You Can’t Fake Passion–Even When You’re Good at Something

By Alice Kuo Shippee

Inspired by my kids’ amazing elementary school, The Knowing Garden, I’m embarking on a series of passion projects. At their school, students have an hour each day to work on a project of their choice; it can be to create (make something new), innovate (improve something already existing), or educate (teach others). Their personal interests are fostered & their journey of inquiry supported by the adults in the community. The teachers help them structure their research & dig deeper with questions; parents might have something to offer in the way of experience or skills. I have always been inspired by how children so clearly know what they’re interested in; they have many questions about the world, & usually their only problem is deciding on just one on which to focus.

Last year, my husband & I worked with Tom Pitner of Zen Four, a life coach. For three months, we explored in particular our “competencies” vs. our “preferences.” Turns out, they’re not always the same thing. As a mom, I have to be competent at a lot of things; & anyone who is a parent knows that just because we can do something doesn’t always mean that we want to do it. But often, our abilities become equated with our preferences–to the people we work with, to our partners, to ourselves. In many workplaces, we will get assigned a task, we’ll do a great job on it, & then we’ll find that we get assigned that task over & over again–without any question of whether or not we want to do that task. Leadership thinks, “Hey, she was awesome at that! Let’s have her do it again next time!” That’s the smart choice for them, right? Pick the person who’s going to do the job well. And as employees, we are flattered to be picked, & we keep doing that task. In fact, because we’re no dummies, we get better at it every time; soon we’re not just doing it well, we’re hitting it out of the park! Now we’re REALLY associated with the success of that task, so the cycle continues.

But so many of us have had the experience where we start asking, “Ugh, why do they keep having me do this?” And we joke with each other, “Don’t do it too well, because then they’ll keep asking.” And resentment builds, especially when someone else who doesn’t do the task well then isn’t asked anymore & they don’t have to do it. None of us would purposefully fail at a task we know we can do well, so we just keep doing the cycle.

So, what I came to understand in my life coaching was:

COMPETENCE ≠ PREFERENCE

ABILITY ≠ PASSION.

Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should do it.

But we get trapped into it–sometimes by cultural norm or our upbringing. How many of us make these “should” statements to ourselves?

“If I can bring homemade cookies to the bake sale, I should. I shouldn’t do store bought.”

“If I can do my own taxes, I should. I shouldn’t hire someone to do them.”

“If I can go to the party, I should, even though I think I’m coming down with a cold.”

Really, though. Why? Why should you?

Now, we all know that we have to do shit we don’t want to do ALL THE TIME. And we adult & just do it. It’s BECAUSE we already do this that the idea of occasionally asking oneself, “Am I passionate about it?” is important.

If you are passionate about baking, then by all means, bake those artisanal Snickerdoodles. It’s baking with a passion that brings you & others joy. You gotta be honest if you’re just trying to impress someone or trying to avoid guilt because you’re impressed by someone who bakes & you wish you would care about it as much as she does.

Are you passionate about doing your own taxes? Does it make you feel empowered & financially abundant? Then do it. If not, pay H&R Block & get over it.

Are you passionate about dressing up & going to that party? Then go! If not, I’ll bet $100 that your friend would much rather you go home & take care of yourself & not spread your germs all over the appetizer table. Real, emotionally mature friends would rather that.

Our ENTIRE lives can get filled up doing the things we happen to be REALLY GOOD at & yet DON’T want to do. Since we have so many tasks that we can do, should do, & must do, let’s all try to cut at least just those things that we can do, should do, & DON’T HAVE TO DO. That will allow us to carve out just perhaps a few hours a month to do the things we LOVE, that we also CAN do.

I always love a good matrix, so here you go. Copy this on a sheet of paper & fill it in with 2-3 items in each box.

So, for me, it looks something like this:

So guess what I have spent most of my time doing…Yup. The meh stuff. And, this explains why, no wonder, I’m usually really deflated around dinner prep time…

TIME FOR A SHIFT.

I still have to feed my kids. I still have to organize my home. But can I do ever so slightly less of the things that fall into that lower right quadrant, so that maybe I can do just every slightly more of the things that I’m passionate about it? I think so. But that means asking for help!

For example, I have recently been enlisting the help of my friend Suzi of Summit Organizing to help me purge my closets & garage. While I can do it myself, I lack the enthusiasm for it. I want my house to be clutter-free & organized, & I actually am good at organizing, but I just don’t have the emotional energy to put into it. This is where a pro can make all the difference! She comes with all this positive energy & provides the moral support I need to do a task that otherwise just drains me, even though I intellectually can do it. And in having her help, I can retain my own emotional spirit to put into my passions!

So maybe for you it’s hiring a babysitter for a couple hours a week that you will DEVOTE to your passions ONLY. Maybe it’s hiring a housekeeper. Maybe it’s finally getting your kids to do some of the chores they’re perfectly capable of, but you have to let go of them doing them as perfectly as you would. And if anyone tells you you’re “lucky” to have a sitter or a housekeeper, you tell them it’s not luck, it’s a choice. You do have to pay those people, after all. And in choosing how to spend your money, you’re also choosing how to spend your time.

I think that the emotional advantages & disadvantages of our choices show up in the matrix something like this:

And when you really think about the quality of the life you want, those emoji faces pretty much say it all. There will be frustrations & challenges in every box in that matrix, but they will be met with a certain energy & will that is what you carry around with you all the time. Let that be at least something better than meh. ❤

Special thanks to the women of Raise Your Vibe Tribe for helping to light my fire. More on that & them in another post!!

 

 

 

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I’m Not a Vegetarian. I’m Chinese!

Have you seen this video yet? Fascinating. And disturbing.

 

It’s the type of thing that I’d comment, “WTF” on Facebook, SMH, & then move on. But nope. Today, I write a blog post because, WTF.

One day when our oldest daughter was in preschool, I got a call from her teacher, Katie.

“Today Zoë wanted to try some of another kid’s turkey, but I noticed that you guys rarely pack meat in Zoë’s lunches. I asked her if she was a vegetarian, & she laughed & said, ‘I’m not a vegetarian! I’m Chinese!'”

Katie & I had a good laugh over that one. Kids. They really show you what they think of themselves.

I’m first-generation, American-born Chinese. My parents are originally from China but spent their adulthood in Taiwan; they immigrated to the United States when they were in graduate school, & we’ve lived both stateside & overseas. My husband is Caucasian, born in Texas, raised in small-town Maine. His family has been in America since the Mayflower. Somehow, despite the differences in our childhood experiences, we two are kindred spirits.

When Zoë was 5 & declared herself to be Chinese & not a vegetarian, I don’t think we’d ever really talked to her about her mixed-race heritage, being Asian or white, or being an American. I think I was a little busy worrying about soy vs. dairy & whether or not My Baby Can Read was going to work (still not sure). When Katie told me what she said, I realized we had never covered the topic consciously or explicitly. And I wondered if we should.

AIM Mixed Race Family

We “Chinese” people. (Photograph by Desiree Asher Photography. I love this photograph. Aw, look at us…)

I subscribe to the belief that “what we focus on expands.” And I have feared that the focus on race in our family might lead to more issues or negativity than otherwise. We’d kind of been operating on the basis of, “You are who you are, & it’s awesome, & other people are awesome too.” Period, no qualifiers.

So, we had a little convo with Zoë that day, & it also came up that she thinks “we” are all Chinese–Daddy included. And I didn’t correct her right away, because I wanted to find out what “Chinese” meant to her. And as only a 5-year-old can, she explained herself in phrases & terms that I didn’t totally get. I think it meant we’re a family, & we are “we.”

Occasionally, the topic of moving to Maine has come up. Max & I always talk about it with a lot of enthusiasm & idealism: It’ll be great for the kids to have lots of nature! They’ll be able to play outside. They’ll love the seasons & the snow! They’ll be close to grandparents. They’ll learn can-do, country skills! No traffic! The cost of living will be so much more affordable than living in a Big City! Max is understandably wistful & nostalgic & longing to give his own children the idyllic upbringing he had in Small Town, America.

But I remember distinctly arriving in Maine the first time I visited there to attend my future sister-in-law’s wedding. I was the only person of color in the entire Bangor Airport. I think I usually wouldn’t notice, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been the only person of color anywhere I’ve been, since I’ve been living in Los Angeles foreverrrrr. It was the same feeling I had when I arrived in Taiwan when I was 12–but in reverse, because there, everyone looked like me (don’t get all crazy: not all Asians look alike alike, just keep reading). I’d never been in a majority population before. The truth is, I’m not comfortable with either end of extreme homogeneity. I’ve always been most at home in a really diverse environment like the one we live in now–populated with people of many ethnic backgrounds: whites, Hispanics, Asians & blacks from all different countries.

So, I told Max, “I don’t want my children to grow up in a town where their mom is the only person of color.” It would mean that the kids would be the only mixed race kids. I’m all about kids growing up feeling unique & having challenges that they overcome in the name of building character, but I remember very clearly what it was like to be one of three Asians in my elementary school in an area that is now ironically very Asian. Sharon Yamamoto & Mike Arai were both great at sports, which pretty much cements your social status in a Southern California suburb. I was not. I deeply felt my differentness in the 1970’s & 1980’s when Christie Brinkley & Cheryl Tiegs were the epitome of beauty. My only role model was newscaster Connie Chung. And the only other Asian women I saw on TV played prostitutes & refugees (you remember: M*A*S*H). So, in fifth grade, I decided I was going to go into broadcasting. Made sense.

And deep inside me, I don’t want my children to be led to believe that their non-white side is lesser than their white one. It’s very easy for this to happen, regardless of the model minority stereotype that comes with being Asian. America–& the world–has a long way to go with race relations. There are deeply ingrained prejudices that underlie the attitudes of the people that will come into contact with our children–their relatives, their teachers & coaches, their friends, their friends’ parents, their college admissions officers, their potential employers–attitudes most people won’t talk about, & when they do, it’s usually in a “political correctness be damned” kind of way, which really just means rude & self-righteous. Furthermore, our children will come in contact with attitudes that seem to represent people, but not through people–through social media & the news.

In Zoë’s class recently, the topic of Donald Trump’s racism came up. A student said, “If Donald Trump becomes president, he says he’s going to deport all the Mexicans.” Now keep in mind, this was said in the context that Trump’s views are actually repellent & wrong, but there was something about just those words that brought a real pall to the energy of the room. For the one Mexican-American child in the class*, I wonder how that felt for him. I think I know how it did, because for the 9-year-old me, it would have felt yucky. And I would not have had the words to express that feeling–or my indignation, or fear, or disgust, or bewilderment. As the parent teacher in the room that day, witnessing this discussion, I said, “Well, that’s not going to happen.” Because over my dead body.

Whether we like it or not, whether we want to admit it, prejudice is invisible & ubiquitous. That is what was so disconcerting about the video above. Where do children get these ideas? Most likely they are not consciously & explicitly taught them by their parents, though some may be, horrifying as that is to many of us.

And the teacher & parent in me always asks, “What can we do about this?” How can we raise kids not to have these prejudices about themselves & others? And if your own children are mixed race, how can you raise them to honor & celebrate all the components of who they are?

And I wonder, what would the kids in our community say if asked the same questions in that video, with a black doll, brown doll & a white doll? And for my kids, none of those dolls represents them either.

Zoë is 9 now, & she knows we are not all Chinese. I’m not sure when she discovered or determined that. I’ll have to ask her. I’ll report back.

* Zoë’s class has 5 kids in it (more about that another post when I will toot the horn of this amazing progressive school), & the breakdown is three Caucasian-Americans (one is half Iranian), one Mexican-American, one Amer-Asian.