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Woody Dunkin

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How did you find you life's work and passion after age 40? Is it possible?

I'm trying to find my passion in a career. I took the path most traveled and I found myself lost, unfulfilled after 25 years of working for a paycheck. I never discovered what I truly enjoyed and ended up here. No more excuses, only left to take action :)

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    May 28 2012: Hi Woody,

    For me, necessity was the mother of invention.
    A bad project went seriously over budget and I was asked to resign.
    I just did nothing for a couple of months and then, after just letting it all go I stopped sending out resumes and allowed myself to enjoy being home with my family.
    Then my wife decided she was going to learn to play violin.
    I thought I would support her by learning a companion instrument so we could play together.
    I chose to learn the pennywhistle - I thought that would be easy for an old guy like me, After all, I had mastered guitar and a few other instruments as as young man.
    But then it started getting interesting, I could not find a pennywhistle in any of the major or minor music shops .. it was like they'd dissapeared from the culture.
    So I resolved to do something about that.
    I took my savings as capital investment, started a company and went about lifting the profile of the instrument in my culture through an online pennywhistle store. Moved out of the city to lower the costs and just leaned into it as hard as I could.
    All my corporate buddies were telling me I was crazy. And, yes, it was difficult. The funding was slowly sinking into the sunset, but I persevered.
    Along the way, I made a design for a pennywhistle and started to do my due dilligence for getting it made.
    By some crazy chance, I was introduced to one of the best woodwind makers in the world. He recognised my passion and helped me develop the design, plan the tooling, gain the skills and soon we had a working prototype that was worth introducing to the market.
    Since then, the retail side of the business has made way for manufacturing and the bottom line has stabilised with my order book full for the next 12 months.
    I can't say I've arrived at anything, because it keeps leading me through new things.
    In retrospect, I can say that I traded a position for a path.
    You cannot truly define your passion - you can only recognise it and commit to follow it wherever it leads
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      May 29 2012: For me it took education and curiousity.
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      May 29 2012: I appreciate your sharing your story. It takes courage.

      But believe me you, it helps a lot of people make sense of their lives. Your story is a learning worth a book for me. Thank you!!
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        May 29 2012: Hi Gaurav,

        Thank you for your kind words!

        I didn't have space to add, that:
        Passion is in our love for others. If it does not extend to others it is not a true passion.
        In my passion to add my value to culture, I found that culture - and that culture accepted me as a member with open arms.
        It was like landing on a new and wonderful planet that I did not know existed.
        If you can do it - it won't be easy, often not comfortable, but well worth it!
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          Jun 21 2012: That is a great story! Following your passion and doing what you wanted to do. Keep on inspiring others by sharing your experiences!
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      Jun 19 2012: I love your story. Very encouraging! Thank you for sharing.
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    May 28 2012: Woody, at 44 I took stock of my life in much the same way. I sat down with my most trusted and oldest friends and asked them, and I sat down and made a list of thing that made me, well me. Then I actually did it, dropped almost everything, went back to school full time and worked full time to pay the bills, and went to medical school at 46. I can't believe the life I've found for myself...and I wouldn't have traded a single moment that it took for me to get here, because the power of my path to medical school has given me so much freedom and courage to stand up for myself and my patients in a way that the twenty-something medical students never get. So Woody, I say really, really search your soul, write it down, run it by a trusted adviser...and strap on the running shoes. You're just getting started!
  • May 30 2012: Woody -
    At 40, I left a solid career in network management and database administration to return to school to become a teacher. I had always considered teaching but always ignored that "little voice" inside my head. So, I finally listened and am now a Technology Education teacher. (Some time ago this was industrial arts or "shop.") After changing careers, I found myself wishing that I had gone into teaching first. After a great deal of being "down" on myself about lost opportunities, I realized that I am a far better teacher now than I would have been earlier. All my experiences have made me who I am now and given me the perspectives and dispositions that I find so helpful in the classroom and shop.
    So, my advice is simple. Don't fret about being lost. Try something new. If its doesn't work out, try something else. You may be surprised to discover that your past "unfulfilling" work ends up being an asset in your new professional life.
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    May 30 2012: Long term goals can't be interrupted by short term desire. Typically we in North America are influenced by the mainstream media in having "things" and what I call temporary moments of joy. Sure the big shack on the hill is nice to have, but does anyone else really care where you live, or is it more important to you? Are your desires interrupting the goal? Have you traveled? I mean traveled...not vacation. Mexico in an all inclusive is a vacation but a backpack and a one way ticket to China and 2 weeks sharing a ride to Mt Everest is travel. I have found that spending time outside of your comfort zone and experiencing what others around the world are doing could influence your next steps.
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    May 27 2012: Woody, I found that the job I had done for 20+ years was actually the motivation for my life's work. I worked in several medical practices progressing from a file clerk, insurance manager, and eventually the administrator over 2 practices. I constantly witnessed patients that were uninsured, underinsured and even overinsured. When I left that career, I obtained my insurance license, then 5 years later opened my own agency at age 45. I have 20 agents that work with my agency; we only work with the highest caliber agents that put the clients first and provide impecable service. We have a senior division that deals solely with Medicare Recipients because that market has become so complicated and they need to be taken care of properly. It is so rewarding to see how happy we make people when they realize that they can afford all of their medications every month with our plans, or afford to enjoy life again. Most people said I was crazy opening an insurance agency at that time considering the economy and the volatility of Healthcare Reform and we are certainly not getting rich, or for that matter even making enough to pay the bills, but it is gratifying and I know I am doing what I was meant to do. Look at the parts of your job that you do enjoy and see if there is something there that you could find rewarding. Many people confuse their life's work with their hobby and that is why they aren't successful. Good luck finding your passion!!
  • May 27 2012: Woody, by the time you are 40 you wil have a history, a story worth reading. Take the time to read your own story. What were the best and worst bits? Does your story hang together? Is there a thread?
    Sometimes you need a ghost writer for the story, - find a coach, they can ghost read the story with you.
    Perhaps a coach isn't a possibility, so why not coach yourself- a lot of different ways to do it.
    Looking at the "business" of your life you might find "Business Model You" to be a good approach, but very specific in it's way.
    In any case, if you're enjoying the tale, why worry about how it ends?
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    May 26 2012: Woody, I believe it was Mark Twain who said "do what you love and the money will come." You already know the things about which you are passionate! Pursue them and something will certainly develop. I am about to retire after twenty years of military service. I am 44 years old. My passion has always been Balkan history and culture. Now I find myself about to enter a whole new career in academics, as an English teacher in Kosova and Albania. Yes, there are challenges, but I refuse to lie on my deathbed one day and say "I wish I had (fill in the blank)." Go for what makes you happy, Woody.
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    May 28 2012: As someone who has recently turned 50 and is on his third or fourth actual career I would like to say that you can always, or *almost* always find satisfaction and joy in where you are. This is far from saying that you should stay in any place, especially one that makes you unhappy, but as you explore other options please make sure you keep your eyes open for the unique wonders and delights of where you are. At least two of careers I pursued were things I would never have chosen but looking back on them, I wouldn't trade them for anything. Not only did I learn much in each of them . . . I LOVED them. Don't let the initial look of anything be the final determiner of your pursuit.

    Be well on the journey.
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    May 29 2012: Woody,

    I am in mid fifties and have always looked to doing things differently when the chips are down. After starting as a Salesman selling computers, I moved to managing high-tech product development about which I had very little knowledge or experience. I went back to local community colleges and grabbed what I could in a few terms and got "re-charged" and ready for the job. After 3 start-ups that had very moderate successes, all in telecom, I moved out to heading a Creative Design company about 3 years ago. This was totally a turnaround from 20+ years of high tech industry experience and personal expertise. But once I got into the design industry, I must say I started "enjoying" every day at work more than my previous jobs, largely due to the uncertainty and creative nature of the job.

    As a design consultancy, each client comes from different product and technology domain, the challenges and learning are never ending for me. And as a leader of a very creative group of 100 members, I am able to keep my grey cells busy all through the day, which otherwise would have been getting duller by the day.

    Hope you find inspiration from all the comments your question has brought and make you "re-vitalized". I believe you have still a looong time to go!! Wishing you the very best.
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      May 30 2012: Your story is quite inspiring, worth reading a biography. I have seen a lot of people say that it is counter intuitive to change what one has been doing for a long time.

      There is also the 10,000 hours outliers story. Many people profess by experiencing a change in themselves just after they spent 10 years doing something. That they feel "it has become part of their being". Its obviously hard to explain and feelings are easier than reason.

      There is another popular belief, corporate executives very easily dismiss themselves as "Not the Creative Type". I did that at one of the TED Conferences and the friends I made there went after me,made me retract my statement and the result was - I went back to them next month with a list of creative things I had done ... from poetry, to designing my own shirts :) - I found my creative block was just a meme.

      Look forward to what you think about the above - - one contradiction and one support of your story. Thank you once again for sharing your inspirational experience.
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        May 30 2012: Gaurav

        Thanks for sharing your comments. I think, one of the motivators for people who got some experience in hard start ups is "what else can go wrong"? This deja vu experience makes them to not fear the unknown and hence they tend to take the uncertainties in a more casual, but confident way.

        As far as your experience of doing a bunch of creative things, yes, I know people who have exactly done these things because of being challenged. It does take a lot of initiatives to do this, even if under challenge.. good to know you did those things to prove to yourself first and then to others.

        cheers
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    May 28 2012: At 41 I discovered that I had more natural inclination and ability as an electrician or plumber than I did for the white collar jobs at which I failed (I have a BA in Psychology and an MBA in Finance) The discovery came by accident by way of remodeling a home my wife and I purchased. The take away is to be open to new experiences-something I was not good at. It was not straight to the moon. At the time of this discovery I had become an at-home dad with two young children so returning to school for formal training was out of the question. Roll forward. I continued to develop my skills as I proceeded through home rehab with the attitude of "I can do this." I began doing handyman jobs for my mother-in-laws widowed friends. As my kids got older I was able to take on more work in what turned out to be a great part time job-handyman for hire. All the while I was looking for another way back into the status of 'successful..." It took me a long time to realize that I had a very successful new career, albiet,part time. The take away is that perspective is important. Now I am 62. In recent times I have combined my love for fixing things with my long time interest in video production. I have produced and published a growing list of 'how to' videos. No money involved-just the fun. Take away-its fun. So the three lessons are 1) be open to new experiences, 2) get a different perspective 3) it should be fun. A final note-it doesn't have to be full time.
  • May 27 2012: Woody, the word 'career' may well be a box within which you cannot fit. Well travelled pathways are like speaking the words of other people... they may seem plausible and yet when the time comes for you to defend that person's words or position, you cannot find any rationale with which to defend them.

    Rather than working for a pay check, I think it would be useful to envision what you want to work at... your ideal job, and then set about making moves towards working in that field. Work that engenders your passion is never work, it is a joy to undertake. My wealth is not in financial terms but in the work I do and have spent 30 years honing to a degree where I just feel that I am starting to really understand the work which I do for a living.

    I don't have to ask myself at the end of each working day whether my work is of any value to society... I know that it is and that fact helps me to sleep happily and soundly. I am currently finding new challenges to engage me during my free time.

    Family is, of course, important but doing new things helps to keep my mind active too. Recent challenges which I have set for myself have included learning to play the piano, taking up archery, learning to drive a powerboat, woodworking, learning to fly a glider, understanding Unix and above all; staying interested in the world around me.

    Find what you love to do and then do what you love. Salaries are secondary. Jobs for life are no longer a reasonable expectation. Ask yourself what would you do if you lost your work tomorrow. If you are honest with yourself and treat the question seriously, the answers may well surprise you and give you the courage, the flexibility and the impetus to change that which leaves you unfulfilled.

    25 years working at an unfulfilling task is not a total disaster and... it is eminently fixable. You have nothing to lose but your chains. May I suggest that you read Walden? by Henry David Thoreau. He said "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"
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    May 25 2012: Dear Woody,
    There are some great suggestions and ideas already on this thread, and a very insightful comment by you!

    Woody Dunkin
    2 days ago: "Your characterization is very accurate! It is difficult to become someone I never allowed myself to be AND what that is exactly I'm trying to figure out. Thank you"

    You also state, in your introduction, that you were "unfulfilled after 25 years of working for a paycheck".

    If your intent was only working for a paycheck, you got EXACTLY what you were working for huh? As you were doing the job, did you try to recognize any joy, enthusiasm or passion in yourself? Did you bring passion to your work?

    To me, passion is not something "out there" to be found, nor does passion have anything to do with age. It is inside all of us and may need to be recognized. Perhaps you have not allowed yourself to recognize your own passion? I am passionate about living life to the fullest, so everything I do is with passion (fervor, ardor, enthusiasm, zeal).

    For me, most life experiences contribute to a flow of energy. When we are enthusiastic and joyfull about something, the enthusiastic energy flows back to us, fueling the passion. It is a choice we can make in each and every moment.

    Follow your heart...what makes your heart sing? What are you joyful about? Try lots of different things with enthusiasm, and look "inside" yourself for passion:>)

    I remember seeing this when I was a teenager and I embraced the concept.
    "Interested = interesting"
    "Interesting = interested"

    We can usually recognize SOMETHING about any experience that is interesting/passionate if we open the heart and mind to the possibilities:>)

    There are several other talks about passion on TED...did you check them out?
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      May 25 2012: Colleen,
      Loved the concept that you have embraced "Interesting=Interested and Interested=Interesting".
      Now,i can make out 'When you find something interesting,it shows u are interested in pursuing it".
      'When you are interested in something/someone,it shows u can do it with full of passion and interest'.
      Thanks Colleen for making me realize it!!
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        May 25 2012: YES Chetan!!!
        I notice that when one is genuinely interested, enthusiastic, and passionate, it is contagious to people who cross our paths...IF, they are open to it:>) It works like the ripple effect....we put out the energy of interest/passion, it opens up a lot more opportunities for us, and it certainly is much more enjoyable than the alternative:>)
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      May 26 2012: For me, most life experiences contribute to a flow of energy. When we are enthusiastic and joyfull about something, the enthusiastic energy flows back to us, fueling the passion. It is a choice we can make in each and every moment.

      colleen,
      This reminds me - the amount of flow of this energy depends on our ability to say yes to it.
      YES YES YES !
      ;-0

      I'm 60+ and I'm still not sure what I'll be when I grow up...LOL:>)
      quite admirable !
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        May 27 2012: Hello Mwenjew...nice to connect with you again:>)

        Yes...I agree...the amount of flow of energy depends on our ability to say yes to it.
        It depends on how open the heart and mind are to possibilities.
        YES YES YES!
        :>)
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    May 24 2012: Follow your curiousity. That little voice that says 'someday I'd like to ...'. Don't silence it, no matter how ridiculous it seems. Don't think about it. Don't wait for 'someday'. Just do it.
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    May 21 2012: i think passion doesn't relate with age.
    Make your hobby your profession, you will enjoy your work.
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      May 21 2012: I fully agree.....
      It's not only aplicable to work it's applicable to each every aspect of life.
      Passion makes difference and not age dependant.
  • May 31 2012: Like the man said you need to have several interests to find a passion. Most of us will have several over our long lives, 40 is not all that old to start over at something new that gives one drive.
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    May 29 2012: I am in my late fifties and have moved through several engaging careers. One emerged in my early forties and another in my mid-fifties. So age has nothing to do with it.
    I have several pieces of advice that echo what others here have said. One is to look at what you are doing, identify the most interesting parts, and enlarge those in your mind to get more satisfaction about what you are doing. Second, take a few courses, volunteer, and/or start in on a hobby that appeals to you. Do this "on the side" of your current work. In this way you increase the breadth of your experiences.
    Finally, just as it chokes off a person's ability to make decisions if he enters with a mindset that there is always one decision that is "best" and he needs to pick that one, I think it is stifling to assume that there is one passion out there with your name on it. There are probably several that might inspire you over a period of years, and, as you are only in your forties, you still have time for at least a couple!
  • May 26 2012: yea, the KFC colonel didn't start his biz until he was 62
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    May 25 2012: It's never too late to do new things, even you are at the age of 40+. In my opinion, it's based on how you look at the life around you. Be positive and everything will be fine.
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      May 25 2012: I agree Viet Dung Pham...never too late. I'm 60+ and I'm still not sure what I'll be when I grow up...LOL:>)

      "We do not stop playing because we grow old
      We grow old because we stop playing".

      What I focus on at any given time throughout the life cycle has changed. Passion lives in my heart always...all ways:>)
  • May 22 2012: Forty is just a number- our life expectancy is increasing, we, the privileged, educated class, can probably expect several careers over thisextended lifetime. Stop worrying about the time running out and take some time to reflect on what you want to be doing for the next few years. What are the things which most bug you about the world and what talents do you have which could help debug it? What activities get you into 'flow' where time and bodily requirements recede in the absorption you are experiencing in being truly inspired and creative? What has most interested and delighted you over your lifetime? Get in touch with your inner child and rediscover your curious child.Once you have really explored these 'feelings' and thoughts your passion or passions will emerge. The stronger your image of what you want to be doing- the more likely it is that your brains reticular activating system will find you the task you were meant to do in the world. I wish you joy in your explorations. Seeking is part of the joyfulness available to those of us in the lucky position of being able to concentrate on Self Actualisation.
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      May 22 2012: Thank you Annette - very sound advice. It's a hard process to go through. I agree with your direction to take and to stop worrying. I just need to do it. Consistently.
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      May 25 2012: well said.
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    May 22 2012: Hi Woody, It's never too late to live your life in tune with who you really are - and your 15 years of unfulfilled career need not be a waste of life. Knowling what you don't want is a valuable gift.

    You're a US citizen so I guess you were brought up to be an extrovert go-getter with considerable drive and ambition to climb up the career ladder (am I correct?) Perhaps your more reflective, perhaps your not ambitious or materalistic... Finding who you are can be difficult as you may have to become someone you've never allowed yourself to be before - yourself!

    If you can afford to set aside a period of time (weeks or months) to relax and let your mind drift into new areas of thought and imagination you may begin to consider areas of interest that are surprising to you now. Make a list and then try these out - even if only in a voluntry basis. Good luck!
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      May 22 2012: Your characterization is very accurate! It is difficult to become someone I never allowed myself to be AND what that is exactly I'm trying to figure out. Thank you
  • May 21 2012: Woody, I had the same experience a couple of years ago. It helped to have some outside perspective, so I engaged a life coach. For me the question began as "What do I want to be doing when I "retire"...'cause what I'm doing now is not what I want to be doing?" Certainly, you need to begin to see the world differently - you need to look at things differently. You need to explore what you value and what, after 25 years, you've realized you don't value. I also realized that maybe not all of us have PASSION - a wild unquenchable desire to do some particular thing...maybe some of us have passionS - a lot of little things that "spark" us. So, follow the sparks - explore them. Maybe they'll lead you to that bonfire of PASSION. Maybe they'll lead you to some interesting "camp fires" ...wouldn't that be fun? If money happens to be one of the "smokes" of the fires - great.
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    Jun 21 2012: Since you asked, here are some perspectives I used once I turned 40 to figure out if my career and life goals lined up at all... It's a scary process. Ultimately, you are the sole judge of the success of your evaluation. I think you will find that your answer will come from self inspection. Forgive the past. You did it. It's in the books. You traded money for time. I understand your viewpoint. Life is short. Do something fulfilling!

    What is your overall mission that you want to achieve during your life? Ariel is on the path of finding a passion. I also recommend focusing on projects or work you are passionate about. You have skills and talents you developed over 25 years of working. I recommend taking a personal inventory on what you know and how it could help you achieve your goals. You have work to do on this - write out what your personal mission is. It could be simple, or very complex. This is your mission. Once you have a mission statement, how are you going to achieve it? Your goals come from stating your mission, and then fill it in with "I will do this by doing xxxx" or "I will accomplish this by supporting xxxx"

    I hope this helps.
    Brad Norton
    http://www.nortoncreative.com/rubberchicken/
  • Jun 21 2012: At the age of 41 I actually found myself in the fortunate position of having already fulfilled and successfully accomplished my dream of owning and operating my own nightclub in NewYork City. After nearly a decade of very hard but extremely gratifying work and te sense of truly manifesting myself and living my dreams ... I was over it and needed a change. At 41 I realized I needed to find another passion, another dream another purposes order to continue my growth and evolution. I simply asked my self one question .. What do love as much as nightlife and hospitality and quickly answered myself .. Spa and wellnes. So I put my nightclub on the market with great gratitude for the gift of achieving this fulfillment of a dream and with great anticipation for the new journey and challenge ahead... This reinvention will require a reeducation for myself , an investment in myself to emerse myself in study and exploration in this new passion, new venture new dream ... So that I can emerge new and qualfied to change my course and earn the credibility in my new field. I will combine it with all of my talents and skills of my previous accomplishments and parlay it into a new life , lifestyle and journey with anticipation confidence and joy and a little healthy fear.
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    Jun 19 2012: Thank you all for replying with your insights. The encouragement is extremely helpful. I'm in the discovery stage of finding my passion(s). I will have something to share.
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    May 31 2012: Thank you for replying.

    This insight is special. Perhaps, a summary of what drives entrepreneurs. Perhaps what also makes them serial entrepreneurs. Thank you.
  • May 28 2012: Your comment is really inspiring. I am determined not to be stopped by those who say that I am too old (42) to change my career. But sometimes it is not easy (even when you have a passion) because some people feel threatened by these career moves. One of my friends told me that I was being immature because I am back in College. Am I not supposed to learn anything new after 40? Besides I still have my job and I've planned a smooth transition. Her remark was really demoralizing. Thanks to you Michael, you gave me the words I needed.
  • May 27 2012: fun.
  • May 26 2012: Having courage to do what you are inspired to do. I've always felt an inner compulsion to do certain things. I trust myself. I obey my every positive whim as much as possible. I decided to ignore external "judgementandcriticism" and just do what felt right to me. This approach worked to free my music so that now I can sit at a piano and play the music of my essence (instead of using my eyeballs to read and play the music of a bunch of fine dead musicians.) Playing my own music feels good and natural to me. After the first 6 months or so of making some music and some noise, the noise disappeared and now, when the real Rhonamusic comes out, people who hear it sometimes come over to me and tell me that my music causes them to have positive feelings around their heart areas. I use this approach with my writing and photography and I find it works. Doing your very own real stuff is the important starting point. After you have let your true self be manifested in your output of miscellaneous goods and services, then, you use your own intuition, your own mind, your own will, your own positive everything and you decide which of those goods and/or services to place in the moneymarket place to convert into the money income your heart and real self desire. Happy Today.