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Wakum Mata!
Politcally Incorrect Musings
A word from my friend, Ron (posted with permission) 
20th-Jun-2005 09:33 pm
copyright 2005 by Ron Sanders. ------

Lessons learned from 20 weeks of Sabbatical

My greatest fear, when I began my sabbatical, was that I would waste the entire year and have nothing to show for it. It took me years to save up enough money to take a year off. I don't want it to turn into a year long vacation. Oh sure it would be nice to lie around the pool all summer, have a chance to relax, recharge and re-gain perspective, but that isn't really my plan.

A sabbatical is something different. A sabbatical is what you take when you want to grow as a person. I've spent the last 6 weeks researching, contemplating and exploring. I've read books, essays and interviews from researchers, counselors and sages. During this time I have come upon two hard incontrovertible facts that I thought I would share with you:

  1. More than anything we seek the experience of being alive.

Aliveness comes from being fully there in the moment. Think back to every great moment of your life.... During that moment you weren't worried about laundry or dinner. You didn't sleep through the moment. You were there: Fully engaged and living in that moment! At the end of your life, you will value the moments that you really lived and wish that there could have been more. i

(Check out my footnotes at the bottom of the essay)

  1. If you want to feel alive, you need to express yourself. ii

I have found that people keep trying to feed the same three hungers. We have an urge to create, to know and use our talents, and to know that our life matters. Feeding these three hungers is what I call expressing yourself. Until you express yourself fully, no matter what you do, it will always seem to you that you should be doing something else.

A word about character:

Expressing yourself means learning, growing, stretching, exploring, taking risks, creating. All of which shapes your character. As it turns out, the character that you manifest while expressing yourself is more important than the product of your expression, or to put it another way, who you become in the process is more important than the destination. (Sounds like the perfect metaphor for life)

Time and time again while reading entrepreneurial books, I came across the notion that a successful business isn’t about an idea, it’s about character. Businesses don’t succeed because they started with a great idea, the perfect location or a truckload of capital. iii (Although those things might help) They succeed or fail based on the character of their owners. I argue that the same is true of living a fulfilling and authentic life. If you think that living a fulfilling life is like winning the lottery, something that you gamble on and luck into, then lottery odds are about your odds. It’s all about character.iv

A word about success:

Success is often measured in external ways. (Money, fame, respect) There is also an internal measure of success and it is called fulfillment. I have found that the external indications of success lag behind the internal indications of success.v Long before the world calls you successful, you need to find what you call fulfilling. Don’t go out looking for success, instead go looking for fulfillment and you may find success as well.

For the young who want to vi

Talent is what they say you have after the novel is published and favorably reviewed. Beforehand what you have is a tedious delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done after the play is produced and the audience claps. Before that friends keep asking when you are planning to go out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you have after the third volume of remarkable poems. Earlier they accuse you of withdrawing, ask why you don’t have a baby, call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s, take workshops with fancy names when all you can really learn is a few techniques, typing instructions and somebody else’s mannerisms is that every artist lacks a license to hang on the wall like your optician, your vet, proving you may be a clumsy sadist whose fillings fall into the stew but you’re a certified dentist.

The real writer is one who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogistonvii after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.

– Marge Piercy

So let me get back to my point. I knew at the start of my sabbatical that I would like to be able to identify how it changed me as a person. Changing as a person indicates living, growing, manifesting character. I somehow knew that was important but I wasn’t really sure why. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was asking, “How do I feed these hungers that we all feel?” The real question we need to answer is:

How do we go about fully expressing ourselves?

This is the best answer I have found: We need to find the intersection of three things.

1. Passion. 2.Talent 3.The Right Environment.


Passion is the energy to get things done. Passion makes you come alive.viii That should be a huge clue right there! If you really want to live, passion has to be part of the formula. Besides, it’s what keeps you in the game when things aren’t going well. It makes the risk and consequences worth the cost. But there is a catch…. Very few people are born with a burning passion. Passion starts off more as a curiosity, an interest. It is up to you to play with it, nurture it, and see if it flares up into something more. I can name a handful of things I am passionate about but hundreds of things about which I am curious.


Most people find satisfaction in being good at something they enjoy. That satisfaction can be very important in the initial stages of exploration. If you try something that you have never tried before, and you find that you are good at it, you will be more likely to keep trying it and see if a passion develops. But try to think of talent as more of a guideline than a law set in stone. It can take years for talent to emerge. Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team. Fred Astaire’s first screen test was a flop. Don’t be too hasty in eliminating things based on your current talent. Lots of people have been successful with questionable talent.ix Strengths and weaknesses develop best in the context of interest. You can’t learn your talents by thinking about them any more than you can learn how to swim by reading a book. It’s by doing that you learn.

The Right Environment:

You can be passionate and talented, and still meet with frustration and a lack of fulfillment if you aren’t in the right environment. You need an environment that matches up with your values, temperament, style, etc. You can’t be told what is the right environment for you. You just know it when you finally find it. Like passion and talent, it is something you discover while searching. Keep searching until you find it.

So I have boiled my sabbatical down to looking for a good combination of these three factors. It doesn’t have to be the perfect situation that utilizes my strongest passion, greatest talent and the perfect environment. There isn’t only one winning combination. There are thousands of combinations that will work.

Here is my plan for exploration. It doesn’t require a year long sabbatical but it does require a little discipline because that is what keeps things going until they develop some inertia of their own. It also requires some patience because time must be your ally and not your enemy.

The Plan:

Step 1. Pick a project that seems interesting.

It can be to learn something, or make something, or answer some question. It should be hard enough to stretch you, but only just, especially at first. You should also have the means to finish it.

Step 2. Set a deadline: A month or less to start. Without a deadline there is no sense of urgency.

Step 3. Make a list of things you will need to complete your project.

Step 4. Organize the list into a plan.

Step 5. Take action today. Don’t wait. Do something now!

Step 6. Do something that advances your plan everyday. Get up and do it first thing in the morning. Don’t wait until the end of the day. Make it a point to get something done on the project every day no matter what. (This is where the self-discipline comes in).

Step 7. No matter how the project turns out, make mental notes on what you enjoyed, what your strengths and weaknesses were, and in what type of environment could you see yourself doing more of the same.

Step 8. Repeat with a new project until the process becomes self-sustaining; each project generating a new project. This could take years. (This is where you let time be your ally).

This process will reveal your passions and talents and allow you to identify the right environment when you find it. The plan is about searching for fulfillment not success.

If you think you want to be an artist then pick an art project and complete it. (Draw a landscape, paint a portrait, whatever.) Use the steps 1-8. If you can do that every day for 3 months then you are an artist. I don’t care what anyone says. If you can’t sustain the daily regimen then being an artist may not be for you. Re-evaluate your passion, talent and environment and try again. If ultimately it’s not your passion, that’s great! You can eliminate that from your list and get on with finding your real passions.

This is what I have learned from 20 weeks of sabbatical. I hope that it helps you as much as it has helped me. Today is June 1st and I am going to pick a project from my list and complete it before the end of June. I’ll let you know how it goes at my next update. It is my first step in a lifelong journey of figuring out how to express myself in the world. Wish me luck!

i Some Random moments in which I really felt alive:

First day of Track:

When I was in 7th grade I decided that I should try out for track. I had never played an organized sport and many of the kids in my class had been playing team sports for years. The athletic click was already formed and my best friend Patrick and I were outsiders. We were worried that we wouldn't make the team so we decided to start training months before tryouts. Almost everyday, we ran 2 miles out to Eisenhower road and back. It was hot, hard and not much fun. On the first day of tryouts one of the jocks that lived down the street from Patrick asked us if we were there to be water boys. That was before the coach started testing the group. In every event Patrick and I placed 1st and 2nd. If I won one race, he would win the next and the entire athletic click would come in behind us. After worrying if we would make the team and being asked if we were going to be water boys, we crushed them like bugs. It was a glorious feeling! Walking home from practice we were smiling ear to ear. For weeks after that, when I saw Patrick in the hall, I would ask him if he ever thought about being a water boy.

Returning from American Samoa:

When I was 18 years old I spent 8 months working in American Samoa to pay for college. You might think that is a pretty cool experience but it pales in comparison to one particular moment coming home. I had just stepped off the plane in Albuquerque and I was walking down the hall when I spotted my parents in the distance. They had come to pick me up. My mother was still far away when she finally spotted me. In a squeal of what can only be described as pure delight she said, “There he is”. In that moment, by the joy I felt in the tone of her voice alone, I knew that I was loved. The sheer excitement in her voice connected with my heart deeply. I’ll never forget that feeling.

Chile and the washrag:

My grandmother always said that God gave the little ones all the energy because he knew that they wouldn’t waste it on work. They would laugh and play and sing as God intended. Our dog Chile evidently got God’s memo. Chile can be very mischievous. One day she stole a washcloth and was racing around the house with it in unbridled joy. When joy burns that bright it’s infectious. Sarah and I were doubled over in tears laughing. At that moment my thoughts weren’t anywhere else. I was THERE! Laughing as hard as a man can laugh. Living that moment for all that it was worth.

Catching falling leaves on my honeymoon:

Sarah and I had a honeymoon that could only be described as magic. We explored New England in the fall and it was beautiful. We stopped at a little state park and we had the entire forest to ourselves. The air was cool, the light was lazy and leaves rained down on us as we explored. That day we both lived totally in the moment. In fact we did so for an entire week. It was wonderful. I wouldn’t trade that week for all the gold in the world.

Not all of the moments I felt alive were joyful. Some of them are marked by profound sorrow. I wouldn’t trade those either. They have shaped my character and made me who I am. I am grateful for them.

ii I’m not saying that the only path to feeling alive is through self-expression. I’m just saying that if you want to take an active part in feeling alive, you will need to do some expression. Many of the moments in my life that I have felt alive were relatively passive.

iii How many times have you seen a successful business go under after the ownership changes? It’s because the business is an extension of the owner’s character. A book is the extension of the author’s character, a painting an extension of the artist.

iv Financier J.P. Morgan was once asked what he thought the best bank collateral was. “Character”, he replied.

v Long before Lance Armstrong was the 6-time winner of the Tour de France, he was a kid in Texas who loved to ride bikes. No one knew his name. He rode because he loved it. It was fulfilling.

vi From the book “Fooling with Words” by Bill Moyers

vii Note from author: Phlogiston was a pre-nineteenth-century explanation for why things burned: People said things burned because they contained phlogiston. It always stuck me as the perfect example of false explanation.

viii "Don't ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive."
  -- Harold Whitman (Thanks Priscilla for the quote!)

ix Look at Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert or Stephan Pastis the creator of Pearls before Swine. Both are very good at creating funny comic strips but they are questionable artists. Their drawings aren’t much better than stick drawings. You would think that being able to draw would be a necessary talent of a comic artist. Instead their talent lies in timing, material and just plain being funny. They found the right balance of passion, talent and environment.

21st-Jun-2005 03:01 pm (UTC) - Holy Crap Batman
Please do those of us who do read your LJ a favor and have your wife show you how to use Semagic (LJ cuts are your friend, dear)
21st-Jun-2005 05:53 pm (UTC)
(lessthan)lj-cut(greaterthan) (lessthan)/lj-cut(greaterthen) works wonders!

(lessthan)lj-cut text="Text"(greaterthan) (lessthan)/lj-cut(greaterthen) works too. Change the words to the symbols. :P
23rd-Jun-2005 08:47 pm (UTC) - Satisfied now?
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