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Lisa Manterfield
Lisa Manterfield
Child Development

Childhood Play: The Key to Finding Your Natural Gifts

Rediscover childhood passions to take you in a new direction.

Boys bouncing

When I was a little girl, I loved to play adventurer. I'd pack a backpack with juice and cookies, wave farewell to my mother in the kitchen and set out on an epic journey. I would crawl my way through the stalactites of the dining room table and chairs, trek across the vast wasteland of the living floor, and then face the monumental task of roping myself off and scaling the stairs. I thought there was nothing unusual about my fantasy adventures until I took my best friend Rachael along one day. While leaping the dangerous precipice between my brothers' beds, she slipped and fell into the icy depths of the ravine. I remember looking down at her sprawled on the purple carpet and thinking, "I guess not everyone is cut out to be a great adventurer."

It's fun to reminisce about silly childhood games, but that playtime could hold the key to rekindling your passion and figuring out your Plan B Life.

In her classic motivational book, Live the Life you Love, Barbara Sher suggests tapping into your childhood memories to uncover your gifts. Sher maintains that skills-the talents we usually turn to when planning a change of direction-are often learned out of necessity. Gifts, on the other hand, are things we are naturally good at or passionate about. It's these gifts that show us who we really are and who we could be in the future.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes was once a skills-based re-inventor of his life. Initially trained in law, Holmes later tapped his aptitude for science and retrained as a physician. He was well respected in the world of medicine and responsible for authoring several papers on practices still used today. But Holmes is best known for his poetry, a gift that he first nurtured as a small boy. Had he not tapped into his natural gift, Holmes would never have become one of the greatest poets of the 19th century. He acknowledged the human tendency to overlook our gifts in favor of more practical skills when he wrote, "Many people die with their music still in them."

Is your music still in you? How do you uncover your natural gifts, especially when they may have been dormant for a long time?

Kids skating

Get out of the house. Take a walk-take the dog if it helps-but take a notebook and take a trip back to your childhood. Make a list of all the things you've ever loved, all the subjects that piqued your interest, and all the things you've ever shown the slightest aptitude towards. Did you love to build models? Were you always performing made up plays? Did you love roller-skates, or were you fascinated by polar bears, trains, birds, or science? Could you build awesome Lego monsters or tease a tune out of almost any instrument? Did you toss out the instructions in your chemistry set and create your own exciting compounds? Or did you love to make compilation tapes for friends or choreograph elaborate dances to your favorite hits?

Make a list and then examine the feelings you experienced from doing those things. Do you see any patterns in the outcomes that motivated you? Did you love to create and experiment? Did you crave freedom and adventure? Or did you always want to relate to other people and connect with them in some way?

About ten years ago, I was working in finance, spending my evenings writing and trying to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. When I worked through the exercises Barbara Sher laid out in her book, my list of childhood loves included playing card games, identifying flowers, roller-skating, playing the trombone-and of course, going on dangerous adventures. None of these were sound choices for a major career change, but when I looked at what I loved about these pastimes, I saw a pattern-freedom, challenge, learning, self-expression, and communication. When I imagined taking those passions into a new career and fantasized what would happen five and then ten years later, some common threads appeared. Whether I began my fantasy career as a trick roller-skater, an international adventurer, or a world-famous magician, my true nature led me to share what I'd learned through writing, presenting, and teaching. Ten years later, I'm living the life I love. I'm not climbing mountains or lobbying to make Roller Derby an Olympic sport, but I'm writing books and articles, and teaching workshops-a passion that was always in me from my days under the dining room table.

If you're searching for a new direction and wondering what will make you tick, take some time to examine your childhood memories. You may discover a forgotten passion and break open ideas for a new Plan B life.

About the Author
Lisa Manterfield

Lisa Manterfield is the creator of and the author of I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood.

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