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What Makes You Happy?

Think about what comes easy to you and not to others. If certain tasks or activities seem so easy, maybe you can use them to express one—or more—talent. Do people tell you that you explain things so clearly and are such a good listener that you would make a great teacher? Do they say, “I wish I could do that!” Or “Wow! You did that?” Those are your trigger phrases. The next time you hear them, take note and recognize you are being praised for your secret talent.

When I was a small girl, my parents were very strict with my older sisters—they were not allowed to go to parties, and they hardly ever had friends over to our house. My father was all hard angles—his body could cut you if you got close if you weren’t careful, if you didn’t know the right way to move around him.

But by the time I turned thirteen, my parents were too tired to police my life. My older sisters had worn them out, and my teenage years became one party after another, not only night after night, but sometimes an afternoon gathering at one house followed by an evening party somewhere else. I danced, sang, and danced, and sang. I wore trendy wide-legged jeans, white denim, neon belly shirts, and dresses with abstract, multi-colored designs. At thirteen, I was running my own show, but parties won’t get you far in life.

And partying didn’t make me happy. What brought me real joy were the times when I was alone where it was quiet and I didn’t have to sing, dance, and be part of a crowd. I loved to sit in my father’s study and avidly read Corneille and Racine plays, Tintin comic books, and the adventures of Fantômette, the French teenage crime fighter. I loved the smell of books: Musty, inky—earthy, perhaps. It wasn’t just the smell of paper. That smell was mixed with pageturning sweat, the spilled ingredients hastily swabbed off the pages of my mother’s Haitian recipe book. The smell of eagerness and my hunger for words. The smell of my world.

So, I became a writer. At school, my teachers loved my stories so much they shared them with the class. Sister Anne-Marie (I went to an all-girls Catholic school) put me in charge of the morning prayer, and I wrote poems to God that made students weep and occasionally rose the hairs on the back of my own neck. I was good at this.

What makes you happy? Take a sheet of paper and, without thinking too much about it, write down tasks and activities that bring you joy and satisfaction. (If you’re in school, avoid focusing solely on academic life. Think about everything else that excites you: your passions or your hobbies.) Then, ask yourself, what aspects of each task or activity you particularly like. For example, if you’re currently a team leader for an extracurricular activity, what excites you the most? Is it taking the lead on some projects? Or, is it paying attention to your classmates—making sure everyone has a part in the project and can bring their special talents to the group? It’s about identifying what captivates you the most. To do this, focus on what you’d like to do right now, not in ten or twenty years. Imagine the weekend is coming and you have several hours to indulge in your favorite activity. No school deadlines. No social engagements. You can spend hours doing what you want all by yourself. You can forget the world and allow yourself to be (pleasantly) absorbed in one task you find both challenging and fulfilling. If you can find an activity that makes time fly and brings you joy, you’re in the zone.

There: You’re on your way to finding your talents. If you are in the zone, it is likely that you use one or more of your strengths. The next step is to identify the other skills required by this type of task and sharpen them.


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