The case against passion

Dear friends,

I was listening to a talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert where she made some important points about the saying “follow your passion.”  As educators, isn’t this the advice we often give to young people?

Elizabeth Gilbert Quote about Following Curiosity

How could such well-meaning advice ever be problematic?

As Gilbert has shared, she used to advise audiences to “follow your passion” – until one night, after a talk, she received a message from a woman who had been in attendance.  In a nutshell she said this: You made me feel worse about myself, not better.  I’m not passionate about anything, and your talk made me feel like I couldn’t find success until I felt like I was on fire about something – which I’m not.

This letter caused Gilbert to reflect on the “follow your passion” mantra.  She concluded that perhaps it’s more useful to say, “follow your curiosity.”

While some people are able to apply single-minded focus to one endeavor, others (like me) have a “hummingbird mind,” a mind that flits from one interest to another.  Instead of drinking deeply from any one flower, we take small sips from many.

Image result for hummingbird

Our culture tells us this is wrong, while it feels completely authentic to those of us who live this way.

Gilbert also points out that “follow your curiosity” may lead to a passion – through experimenting with a variety of interests, you may find one that fascinates you, that inspires deep commitment for a long period of time.

I’ve been reflecting on this when I consider the advice we give to students who are undecided about majors, and future goals.  There’s so much pressure on young people to make these decisions early in life, but for many of us (me again), we arrive at our “calling” via a long and winding road.  We try, and discard, many roles before we land upon the right one.  And that’s ok.  No experience is wasted.

I encourage you to follow your curiosity and see where it leads.




Book Review: The First Lady

Dear friends,

I recently finished reading James Patterson’s “The First Lady”:


I’m not normally a big fan of the thriller / crime genre, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one, and I anticipate I’ll read more James Patterson books in the future.

The chapters are short, the font is reasonably clear and large (paperback edition), and it’s a large “floppy” paperback that’s easy to hold and read.  (These things are important to someone who’s nearsighted and likes to read in bed).  Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, so you want to keep racing ahead to see what will happen.

Not to give away too much, but the story takes place in Washington, D.C., and is peopled by highly-placed government officials.  When the First Lady goes missing, a mystery ensues – was she kidnapped?  Is she in hiding?  Where did she go, and why is she gone?  And who is at fault – terrorists, someone with a personal grudge, those close to the First Lady, or perhaps even the President himself?

This would make a good beach read – fast paced and exciting.

Happy reading!

Winnie and the Professor

Image may contain: Annette Hamel, smiling, cat and eyeglasses



A wing, a torch, a promise

“I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance; to live so that which comes to me as seed goes to the next as blossom and that which comes to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”

Dawna Markova

Foggy mornings

Dear friends,

Visibility is limited this morning, and it strikes me that this is a metaphor for life.  I know the landmarks in my community, but at the moment, they’re obscured.  It doesn’t mean they’re not there.

In the midst of feeling worried, overwhelmed, anxious, I focus on the metaphorical “fog” in my head.  I become disoriented.  I can’t see clearly.  And I start to believe that my plans, my dreams, my hopes for the future are completely out of reach.

Fog always burns off.  It’s a vapor.  It can hide things from our vision, but it is only a fleeting part of our reality.

Wishing you clarity today.



Seeking attention / seeking relationship

Dear friends,

This one resonated with me, and so I wanted to share.

Image may contain: text

If you participate in various social media platforms, you will inevitably come across a post that says “That’s it – I don’t need anyone!  I’m alone, and I’ll show them!” … to which others often reply with some variation of “Good for you!”  But it’s not.  It’s not good.

We live in community with others, and I see such posts as a cry for help, a declaration of isolation, of loneliness.  As the photo above suggests, when people engage in “attention-seeking behaviors,” it’s likely that they’re actually seeking relationship (or else why would they do it?  Something to ponder).  Under such circumstances, the person who answers the bid for attention, responds to the cry for relationship, might not be the most wholesome person to bond with.

Image result for seeking attention cats

So what does this mean?  Are we supposed to befriend every lonely person who crosses our path?  Are we required to break down their walls?  Of course not.  It’s not practical, or necessary, or good for our own emotional well-being.  But thinking about these things can help us to reflect more deeply on others’ behaviors, and on our own.

When someone “acts up” (behaves like a jerk), what if we stopped for half a second and considered that maybe he’s feeling disconnected from others?  And maybe his jerky behavior is the outward manifestation of this feeling of disconnection?  Would we become slightly more compassionate, perhaps?  And then there’s the need to reflect on our own behavior.  Do I push people away, when I’m really longing for connection?  And isn’t that a counter-productive thing to do?

It all comes back to this:  We live in community with others, and often, it’s hard.  We bump up against each other.  We want different things.  We don’t like being vulnerable, or admitting that we feel isolated even in a crowd, because it seems like nobody understands.  But instead of lashing out, we can count to ten and examine why we’re acting this way, and whether this behavior will really help us reach our goals.

Today, let’s be compassionate with ourselves and others.  This “being human” thing isn’t easy, but we can be kind to each other, one day at a time.



Frustration, ideals, despair, and tenacity

Dear friends,

“Yearning for the seemingly impossible is the path to human progress.” 

– Bryant H. McGill


I’m hearing a lot of discouragement lately, particularly about how we’re not living up to our potential as a culture.  We want our country to be a safe place filled with fairness and opportunities to prosper, while the news is filled with stories of danger and inequality.

I hear the cries: We’re supposed to be a culture of freedom, and equal rights, and opportunity.  We’re supposed to be able to speak our minds, to debate big ideas, to elect our government without interference or corruption.

Every day, I see people giving up.  They throw up their hands and say: It’s no use.  I have no agency in this situation.  We’re all going to hell in a handbasket.

But wait …

Free speech is an ideal, and we haven’t fully achieved it yet.  Equality is an ideal.  “The shining city on the hill” is an ideal.  Comfort, and safety, and living in community with others are all ideals we aspire to, and it’s frustrating when we collectively fall short.  But despair is not the answer.

Tenacity is.

We act as though we’ve attained those ideals, and now are backsliding, but that was never the case.  The “founding fathers” created a list of aspirational freedoms to guide themselves and future generations toward (what was then thought to be) an ideal society.  We’ve changed and amended those goals over time, but the fact remains: they are goals.  We’re not there yet, and perhaps we never will be, but we must be guided by principles that are instructive toward building the best community possible.


And to those who complain about “kids these days” – you must not know the same kids that I do.  My students at Western Michigan University are some of the most optimistic, ambitious, and determined young people you would ever want to meet, and they are going to accomplish great things.  They care, and they’re not giving up anytime soon.

I think they’re going to succeed where previous generations have failed, and I can’t wait for the future they’re going to build.



Define yourself

Dear friends,

“Don’t let anyone else define you – define yourself.”

I came across this quote today, and bumped up against it.  On the surface it sounds great, right?  Our individualistic culture conditions us to believe that we have complete control over our lives, and deciding our “identity” is completely within our hands.

Except it doesn’t work that way.


Communication scholars (and other social scientists) will tell you that our sense of identity is formed in relationship with others.  We live in community, and our sense of self is partly (some would say, largely) dependent on how others react to us.  I may define myself as friendly, but if others find me cold and aloof, they’re not going to be drawn into friendship with me.  If I am self-aware, I will notice the reactions of others, and I can make appropriate adjustments.

We all know people who have a distorted sense of how they are seen by others.  Your friend might believe he’s charming to women, but others laugh at his awkwardness.  Your sister might think she’s a great singer, but her vocals cause others to cringe.


Don’t get me wrong – confidence is a great thing, and “fake it till you make it” often works.  We can decide how we want to enter the world, but we can’t control how others react to us.  So that quote about not letting others define you, but defining yourself, is too simplistic, too reductive.  I define myself, you define me, and these definitions will clash and combine and influence each other.

We understand ourselves more clearly in relationship with others.




Life update

Hello friends,

It’s been a rough week.  A childhood / school friend passed away last week, and this week we celebrated her life and laid her to rest.

Tuesday night was the wake / visitation, and it was amazing to see how many people were there.  It was such a testimony to a well-lived life that touched a wide circle of people.  We met family members, coworkers, friends, and clients from across the years of her life, all there to honor what she had meant to them.

Wednesday was the church service / funeral, followed by the procession to the cemetery for the burial.  Afterwards, a luncheon, and then we all joined together in a balloon release (the balloons were biodegradable!) as a final send-off to our friend.

She leaves two grown children and a husband.  The kids seemed to be doing ok.  Her husband is broken-hearted.  Please include all of them in your prayers.

Rest in Peace, Gerri Ann.  You were loved, and you touched so many lives.  What more can we hope for when our time on earth is through?



Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor


Dear friends – and students – and new Bronco alumni!

It’s graduation season, and I love the privilege of watching my students cross the stage in caps and gowns.  (And I get hugs too).  I’m so proud of these wonderful young people, and I truly believe they’re going to enter the world and accomplish great things.

The commencement ceremony marks a rather strange moment in time – it’s an ending, and a beginning.  It’s a time of accomplishment, but also a launching pad into the unknown.


During the ceremony, students are told (and this language will also appear on their diplomas) that they are granted their degrees “with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities pertaining thereto.”  The rights and privileges are pretty easy to understand, but the responsibilities?  A degree comes with responsibilities?

Yes, it does.

A degree from our institution marks you as a public intellectual.  It’s a public statement that you have received instruction in a variety of subjects, and have attained a certain level of proficiency.  One of my professors in grad school explained it this way:  It means you now have a responsibility to take part in your community, to use your knowledge for the betterment of your world, to speak out.  Having a degree gives you credibility, with institutional backing.  You abdicate your responsibility to the rest of us if you take your new knowledge, and go hide in a cave.

I hope our new alumni will embrace this responsibility, along with the rights and privileges that come with those brand-new degrees.  Congratulations!  Now go and take part in your world.


Dr. Hamel


Life update

Dear friends,

I spent most of this week working on my book manuscript.

Why?  So many reasons.  Because I can write, because this stuff matters, because I have a contract, because the publisher keeps sending me reminders.  Mostly because I want my students to be able to connect theory with a well-lived life.

It’s a huge privilege to have something to say, and an outlet through which to say it.  That fact is not lost on me.

We WILL get this published for fall.  Yes.