When I was a little kid I had a troll doll.

The early versions were hollow inside, and you were supposed to untie the pony tail and fill the body with stuff to give them life.  I opened up mine years later to find four small pieces of paper.  One said heart. One said guts. One said brains. And one said feelings.

Looking back, I see that was a very philosophical action to invite six year olds to embark on.  We loved it because it made our dolls real, It gave them life, which made them so much more fun to play with. Interestingly, heart, guts, brains and feelings are the forces that have guided my entire life. What are the forces, the themes, that guide your life?

As an artist, one medium I mastered was writing. I had amazing mentors guiding me. One pebble of genius came from a UCLA writing professor. He said that a writer’s body of work always revolves around the same three or so themes. I was like, huh? Wait, but––BWAAAAAAH! That sounded so limiting, so small. But my teacher was right.

Theme is the element in writing, in all of art, that makes the viewer feel. It’s also the passion behind why the writer writes. My mentor taught me something great that day, and I think it’s true for more than just writers.  It’s the key to harnessing your passion in life.

Let’s go back to the definition of the word.


I followed definition #1. The subject of a story. There’s millions of those, they happen all the time, out in the world… everywhere you look. My teacher used definition #2. That’s more elusive. The white lines on the page, like water, it falls through your hands, but it’s powerful enough to float a battleship.

You can adjust the concept from the art of writing to finding your passion life by looking inward. What are three thoughts, feelings, motivating forces that recur and pervade your life? Here we all are, sheltering in place, trapped in our homes with nothing to do but fill time. Give yourself a gift and dive deep into who you are. Let my teacher’s lesson guide the journey.

It will take you to a powerful place.

The themes my artistry has always revolved around are courage to live with integrity, empathy for the outsider, and a need for justice and fairness in the world. Those are powerful forces that drive my work and life. They fuel my passion. They determine what’s important to me, and they bring me tremendous joy.

Sometimes looking within gets too heady, too intellectual, and that will never lead you to the truth. You need to bypass the left side of the brain and get to the guts, the feelings. I think the best way to do that it to connect to the child within. Life hasn’t dampened their instincts or caused them to doubt their impulses.

So simplify the process by imagining you’re filling your doll with life. Maybe that doll is a stuffed toy.  maybe it’s you dog. Really pretend you’re deciding what that wonderful creature needs to be alive. What they need inside. What empowers them. Then think of you.

As adults, we tend to think about what we need in terms of things, like a house, nice clothes, a car. Those are like the first definition of theme, the subject of a story. The stuff outside of you. But fulfillment and joy, those riches come from within. And once you name those driving forces, you might not need as much of the stuff that you’d come to believe filled you up.