I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m gifted. Incredibly gifted in fact, with more than one thing even. I am a dancer and a writer and I am amazingly gifted with both abilities. On the off chance you’re still reading and not gagging on my arrogance I hope you’re reading me correctly. Just to be sure, please make special note that I am not saying I am gifted AT dancing or writing, but WITH them. This is a huge distinction and one I think adds huge value to the conversation.
During a couples counseling session with my husband about a year ago, our counselor looked at me and asked, “Jodie, what do you do for yourself that brings you joy?” I stared back at her blankly and started to feel hot and itchy. I could not answer the question. My husband and I were at a rock bottom place in our marriage. We were just beginning to attempt to recover from his newly revealed infidelity and at that point my days were filled with despair, anger, anxiety, grief, a sense of loss, uncertainty, insomnia, the inability to catch my breath (quite literally), shame, regret and I’ll just stop myself here because I could list every negative and unwanted emotion under the sun and be acutely accurate in my description of what those early days of recovery were like. So when she asked me what I did to summon joy, I had nothing, nada, zip, zilch, zero to come back to her with.
I felt ultimately diminished in being unable to state what brings me joy. I knew I should have at least some joy in my life and that something was terribly wrong with me because I didn’t. I also understood instantly that engaging joy was to be a linchpin in healing and that without it, I was doomed. Sensing that I was about to start climbing the walls or try to burrow under the couch cushion, our counselor moved on. I was approaching my limit on bullshit for the day and it was complete and utter bullshit that I couldn’t run my finger across the surface of my life and come away with one speck of joy. So clouded were my vision and outlook. She shifted the conversation over to my husband and they picked up the slack while I sat there lame and mute. I can’t remember what they talked about because I was locked and loaded and stuck on point on the missing joy.
Sometime later I remember hijacking their conversation and blurting out, “PADDLE BOARDING!!!” Startled, they both turned to me with questioning glances. “I love to paddle board, I find joy in doing it.” Oh, ok, good Jodie. That’s really great. But I knew it wasn’t. It’s not great that it took me untold minutes to come up with one measly activity that I can do during about six months out of the year where I live for about six hours total because of how busy I’ve let my life become. All of this would weigh heavily on me for a long time.
A few months down the road, I read the book Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton and my world opened up. The power of the written word to connect us to others’ stories and truths and make us feel less lonely as we recognize our own circumstances inside of theirs will never cease to amaze me. If it’s happened to you then you know what I’m talking about, there’s no other feeling quite like it. You could cry hot tears of relief for the sweetness of the communion. If it is yet to happen to you then it’s one of my sincerest wishes for you. Because if you find that particular string of written words at the precise moment in time you were meant to, well then, look out world. It can unleash a power in you that you did not know existed. For me, that power was in writing and the effect was joy. I wrote about it in my first ever blog post and here’s an excerpt:
In ‘Carry on, Warrior,’ Glennon explained in a way I finally understood that your gift is something that brings YOU joy when you do it, even if it is hard for you to do. So that’s why I am finally ready to call writing my gift, because of what happens to me when I do it. I become joyful. Not happy per se, but full of joy and joy is the bomb! I get it now. Your gift is for you. It is from God. Where all good things come from. Using it for the benefit of others can be a natural extrapolation and important to do, but we are the intended first recipients of our gifts. Sometimes it’s just hard to see our gifts for what they are because they can feel too ordinary. So it doesn’t matter much whether anyone ever reads my writing or appreciates it. Because I’m really writing for joy. I’m writing for God.
To say this was a significant turning point for me in life and in healing would be like saying Justin Timberlake is an okay entertainer. It’s hard to explain just how big of a revelation this was. How impactful and how important and how timely and how desperately needed it was. Why? Because I found my joy, people! And it had been gone a long, long while. I haven’t been back to see our counselor since the joy but when I go back, and I will, because life, you can bet this is the first thing I will tell her about. Then the crap. But first the joy.
The significance of this discovery lay in what it taught me. It taught me what being gifted really means. Being gifted means you were given something that brings you joy. It does not mean you are brilliant at it, necessarily. It does not mean you are compelled to share it with the world, necessarily. It does not mean you’re the best at it ev-ah, necessarily. It does not mean you’ll be displaying your gift in a segment on the Today Show, or on one of Oprah’s platforms, or that you’ll land on the top of the charts or a bestseller list, necessarily. What it does mean is that you have something to partake in that will elevate your spirits and distract you from the dull, demeaning or destructive forces of life such that when you’re doing it, that’s all there is; the doing of this thing. Everything else melts away and all you feel in that moment is complete surrender, something approaching zen and if somebody interrupts you, maybe a flash of homicidal rage for being pulled away from your precious joy.
When I realized that writing = joy for me, it was like ripping off my blindfold and then it was easy to pin the tail on other parts of joy. Like dancing. Gawd, I love to dance. Nothing puts a smile on my face and makes me feel alive and free like dancing does. And I stink at it. Both things are true. The stinking does not matter, what matters is the joy. Other things that equal joy for me are reading, trading four walls in for nature (specifically: rivers, lakes, trails, and campsites), looking back through old photo albums and snuggling with our dog. These are all gifts to me and so I’m gifted. And you are gifted too. Maybe you just haven’t put your finger on what those gifts are yet and that’s ok. And it’s not ok, it’s sad. Both things are true.
I’m no guru on how to discover your gifts. I would not recommend repeating the steps I used for discovering mine. I just know my life is better after having recognized them. I can now access at least one of my gifts at almost anytime and thus transform from an undesired state of mind into one of joy in no time flat. And I know in my heart you can do it too.
If you’re staring blankly at the screen and unable to state what brings you joy, sit with that for a while. Then continue to move through life with that hollow feeling (don’t stop and stand in harsh judgment of yourself) and remain open to joy and aware it’s out there, somewhere. It just hasn’t been close enough in a while for you to latch on to. It will eventually boomerang its way back to you because it has likely been within your grasp before, wishing you would notice. And when it comes along again all you have to do is grab ahold of it and yell, “gotcha, suck-uh!” Because joy is a gift for you and being gifted is akin to finding the other elusive, illustrious and squirrely entity known as a passion. I actually hate that word.
For years I was pissed at Oprah. Wouldn’t even have gone to a “Favorite Things” episode and lumbered home with $12,000 worth of loot if I’d been invited, (I’m maybe 40% serious about that, ok 8%) that’s how bent I was. Oprah could be credited with inciting a bloodlust for finding our passion within the American stream of consciousness. ‘Find your PASSION, people!’ Uh-huh, Oprah, easy for you to admonish. So easy for you. Well, yeah, I guess it was, from her position at that time in her life. She’s taken her licks though and she rose up through some pretty tough circumstances and I doubt she was preaching passion through any of the muck and the mire. Probably just survival. But once she could check survival off the list and then found her passion to boot, she wanted so badly for all of us to find it too. Because finding your passion is life-changing, and so irritatingly cliché, both things are true.
But it is not easy to advise or explain to someone how to find their passion if they haven’t yet. Oprah tried and tried and I just got mad and madder. Once, she explained that some of us may be all wrong in our approach as our passion might not be the same thing we make a living at. In fact we might never rub two nickels together as a result of what makes our heart sing. And that yes, her passion and vocation were one in the same, but sorry, your’s might not be. Sorry about it, really. That chapped me. Many of us are so busy earning a living and playing catch-up at the rest of life, trying to save for college tuition for our kids and/or retirement for ourselves, it can make finding time and energy to pursue our passion feel like a pipe dream and not a reality that’s ours for the taking.
So I offer you this. Instead of searching for your passion, let it find you. The trick isn’t in finding it, but in finally recognizing it and embracing it when it comes knocking and not slamming the door in its face. Your passion is your joy is your gift. And they are for you. No one else, just you. You’ll know them by their energy and the way it clings to you like an octopus to the face. You’ll know them by the way you begin to soar above and forget that just a minute ago you were wallowing below. You’ll know them by how they awaken you to possibility and promise and you’ll know them by the way you’ll want to shout about them from the rooftops to one and to all.
Your gift is your joy is your passion and when you recognize what that is for you, as ordinary or understated as it may seem, do it. Do it every day without fail, even if for just a few seconds or a few minutes at first. Take baby steps with it until you’re running free, like you’re Laura Ingalls Wilder running across the prairie and home to see your Pa. And trust the joy. I didn’t trust it because it never seemed to stick around for long. I know now that I don’t need it to stick around because now I know how to summon it when I need it. I trust it to come when I call for it.
I stopped looking and longing for grandiose talents or impressive skills. I stopped trying to put passion in a corner and instead learned to grab hold of joy when it grabs hold of me. I finally understand what it means to be gifted and my gifts and I are currently locked in a warm and comforting embrace. What is trying to grab hold of you?