By Stephen Jay Schwartz

It’s always good to do a little self-reflection now and again. I decided to Google questions about life, something to get me thinking about my priorities and how they’ve changed over the years. I found this little ditty on a site called TottalyTop10.com, under the title, Top Ten Questions for Discovering Your Life Purpose.

Q: If failure or money were not an issue, what would you do?

Schwartz: This is a great question because it removes the two biggest obstacles that keep us from following our dreams – fear of failure, and the fear that we can’t make a living doing the things we want to do in life.

When I was younger I would have answered that all I want to do is direct films. Now I’m not sure I’d want to play the Hollywood game, even if I could afford it. As they say, it’s lonely at the top. That said, I wouldn’t mind being an actor. I mean, if it were handed to me. If I didn’t have to suffer for it, year after year. And if I could act.

But the thing I long for, the thing that would provide me with a real sense of completeness…I’d love to work with gorillas in a nature preserve designed to help reintegrate them into the wild. I’d do the same with orangutans and Bonobo apes (the Bonobo is probably the smartest ape you’ll ever see, and the closest relative to humankind, sharing more than 98% of our DNA). All I ever really wanted to do as a kid was hang around animals. At my core, that’s still all I want to do. However, I don’t want to be murdered by poachers and I don’t want to see the wonderful animals I care for murdered by poachers and I’m not really sure I want to live in Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So, what I’m really looking for is a gorilla sanctuary located in Palos Verdes, California.

Q: What do people compliment you on or say you are good at?

 Schwartz: Communicating. Whether in writing, on the phone or in person. It spills over into the arts as well – communicating through music, writing and film making. I guess I love people about as much as I love animals. I’ve always loved hearing peoples’ stories and discovering the details of their journies through life.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

Schwartz: Reading books, watching movies. Hanging out with my wife and kids. Going to dog parks – sometimes I go to the dog park without my dog, just to watch and play with other dogs. Everything is great until the dog owners realize I don’t have a dog in the park. And then they give me the “weird” look.

Q: What do you like learning about?

Schwartz: Science. From astronomy to String Theory. I also like learning about peoples’ lives through reading biographies and watching documentaries, or through direct interviews. And I do like history, which is really like saying I’m interested in everything that’s ever occurred in human existence.

Q: If you could teach something, what would it be?

Schwartz: It seems the obvious answer is that I would teach creative writing or screenwriting. There was a time when I wanted to do that. But not so much anymore. I wouldn’t mind teaching Literature – basically turning people on to some of the great writers of our time. Sharing my passion for the discovery of great minds through great story-telling. But I’m kind-of tired of talking about three-act structure and character development. I don’t want to examine the process anymore – I just want to enjoy the results.

Q. What things make you feel happy and good about yourself? 

Schwartz: Spending time with friends, which I hardly ever do anymore. But I remember my days in college – the best times I had were the all-nighters with friends, screaming passionately about films, books and politics. I think this is why I’m so drawn to the Beat Generation writers and the artists of the Lost Generation. They talked and talked and talked and created and dreamed and it was all so vibrant.

Q:  In what areas do people seek your counsel?

Schwartz: I’m usually asked to help resolve conflicts between others. I was the VP of Sales and Marketing at my last job and I travelled a lot. When I came back in town and went to the office the employees would put a sign on the door that said, “The Doctor is In.” I was the only guy who would listen to everyone and try to resolve their interpersonal problems.

Q:  What would you regret not doing at the end of your life?

Schwartz: Ain’t that a tough one. I would regret not living in Ireland for a few years. I would also regret not living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I would regret not working at that gorilla sanctuary. I might regret not doing at least one sky dive, unless of course that sky dive is the very last thing I do in my life.

Q: What do you value in life?

Schwartz: My family. They are the most important thing in my life. My writing and film career used to take priority over my family and, over the years, I’ve made an effort to change that. Now family comes first, even if it means I don’t get as much writing done as I used to. I can always write when my kids are in college. If I miss these crucial years with my kids it’ll be “Cat’s in the Cradle” for the rest of our lives.

Q: What causes or beliefs do you feel strongly about?

Schwartz: I’m not a big joiner of causes. I don’t like much of anything if it’s organized. And yet some really good, charitable work is done through the efforts of others and organizations that exist. I support Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and I’m behind the actions of Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherds. I still feel like there’s a lot more I can do to get involved in charitable works. I mostly just subscribe to the dictum, “Can’t we all just get along?” 

Pretty good questions, eh? How would you answer them? Go ahead, give it a shot.

FYI – I’m on the road today from 5:00 am to 6:00 pm and I won’t get a chance to respond to comments until early evening. But don’t let that stop you from speaking your mind. I’m looking forward to reading your answers tonight.


9 thoughts on “FACING THE MIRROR

  1. Lisa Alber

    Jesus, Stephen, we've got an eerie number of things in common besides some obvious stuff like reading, watching movies, writing, family, friends, etcetera.
    1. Me to: animals. I'd love to hang around animals all the time. Wildlife photographer, that was (is?) my dreamy dream.
    2. Hanging out in dog parks without a dog, yep. (I have a dog now, so I don't get the weird look anymore–it's the look I imagine lone men get when they hang out near playgrounds.)
    3. I like science too–in laymen's terms-like books about the brain, and books about weird math stuff, and books about weird quantum stuff.
    4. Yep, me too about college.
    5. Ireland and Santa Fe…yikes–now that's scary similar. Santa Fe is about the only city in the U.S. that attracts me. And Ireland, well yeah, since my novels take place there and I love it.

  2. Sarah W

    Q: If failure or money were not an issue, what would you do?

    With unlimited money and no fear of failure, I’d make sure all public libraries were adequately staffed and funded to be open 9-9 each day. I’d also make teaching minors an elite job with high, competitive salaries—and performance reviews based on the improvement of the individual student rather than standardized tests.

    Q: What do people compliment you on or say you are good at?

    Enthusiasm and sarcasm. I’m sure there’s no correlation.

    Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

    Free time . . . Sleeping. Reading. Watching movies. Sharing stuff with the kids. Cooking. Sleeping . . .
    Q: What do you like learning about?

    Everything. Did you know that Delaware has a State Macroinvertebrate?

    Q: If you could teach something, what would it be?

    I was a reading tutor for several years, but what I really loved was when a student discovered how much *fun* reading can be. I want to teach *that* . . .

    Q. What things make you feel happy and good about yourself?

    Having good conversations. Swapping jokes with the family at dinner time. Reading to my kids. Writing a good paragraph. Singing impromptu opera in the car.

    Q: In what areas do people seek your counsel?

    I’m often asked to read other people’s work and make suggestions–editing my own stuff is another matter, but apparently I’m not bad helping other people. I’m also asked for parenting advice, for some reason, even though I’ve no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

    And I can’t go into a retail shop of any kind without someone asking me where something is. It’s uncanny.

    Q: What would you regret not doing at the end of your life?

    Riding in a hot air balloon. Visiting Germany to see a close friend. Seeing my fairy godchild in Ireland (I’ve never met him, but his mother and I are friends from college). Continuing to write. Driving a Zamboni.

    Q: What do you value in life?

    My kids. My family. My friends. Humor. Wordplay. Music. Connections.

    Q: What causes or beliefs do you feel strongly about?

    I’m anti-censorship, anti-bullying, pro-literacy, pro-library, and pro-marriage rights between/among consenting adults of any cis or trans gender-combo. The rest, I’m still navigating.

  3. PD Martin

    Okay, this blog turned our entirely different to what I expected. I saw the title: "Facing the Mirror" and then the picture of the gorilla and thought it was going to be some kind of funny blog about how you see a gorilla or monkey or something when you look in the mriror! Sorry, had to share that first thought 🙂

    On to the ACTUAL blog…what a great set of questions, Stephen. Some of them are hard to answer, too!

    Q: If failure or money were not an issue, what would you do?
    I'd probably travel the world, seeing as many sights as I could and experiencing different cultures, all the while writing while I went. But that wouldn't be good for my kids and school! Maybe I'd travel the world with a private teacher!

    Q: What do people compliment you on or say you are good at?
    Besides writing…giving advice and being able to see two sides of a situation and everything in the middle. Unfortunately sometimes I'm too good and seeing all those shades of grey.

    Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
    Reading, watching TV, going to the movies, going out to dinner with friends and family. Going to the gym.

    Q: If you could teach something, what would it be?
    Probably writing! I do teach writing and enjoy it a lot!

    Q. What things make you feel happy and good about yourself?
    Mmm…being fit, kids and husband being happy, sunshine, the ocean and writing (if I didn't have to worry about how much money I was earning from it).

    Q: In what areas do people seek your counsel?
    Mmm…general advice, I guess. Plus writing/editing of course.

    Q: What would you regret not doing at the end of your life?
    I'm not really sure about this one. Probably just trying to be more of a glass is half full person!

    Q: What do you value in life?
    My family (especially my children), my friends, and a sense of accomplishment.

    Q: What causes or beliefs do you feel strongly about?
    Preventing and helping victims of: childhood poverty (well, any poverty), childhood sexual abuse and human trafficking.

    By the way, Stephen. On living in Ireland – it's a great country and the people are amazing, but it's so limiting with the weather. It literally doesn't rain like 20 days out of 365 days. And that gets pretty depressing! For me at least, who loves sunshine!

  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Lisa – yes, we're very much alike. It would be great to be a wild-life photographer, too. But I still want to be the guy who holds baby gorillas in his arms. I want to be surrounded by a dozen baby gorillas at all times. Kinda like at the dog park. And, do you ever watch TED episodes? A lot of fantastic science discussions. Reading your answers is like looking in the mirror.

    Sarah – love your answers. I've done the hot air balloon thing, a couple times. It just comes with the territory when you grow up in Albuquerque. I've almost landed in the Rio Grand River. Twice. But I've never driven a Zamboni. I'll have to add it to my list.

    PD – that was entirely intentional, the bit about the monkey and the mirror. You fell into my trap, dear victim. Good point about the rain in Ireland – and I guess that's why it's so green and beautiful. I don't know, but something tells me I'd learn to love the rain. Because it's Irish rain. And I'm with you on preventing childhood sexual abuse and human trafficking. Good choices.

  5. Allison Davis

    1. LIve at the beach, write, make great meals and invite everyone who would come over to share them with me.

    2. I am good at gathering people together, melding worlds, leading in a soft way. I'm a good counselor (and get paid for that).

    3. Free time? Hanging out with friends, music, staring out at the sea, reading, cooking and painting.

    4. Learning? US history in the 30's-50's, migration, food issues, languages, art (painting mostly).

    5. Teach? Anything, I love to teach. When I was 11, my English grandmother took me to a tea leaf reader in Vancouver, B.C. The woman said my vocation was to teach, that I wouldn't be rich but I wouldn't want and I would always be loved. That is pretty damn good. I teach in my job, because mentoring is part of it. I love that.

    6. I feel good and happy when I am helping others. When I am useful and spreading happiness. I just produced a CD for a young songwriter in New Orleans. The CD is great and it feels really good to hold it in my hand and see it done.

    7. People seek me out to help unravel problems, I'm trained to do that but also I try not to judge but just to fix. I have staff come by who work in my office, friends call, and I'm good at seeing the path through the chaos (when it's someone else's).

    8. Regret not living on the beach and going to sleep listening to waves, regret not publishing a bunch of books (sigh), regret not loving enough, that's about it. I've done most of the tada stuff and don't care about the rest so much.

    9. Value? Family and friends like family. Time, connections, human interaction (and some animal interaction as well, never discount the dogs in your life). I am SO there with the Beats for the same reasons you are.

    10. Cause? Food, — I hate the poisons they put in what we eat, and I find I get rather crazy about it. Most of our chronic illnesses are caused by inflamation caused by crap in our food. Take out the sugar and GMO stuff, and we'd solve a lot of our health care issues. Don't get me started.

    Fun, good time of the year for assessment. I am looking forward about five years and beginning to steer my life away from just making money and career towards stuff I really care about (people and activitiy) and it's good to be reminded to stay on that road.

  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Allison – I love your responses. Beautiful. You do in fact unravel problems, without judging. I've seen you in action. You'll be living at the beach before long.

  7. Reine

    Stephen, I would do what I am doing. I used to be tied down by fear of failure and consequences of going my own way, speaking my own mind. My unexpected disability relieved me from all that, and while my funds are not unlimited, I am able to do most of what I want to do. Best will be when I can move back to Marblehead or Salem, Massachusetts where I was born. That takes more than money. That takes a lot of planning. It will be worth it, though. In the meantime I can write anywhere, and that is what I love doing most. Writing in Marblehead, in a little bookshop, in my own house, would be perfect– especially if I can move back to Front Street and look out over the harbor.

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