Finding passion in unlikely places

Passion doesn’t always arrive in the ways you expect.

After a day touring through quaint villages and lonely byways of England’s Cotswolds region, we were ready for a relaxing evening at our inn, The Village Pub in Barnsley. Yet as we turned into the inn’s parking lot, we had to negotiate our way around an unfamiliar object.Finding passion - steam engine

There, in splendid redness on the side of the road, amidst the low rumble of its engine and the vapor spewing from multiple vents and seams sat a steam engine. The image above will explain far better than I can. Apart from museums or books, I’d never beheld such a machine before, at least on this scale.

Finding passion - Steam engine and trailerWhen I was a kid, I dreamed of making a model steam engine, but even though the versions I saw were far less ambitious than this one (the models were stationary and about six inches long), the cost and complexity exceeded my paper route income and tween metalworking skills. I was fascinated then by the very elements that made this behemoth so wondrous: intricate metal parts and fittings combined with the heft of huge iron and steel components. Each rear wheel likely weighed more than my car.

Finding passion - Chris LarsonI approached the man clamoring over the vehicle and, unable to articulate any coherent specific question, said simply, “Tell me the story here.” He came over, arms and hands blackened with grease.

His name was Chris Larson. He and his wife, who was busy talking to an inquisitive server from the inn, were on their way to a steam festival down the road. They’d stopped at the inn for dinner since at four miles per hour, theirs had been a long journey from central Dorset county. It was a drive I would make in 90 minutes the next day but one that had taken them most of two days to accomplish.

When he mentioned a steam festival, my naive response was, “You mean there are more of these machines out there?” Indeed, there are. Over a hundred steam engines would be at this festival and there were dozens of these festivals across the country. An entire sub-culture of steam engine enthusiasts existed.

Finding passion - view from driver's seatChris invited me up into the driver’s area. We had to use a ladder propped against the rear wheel to do this. He showed me how he fed coal into the furnace and explained how he’d made this giant beast of a vehicle practically from scratch. He whipped out his phone (a rather anachronistic moment standing in a century-old vehicle using a 21st century mobile device) and showed me photos of the initial pieces he’d bought: part of the engine block, elements of a wheel and a few other odds and ends. My guess is that all of those original components amounted to at best 20-30% of this final vehicle. That meant he’d machined, forged, manufactured, scavenged and assembled all the rest on his own. Amazing.

Eventually, I had to let him go dine with his wife. I wondered how he was going to clean up those greasy arms for the rather upscale pub dining room. But the two of them ate outside on the patio and I left them to enjoy their meal in private.

Finding passion - front of engineFinding passion - engine lampBesides the marvel of encountering something so unexpected, seeing Chris’s steam engine and all the associations, memories and nostalgic longings it evoked made me realize something.

Chris had found his passion. He’d dedicated untold hours and a good deal of expense, I’m sure, in building that steam engine. Now, as he tours the various steam festivals, he can show off his work to wonder-eyed kids of all ages – like me. He’s able to connect with others who share that passion or are awakened to one they never realized they had. He, in short, lives in a world consumed by what brings him joy.

Before we turned into the inn’s parking lot, I didn’t know that any such steam engines still existed, especially in such great working order. So it makes me wonder: What else might be out there that grabs my heart? My passion? I’m not planning on building my own steam engine any time soon. But it delights me to know there are others that are.

It brings me a deep sense of gladness to realize this world is filled with people who do follow their dreams. Who take their passion seriously. Who tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges to bring to life what others don’t even imagine as possible. Who then find similar dreamers and doers who support, encourage and help them to carry on.

Finding passion - engine detailsI’m inspired to build, to make, to create. I’m not sure what it will be yet. But like that moment when I first saw Chris’s steam engine, I expect it will come on almost like magic.

 

The last place you look

The last place you look: Green Lake road

The last place you look may be just around the bend as on this road at Green Lake Conference Center. Keep going.

The last place you look is last for a reason

“Why is it that when you lose something like your car keys, you always find them in the last place you look?” my colleague Sarah asked her mother recently when Sarah had misplaced her keys. “Because,” her mother replied patiently to her grown daughter, “once you find them, you stop looking.”

When Sarah told me this story, I laughed. In part because her mom’s comment was so obvious. In part because I, like Sarah, had never made that connection before.

Sarah and I were at Green Lake Conference Center, a beautiful gathering place in central Wisconsin, for a set of meetings with other colleagues. After wrapping up our morning session, we headed to the dining hall for lunch. Our other colleagues had filled up a table so Sarah and I joined another one with a sign that read “Road Scholars.”

As I sat down and made introductions, I mentioned that the name sounded familiar. “Didn’t Road Scholars used to be called something else?” I asked. “Yes,” replied a sprite woman to my right. “Elderhostel.” “Oh,” I quipped, “the new name makes more sense since none of you seem either elderly or hostile!” I was in.

Lost and found

Sarah asked about their conference and found out it was a writing workshop. Their theme? “Lost and found.” I looked at Sarah. She just smiled. We spent the next twenty minutes learning about their writing, how they were enjoying it and how long they’d been coming there. One woman said this was her 23rd year attending the event. She noted how she loved the learning, the memories and mostly, the people she met, some old friends, some new acquaintances. “Come back another two years and you get a gold watch,” Sarah said. They all laughed and I could understand why someone would want to keep returning to such a welcoming place and group.

As these Road Scholars headed back to their writing, I got to thinking about Sarah’s earlier comment and how true it is. We do stop looking for things when we find them whether those are keys, people or even dreams.

The problem is, with the exception of the car keys, too often we give up looking too soon. We treat some things like our dreams or even our callings as if they were car keys, tangible, finite objects that we can grasp. And thus we stop looking when we think we’ve found them.

Why the last place you look shouldn’t be the last place you look

But what if there is more? What if we settle for just part of what is there and stop looking too soon? Artists and craftspeople will tell you that 50% of your effort on a project can get you 90% of the way there. But that last 10%? That’s where the difference is made between what is good and what is great. That is where you run the risk of ruining all you’ve done before because that last 10% requires so much additional effort and skill. So what do many of us do? We give up at 90%. We stop looking or trying.

When we stop pursuing our dreams or working through that last 10%, we end up wondering why life feels OK, but not entirely satisfying. Deep down we sense that we’re settling for mediocrity but we’re not really sure why. We don’t realize that we’ve stopped looking.

This isn’t about perfectionism so much as pursuit and relentless curiosity. It’s about applying the explorer’s need to know what lies beyond the next rise to the areas of our lives that matter most, our passions, dreams and creative interests. It reminds me of the phrase from the movie, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” where the father, played by Tom Hanks, shows his son the typo in the newspaper and reveals it as a clue, a mandate actually, to follow: “notstop looking.”

Let’s make it personal

How about for you? What has been lost or maybe just pushed aside in your life? Where have you stopped looking? Where do you need to pursue that last 10% to find what truly matters or to be truly found?

Shortly before the group of Road Scholars left, one woman mentioned that she had come here with her husband who is a writer. They had signed up for another workshop/conference but it fell through so she tagged along on this one. Before she arrived, she didn’t see herself as a writer. Now? Everything had changed. She loved the workshop and planned on coming back. “For another 20 years or so like this other person?” Sarah asked her.

“In 20 years, I’ll be 100,” she replied. But then, with a sly smile she added, “But you never know.”

Here clearly, was someone who was not going to stop looking.