you are in North America. And then you actually use the languages you are supposed to know.

Creating Context is Crucial

Now, it would be ridiculous to suggest that no one can learn a language unless they know someone who speaks that language. Instead, what you have to do is find ways to make up for the deficiencies of your environment. Languages are learned best in some sort of context, so you have to create that context. Language recordings help, because you actually get to hear the language and not just your mangled mispronunciations of it. Music, TV shows and Youtube videos are great too, even if they’re incredibly difficult to follow at first. (If you do enough searching on Youtube, though, you can find songs with only about four lines, and the English subtitles underneath, if you really need too). You really need to decide what is important enough that you want to say it, and then figure out how to learn to say it. You may not, despite how many classes teach you this, actually want to describe your dog or your summer vacation in this new language. Maybe you’d rather know how to catch a bus, find things in a grocery store, or understand the vague directions to the nearest hostel. Or maybe you just want to write Spanish poetry, I don’t know. Start with what’s useful to you. Then, of course, you have to commit to putting enough time in every day using it, until you’ve actually got another language stuck in your head. The key is using the language, even if it means a lot of talking to yourself.

Language classes all too often are completely unrelated to the context of your life. When you walk through that door you speak Spanish, when you walk out you don’t think about the language again until you have to do homework. They love to teach you what everything in the classroom is called, and other long lists of vocabulary that is completely useless to you (when are you going to say ‘overhead projector’ to someone in Spanish?), but when you create your own context you decide what words you need to know. Not to say you can’t learn a language in class, because obviously people do. But, equally obviously, people don’t, too.

I’d say going to another country that speaks the language you are trying to learn is incredibly useful, because you’re surrounded by what you’re learning, and you’re always in context. However, it’s better to have a basic grasp of the structure of the language before you go, to prevent drowning in the language the first couple days you are there. It’s easy to show up with big goals and get absolutely overwhelmed at understanding nothing right away.

Most of all, I’d say that while printing off long lists of random words with their translation beside them, and memorizing them all, will teach you the language eventually, it’s not incredibly efficient.

Despite my endless list of problems and advice, I have to say that learning languages is fun. Obviously, I already am a person who loves words. But getting a whole new set of words to express your thoughts in – is there any greater excitement for a writer? Even if it makes you feel like you’re in kindergarten again!

Have you tried to learn a new language? Any tips and tricks that helped you?

As a side note, here is a video of some guy in England who absolutely astounds me by having mastered eleven different languages. I have so far only mastered a handful of words in three languages, and am completely un-fluent in all three. He insists, of course, that it gets easier the more languages you know:

How Do You Become Fluent in Eleven Languages?

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How to Cook for a Celiac: A Simple Guide

Eating

A soldier in the kitchen with his sweetheart, a cook. {{PD-old}}

This post is slightly tangential – how to cook for celiacs – because I wanted a nice, easy explanation that lays down the basics about what you need to know to do this to be available online. Don’t worry, with your newfound knowledge of celiac disease, you can go and make your next main character have it (or another allergy), just to spice things up. After all, allergies and intolerances are a lot more common nowadays, and many readers can relate to it!

The other reason is that blah days come around every once in awhile, and they make it hard to write.

How to Cook for a Celiac*

So, I know some people are intimidated by cooking for people with celiac disease, so I thought I’d break it down and make it less intimidating.

Disclaimer: Not ALL Celiacs are the same. Some could have additional allergies to corn or dairy or whatever, which they’ll hopefully tell you before you try to cook for them. Also, some celiacs cheat on their diet all the time, and others are horrified by the very thought of it, so if you want to be on the safe side I’d assume your dinner invitee would never dream of cheating. Much less chance of making anyone sick that way.

Ingredients:

1.) What to cook? Well, almost anything that looks whole and natural should be okay. I’m talking about whole potatoes, veggies, chicken, beef, fresh herbs, and rice (of course, rice). Unless it’s whole wheat/barley/oats you grabbed from a farmer’s field for some reason. But other than the obvious, most things that are fresh and whole are fine. (For example, you want to make a Christmas dinner? Turkey, potatoes, green beans, salad veggies by themselves are all perfectly edible for a celiac).

–         In addition, anything in the store that say ‘Gluten Free’ is okay, obviously. The tricky part is, not everything that says ‘Wheat Free’ is okay, so if in doubt, don’t buy.

2.) Any time you want to add something pre-packaged to your meal, stop! Any sauce, gravy mix, taco seasoning, salad dressing, cans of soup, etc. could contain something a celiac can’t eat. If it looks like something put together in a factory, be careful. Before you add it, read the ingredients, and if you still aren’t sure, phone your celiac friend and read the ingredients out to him or her. They’d rather be phoned than eat gluten, so don’t worry. And honestly, we’d rather eat bland food than eat gluten too, so it’s perfectly okay to leave the seasonings out, too.

–         Ingredients on packages that a celiac can’t eat: wheat, barley, oats, rye, malt, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and “seasoning” (if there is no explanation for what is in the “seasoning”).

–         Nowadays many packages say: WARNING, may contain gluten/wheat, so that’s helpful. Don’t use the ones that say that.

Cooking:

3.) Okay, you’ve figured out all your ingredients. Next, look at where you plan to cook this food. Those breadcrumbs sprinkled on the counter are suddenly a hazard, so just wipe those surfaces down. If you think your pans are too coated in crusty bread sauce or something, maybe use a clean pan (but you’d do that anyway, right?)

–         Rule of Thumb: don’t cut food on the same cutting board as you cut bread, just in case.

–         Just remember what utensils you use as well – if you stirred a pot of regular spaghetti noodles with a spoon, don’t use the same spoon to stir the rice for your celiac friend.

Whew, that looks like quite a process! Actually, cooking for celiacs is pretty much the same as cooking for anyone else – the only difference is you are more aware of every ingredient and step you take to cook. People always ask if being a celiac is hard, and it isn’t really. Once you adjust to being aware of every thing that you put in your mouth, you realize it’s better not to be mindlessly eating everything you see, anyway.

Conclusion: Pretty much, you cook what you usually cook, except you double-check all pre-packaged seasonings and sauces. Leave out the bread, wheat pasta, soya sauce, etc., and your home-cooked meal should be delicious!

What about you – any food issues that challenge you when you want to eat?

 

 

* Some people have never heard of Celiac’s disease. Well, that’s fine! That’s what this little asterisk is for. Celiac’s disease is a condition where your body has an inflammatory reaction to even the smallest speck of gluten (which is in wheat/barley/oats). This inflammatory reaction shows itself in different ways in different people – some throw up, some get itchy, some never feel a thing – but no matter what their symptoms are, their insides are being affected. Badly. The nice thing is, there is a “cure”: Avoid all wheat/barley/oats for the rest of your life, and celiac disease shouldn’t bother you at all.

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