Writer Fuel: Lesson #7 – Find What Makes Your Heart Sing

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

Word nerd, what makes your heart sing?

I have a confession: I love personality quizzes!

For the 16 Personalities, I’m an INTJ all the way, and according to the Four Tendencies, I’m definitely a rebel (surprise, surprise). But my favorite personality test of all is the Sparketype Assessment, developed by Jonathan Fields of the Good Life Project (GLP). 

I was a speaker and attendee at Camp GLP in 2018 when Jonathan first introduced the Sparketype concept and right away, it hit home for me. What I love about Jonathan’s approach is that instead of trying to categorize us by type (introvert vs. extrovert, rational vs. emotional, etc.), this assessment looks at what work truly makes our hearts sing. Instead of trying to answer “Who am I?” the Sparketype examines the question “What am I meant to do with my life?” 

And the beauty of it is that the logistics of our work don’t really matter. Instead, when we understand our Sparketype, we can uncover the aspects of our work that jazz us up and get us excited. It’s not about what we physically or mentally do in our jobs or lives. Rather, it’s about how we approach that work with the right mindset so it has meaning for us. Let me give you an example.

My Sparketype is Maker. This means that no matter what type of work I do, I approach it like an art project, like something I can build from the ground up. As I look back on all the different types of work I’ve done, that idea of making something is always at the core.

When I was a psychology grad student and researcher, the thing that got me most excited was putting together an experiment and figuring out all the moving parts of a study. As a toy designer, my passion was always focused around the design. From the design drawings and spec sheets to the packaging and marketing campaigns, I saw each toy as an immersive experience, a mini-world that I got to create and build.

Writing, of course, is the epitome of building something from scratch. Sure, it might be a virtual world captured on the pages of a book, but I still approach it as though I am building something concrete. I even approach the materials I develop for DIY MFA with a Maker mindset. I think of every course, program, writing sprint, or summit as an experience—a theme park for the brain—that I get to build for my word nerds.

Embracing My Inner Maker

Growing up, I was always the kid with a million projects. If a club or activity did not exist, I would start one myself. Sometimes I’d even build things not so much because I wanted the end product for myself, but because I wanted to see if it could be done. Some people climb Everest “because it’s there.” I try to build my own version of Everest. It’s my Maker nature.

For example, in college, I decided to throw the biggest non-alcoholic homecoming party the campus had ever seen. Now, it’s not like I was on some anti-alcohol crusade; I just wanted to see if this could be done (especially at a school where partying was practically a varsity sport). The result? 

We maxed out the room capacity for the largest party space on campus. Over a quarter of the entire student body attended and we had a line of over 100 people waiting at the door. Plus, we made this happen on a budget of less than $2 per guest. My friends thought I was making some sort of statement, trying to resist the campus drinking status quo. I just wanted to build something that had never been done before.

Over time, however, these Maker impulses have gotten pushed aside for more pragmatic skills, like holding down a steady job or being a responsible parent. This year especially—what with lockdown and social distancing—my inner Maker had been feeling stifled and squashed.

Surrounding Myself with the Right People

In early August, Team DIY MFA had a virtual retreat. One of the things we did was take the Sparketype Assessment (as well as a few other personality tests) and discuss the results and how our different types fit into the team. Right away, I noticed how well the rest of the team complements my Maker-Maven impulse to go down the project rabbit hole and possibly not resurface.

For example, we have two team members with “Essentialist” (i.e. organizational wizard) as part of their Sparketype. While I am certainly capable of organizing and planning projects—I did so for years before having a team—it is not what makes my heart sing and it takes me away from my true Maker calling. In fact, during our most recent DIY MFA enrollment, the team had things so well handled that instead of being stressed out and stretched thin, I had time to start building something completely new for my word nerds! (Stay tuned for deets coming later this month.)

Here’s another great example. The only other Maker on the team is a Maker-Advocate. This means that while I have a habit of immersing myself and learning everything I can about a project, my Maker-Advocate teammate is all about making sure it actually works and speaking up when it doesn’t. This was key when we were testing some new tech over the summer (we’ve built a new facet of our members HUB that is basically a social network just for the DIY MFA community). While I was focused on font sizes and how the layout looked, my teammate was finding all those broken links and tech details that needed to get fixed.

In other words, by recognizing that other people are better at certain skills than I am, I’ve been able to free myself up to do the work that plays to my strengths and lights up my soul. I used to think delegating was an act of ego, that if I was handing someone else a task I didn’t want to do, they wouldn’t want to do it either. Now I see that leadership is actually an act of sharing. If I’m not the best person on the team to do something, then I should absolutely not be the person to do it.

Being a Maker in My Non-Work Life

I often joke that when it comes to our kids, my husband is the “responsible parent” and I’m the “fun parent.” Hubby is the one who got the kids on their virtual school zoom calls during lockdown, and he’s the one getting them to school on time, fully clothed, and (usually) with matching socks and shoes. I’m the one reading them Calvin & Hobbes at bedtime and teaching them how to play poker. When we go on trips hubby is the one who plans out the route and drives the car. I supply the awesome family playlists and think up games to play on the road.

There was a time that I felt a lot of mommy guilt around this division of labor. The truth is I’m not cut out for normal mom stuff. When hubby used to travel for his work, I was terrified I’d accidentally do something catastrophic while he was away, like misplace one of our children. (The thought even crossed my mind to have them microchipped. For the record, hubby said “no.”)

For years, I beat myself up for not being a “real” parent. To be fair, there’s a lot less for the “fun parent” to do when the kids are in the larval stage and my role didn’t really kick in until they broke through toddlerhood and started acting like humans. Recently, though, I’ve begun to realize that maybe being the “fun parent” doesn’t mean it’s not “real” work. Part of my job is to make certain un-fun things suck a little bit less. It’s my job to motivate the kiddos to do things that aren’t particularly enticing, such as practicing their instruments or doing their school projects.

It also takes a lot of energy to be this part of the parenting equation. When I’m with the kiddos, I’m on and focused, like I would be while teaching a class or leading a webinar. It’s exhausting, but it’s the only way my inner Maker knows how to parent. Thankfully (for our children’s sake at least), hubby has the pragmatics of parenting down to a science.

Discover Your Inner Spark

Now it’s your turn. If you haven’t taken the Sparketype Assessment yet, I highly encourage it. Once you’ve taken it, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your Sparketype result resonate with you?
  • How will you approach your work so you can feed that inner spark?
  • How will you bring out your Sparketype in your non-work life?

Gabriela Pereira is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, her mission is to empower writers, artists and other creatives to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth.

Gabriela earned her MFA in writing from The New School and speaks at college campuses and national conferences. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews bestselling authors and book industry professionals and author of the book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community.

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