Like a river, you are pulled by an unseen force even when you don’t know what it is (or aren’t sure it exists). I find the best way to discern the SPECIFICS of anything’s true passion/purpose/wild nature is with Bev Barnes’ quintessential question:
“What can’t it NOT do?”
What’s a river (or you) compelled to do/know/embody even when not trying, when doing something else at the same time, when not paid or thanked, when no one knows, when discouraged, when asked not to, when time and money are not an issue, when free to do anything in the world?
All rivers flow downhill toward a sea.
Rivers don’t TRY to flow downhill — they can’t help it. They’re pulled by gravity, and every river wonder comes directly from that fundamental part of their nature: the billowing spray of Niagara Falls, the sculpted layers of the Grand Canyon, the grassy meanders of a mountain creek.
What can’t YOU not do? Maybe you know the answer right away. Sometimes, though, you can’t see your greatest power because it’s so innate that you don’t think it “counts.” Ask your friends what they see. Or look at your whole life — all eras and aspects — and compare yourself to a river using these questions:
- When do people turn to me for help? Throughout history, when folks have wanted to move cross-country easily, they’ve hopped onto canoes, inner tubes, or barges and let the downstream current carry them.
Sara’s friends always call her when they want to create the most fun, most affordable travel adventure — she knows the latest booking secrets, the quirkiest destinations and their signature activities, plus every organizational trick invented (because she invented some of them).*
- What have people tried to stop me from doing? Humans often try to stop rivers from flowing downhill (or make them do so with less speed or in a narrower channel or on a more indirect path). It never works forever – the stream always and eventually finds a way to keep doing what it can’t not do.
I sometimes try to keep my busy, professional husband, Freyr, from planting things. This may sound mean and downright anti-nature, but he’s built raised-beds of perennials outside government housing we occupied for less than a year, rooted cuttings (in our drinking glasses) and avocado pits (usually in tin cans for some reason) on every flat kitchen surface, sowed wildflowers on the neighboring golf course property (hello PoHo… you don’t read my blog do you?), and planted trees on adjacent road right-of-ways, private pastures, and state land.
- What aspects of me do people harness for profit? One reason we humans dam water is so that we can use its natural downstream movement to generate power – electricity for lights and machines — and enjoy the resulting opportunities and cash flow. When have bosses, loved ones, or frenemies pulled you in on a project to benefit from your particular style?
Mark may be the owner of a software company, but he’s still the person that every employee calls to invent an as-yet-to-be-identified new product, get rid of a persistent and undiscovered bug, or calm flaring personalities (whether they be the visiting UPS guy or the CFO). Normal daily functions and easily-solved problems are of no interest to him.
- What am I happy to do for others at anytime and for free because I like it or it feels like no trouble? It doesn’t trouble the river if a kayaker rides a rapid or even a waterwheel grinds grain or generates electrical current (if it’s built right — but that’s another blog post!).
Jessica will always put together the perfect playlist for any particular person and occasion. She can do it in a flash because of her vast knowledge of all kinds of music and her intuitive understanding of people’s needs and personalities. And she loves it. Truth is she’d be messing around with iTunes anyway!
- What activities feels like they “come through me” — like I make very little effort and still get amazing results? Water channels gravity; it doesn’t make it up.
Michelangelo said “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Katie feels the same way when she starts writing or talking about food – like something wants to be said. Her task is to stay clear and willing enough to let it arrive. She’s often surprised to go back and read what she’s written, and I know her descriptions of a “lovely asparagus” with a “delicate” something-or-other always inspire me to eat and cook better.
- What am I like when I give up and go with the flow? How could I act all day long, every day if given the chance? What DO I do, right now, all the time? Rivers aren’t aiming to be something they can’t. Nor do they ever cease their flowing.
- Your passion may be a particular subject (travel adventure, plants, computers, food).
- Or it could transcend subject and be a unique set of skills. Sara and Jessica remember things, match them up with the right person, and/or organize them — whether those things are airline tickets, songs, ideas, closets, or other people. Freyr can start and heal most anything. Mark’s a solver of any super thorny problem and an innovator. Katie can apply adjectives to any topic in a way that makes my mouth water and my heart feel glad.
- Or perhaps you’re like Jamie, who can and has done almost any activity — paint it, hike it, climb it, ski it, write it, collect parts of it, teach it, build in it — with regard to almost every aspect of one place (“where the mountains meet the prairie” in beautiful Sheridan County, Wyoming).
- Or like Claire, whose defining trait is her character – her warmth. People pay just to be in the same room with her no matter what she’s up to. What are you known for? Your bravery? Calm? Laughter?
Your true wild nature is always there within you — whether or not you know it – shaping you and your world. Naming and understanding it is not essential, but it’s fun. And you can’t help but be ever more glorious (and happy and highly productive and properly compensated!) when you let your innate power pull you, like a river does.
*Note to my friends/family/clients: I changed your names. And maybe your gender. Or maybe this is not really you? Either way, your secrets are safe with (and deeply beloved by) me.
Great thought-provoking questions, Betsy. And I’m wishing I knew some of these people!
What I can’t NOT do is read anything you write, Betsy!
Love this and your bright, bright spirit!
Insightful, stimulating, encouraging and now I must go ponder these words that weave like a spell around me, in me and through me to answer these questions.
Thanks you guys! Emily, I think those people would do well marketing their passion (like you’re doing!) — don’t you?? Leah — like your new pseudonym?! ErgoBW – What would I do without you?.