What’s Your Cutie Mark? (Or, How Do You Find Your Passion?)

passion3I’m mulling. You know how I get into that mode, the one in which I go round and round just…brooding. A little while ago, K went through an intense period of wanting to know what her singular talent is. “What am I really good at??” she kept asking me. I finally deduced that this newfound interest was because she’d been binge-watching My Little Pony and became fascinated with the idea of a cutie mark. “Mama,” she told me, “your cutie mark would be a sewing machine and a paintbrush. And your ipad. But I don’t know what mine is!”

As far as I can tell, the cutie mark is the anthropomorphic pony version of a superpower represented as a symbol on the hind quarters. It’s like a tattoo on the butt announcing your individualized awesomeness. There are rainbows and diamonds and apples and I haven’t delved deep into My Little Pony land so I’m not sure what they all mean, but I found it riveting that K would be so insistent about figuring out her unique talent. It’s a topic I’ve been obsessed with forever.

This reminded me of an incident a few months ago when, at a gathering, a friend of mine sidled up to me and asked, “How do you find your passion?” I was stumped, not the least by the unexpectedness of the question, but because I don’t have the definitive answer. She went on to observe that I seem to have figured out my purpose in life and wanted to know how I did it.


As pleased as I am that someone thinks I’ve got it all worked out, this, of course, is hogwash. I’m bumbling along, very much clueless. And I have to say, I’m averse to the word “passion” because it always makes me think of romance novel covers with ripped dress bodices and glistening, inhuman-looking muscles (not that there’s anything wrong with romance novels, but I don’t know…I get discombobulated with the word). At any rate, I sense that what my friend meant to ask was how to find her cutie mark. Because — as K put it in her customary succinct and wise way — “your cutie mark is something you love that you’re super great at.” It’s the intersection of talent and passion, as it were.

This notion of loving what you’re intrinsically adept at is one near and dear to me — I have scores of journals dedicated to it. Looking back, I had a friend in high school who exemplified the difference between talent and passion. He was an exceptionally gifted pianist; his musical acumen was identified early on and his schedule filled up with lessons and there was no doubt that he was slated for world renown. Full music scholarship to any school, the works. Tragically, he hated playing the piano. His fingers glided over the keys, producing melodies fit for angels, but he abhorred every second of it. What he really wanted to do was make movies. In between school and piano lessons, he would round up friends and shoot detective flicks. His enthusiasm was contagious, but the quality of the films…well, we’ll leave it at that. This was high school after all, and the point is that he was having a blast. He ended up using his talent to fuel his love of movie-making. He got into his top choice university with aforementioned scholarship and then switched to become a film major. I don’t know what became of him, but he made an impression on me. It just goes to show you that you don’t necessarily love that at which you’re innately masterful and vice versa.

Having been enthralled with this idea of finding my calling, I’ve treated my entire adult life like the first two years of general education at college. I dabbled in a wide array of industries, extracurricular activities and relationships to see what felt right, seeking that special quality (which I secretly called “The Big Kahuna” for some unknown reason) that would catapult me to success. Along the way I discovered that I’m terrible at the following:

  • acting (yes, my friend cast me in several of his movies — the Oscars are not in the cards for me)
  • public speaking
  • managing/supervising people
  • budgets and anything finance-oriented
  • sales
  • advanced technology; I am particularly good at breaking electronic devices. I have behind me a trail of broken laptops, desktops, large format printers, the list go on….M calls me the electronic black hole.
  • dealing with mean people
  • dating boys without a sense of humor

I also unearthed many strengths, most of which were totally useless and not many worthy of love. My ability to fold t-shirts perfectly is unmatched. See what I mean?


Which brings me back to homing in on your cutie mark/calling…it seems to require part luck, part instinct, a ton of determination.

I’ve been thinking that what trips me up is this idea that our “passion” should be inextricably linked with our career. It happens, sure. Absolutely. And it’s amazing when it does! I’m a huge fan of TED talks and actualizing human potential and I’ve spent many years studying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We should all strive to use our talents to the fullest. In the way that K was seeking a single cutie mark for herself, I wonder if we assume that there can only be ONE holy grail-esque attribute that makes us extra special? I know I used to. It was find the Big Kahuna or bust for me. But we’re all born with so many gifts and have so many interests. Sometimes we need to prioritize them and rank them because there’s a good chance the two worlds of passionate hobby and livelihood will not collide. And I guess what I’m trying to come around to is that, that’s okay too. Take sewing, for example. I’m actually not stellar at it and seem to regress a lot, but because I love it so much, it doesn’t matter. It won’t ever become a real income-generating skill, and I’m fine with that. Having that feeling of excitement and enthusiasm for something, anything, will always enhance your daily existence (assuming of course, that the excitement/enthusiasm won’t land you in jail or cause suffering elsewhere).

I could go on and on, and I’m still mulling. I ended up answering the questions of both K and my friend basically the same way: I’m not sure how you figure out what you’re meant to do, but try things. A lot of things. Experience as much as you can. At some point you’ll feel that “click”, when you feel content and at home in your own body. Then keep doing the thing(s) until you want to continue even if everyone else might think it’s dumb or weird or unnecessary. It might be what you naturally do when you procrastinate. Or something you turn to when you’re feeling blue. Maybe you’re fifty and way into Dungeons and Dragons. Cool. Or you’re fifteen and can’t get enough of cheese-making. Go for it! Or maybe you’re like me and fill journal page after journal page (and post after post) with your incessant thoughts. Pay attention to what feels unabashedly fun and delightful. Thinking and analyzing tend to ruin the fun. Then keep trying because sometimes the talent portion takes time to catch up. And speaking from experience, when you follow that “click”, phenomenal things will start to happen.

So, what’s your cutie mark?

Side note: the only real talent I seem to have lately is to get sick. As a result, the cutie mark I’m sporting is a bruise shaped like Charlie Chaplin’s mustache on my upper lip from blowing my nose so often. Really attractive.

23 thoughts on “What’s Your Cutie Mark? (Or, How Do You Find Your Passion?)

  1. “It’s like a tattoo on the butt announcing your individualized awesomeness. ” Ha! Nail on the head – totally made my day.

    Also…thank you. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out what my butt tattoo should look like, too. And you’re right – try, try, try – and then really sit with it and let yourself recognize, honestly, what it brings to your life. Listen carefully for that “click”. I love this post.

    1. Thank you, Amy! It got a little long-winded, but I’ve practically written a dissertation on the topic over the years. And yep, try, try, try indeed!

  2. Oh my God… the tattoo on the butt is so dead on. I’m 40 and I’m STILL trying figure it out. I sometimes think that it’s not going to be that “one” thing, but a multiple of things and as long as I am constantly searching, challenging and questioning myself, I will always be moving, evolving and bettering myself. I guess I want my cutie mark to be more than one thing… gosh… it may take up my entire ass!!! LOL

  3. Hi Sanae,

    I’ve been reading (lurking, I guess!) on your blog for about 6 months, and I’m really enjoying it! I love the things you sew for both you and your daughter. And I really like the way you write, and think. I mostly sew for my son (who’s 10), and a little for me. Before he was born, I was a teacher, and I loved it. Definitely what I was born to do. BUT, and this is important, I think there are actually many things we are born to do. Just like I don’t believe we have to search the world high and low to find the one person we were meant to love (although now I can’t imagine having any husband other than my husband), I also don’t think there is one right job that we have to keep spinning our wheels to find. That kind of perfectionist thinking just leads us to be unhappy with the good. I’m lucky that I don’t need to be working full-time right now, but I miss teaching a lot. But I also love all the crafty stuff I do, and the crazy amount of volunteering l do at my son’s school. You just can’t have everything, and certainly not all at once. I think, like so many other areas of life, it’s all about balance. And, as you said, it’s about trying a lot of things, and carving out your niche. I still think my “cutie mark” would be something teaching-related (an apple? a pen? a chalkboard-not like they even still use chalkboards in school!), but it would be surrounded by a cloud of other things too, other ways I find happiness and fulfillment. Thanks for getting me thinking!

    Loren (aka CraftSister)

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Loren! We need teachers with a calling in this world — have you ever seen that Finland study about education? How the Finnish value their teachers and it’s actually incredibly competitive to become one? I think their system is set up to encourage natural and gifted educators like you. Though you’re not in the classroom setting right now, it sounds like you’ve got a good thing going!!

      “You just can’t have everything and certainly not at once” — brilliant!

  4. What a great question, and a difficult one! I read your post before my forest walk with the dog and thought about it while I was walking… My cutie mark would be about learning. I absolutely love to learn. I love to figure out how things work and this creative process makes me feel alive and happy. I can totally lose myself in this process. And essentially it does not really matter what I learn, I always felt I could be and could learn anything and be good at it. (I was terrible in math at school but when every once in a while I did understand something, I loved it, I loved how suddenly everything made sense.) I especially love to learn things I can do with my hands and my body. I am very practical. I think, that is also why sewing makes me so happy. That continuous learning and understanding and creating, that wonderful process that I know will never come to an end. It will only get better and more complex. I find the same in my taiji and figuring it out with my body and my mind. Today I thought that this is probably the reason I love to teach, it came naturally. Being so close to my own learning process and the steps I am making is my base for teaching and sharing this process with others. I love both – the loneliness of figuring things out by myself and then the interaction and contact with others and the incredible things that emerge from this. Teaching and learning for me it is the same. I learn when I teach and I teach what I learn. I also remembered today that I wanted to be an elementary teacher when I was little ( I absolutely loved to go to school!) and even though I never followed that path, I find myself teaching today. I love that K asks herself such questions and I believe part of her already knows what her cutie mark is and what makes her happy. And I agree, it is probably many things for everybody and they can change and evolve over a lifetime. I know, I still want to learn and try lots of things!! ……Maybe my cutie mark would be a flame tattoo on my butt, the flame of a burning desire to learn 😉

    1. This is such a great response, Ute! Yes to learning and learning through teaching and evolving – ditto a million times over!

  5. what a fantastic post, sanae!! i wholeheartedly agree, too – i think everyone has some sort of creative “thing” and it’s just finding the one you care about and going for it. i love to sew and feel like i have some sort of talent for it, but that of course isn’t everyone’s passion – one of my sisters is getting into artisanal breadmaking. i mean…the main point is that people DO something creative. you don’t just talk about how you want to learn but you don’t have time. if you care, and you want to, you make time for it. anyway. rant over. i’m so glad you write these posts!

    1. Thank you, Kristin! You’re so right about making time and just going for things. My mom used to work crazy hours, but would still find time to paint every day — she loved it that much.

  6. Wow- I remember since being a young teen to well past becoming a mother in my early twenties that i was totally obsessed with the question “Who am I?” I am probably still asking myself that all the time, in a more subtle way, but it just doesn’t nag me in the same way it used to. And not because I’ve figured it out (!) but probably because I’ve gotten a little more skilled at being “present”. Which feels wonderful (maybe that’s one of my cutie marks!!). But truthfully it can often lead to stagnation in my case because I am not as insistent about finding my passions as I used to be. We are always walking a fine line between contentment and the push to grow- which can sometimes lead to a little bit (or a lot!) of discomfort. But this is the push! Not that much different from adolescence, right? I love your stories about K. The inquisitiveness of kids, and their innocence, is the best.

    1. So insightful, Gita! Contentment can easily lead to inaction but it’s also so vital to be “present” as you put it. Love love!

  7. Hi Sanae,

    i thought about your post for awhile. As in your post first things come on my mind were things I’m not good at: singing, being patient, waiting for something, making intricate things.

    Then I thought: why do we always think of thinks we are not good at first? You’re daughter is so wise and so right: we all have to know what champs we are.

    So here is my list:

    I’m obliging
    I’m always in good temper and cheerful
    I’m silly
    I’ m really good in remembering movie phrases (some thinks this is a absolutely useless talent)
    I’m good in telling jokes (I never spoil the point)
    I’m a good learner
    It’s hard to get me frustrated
    I have a good eye for taking photos

    So overall this is my point of view!

    The more interesting thing is maybe to ask people around you to tell what they think your talent is. So, in the end you have an insight and an external view. Sort of an 360 degree view of out talents, mhm?

    Thanks for your thoughts


    1. That’s such an interesting point about what other people consider to be your talent, Marit. I’ve grown up being told that I should be an artist and adamantly resisted doing anything creative for a very long time because I wanted to be practical. It’s always eye-opening to hear external opinions of ourselves, but I think it’s also important to listen with an open mind and not take it as absolute. I love your list of attributes!

  8. It’s funny hearing you describe your high school classmate who clearly demonstrated talent for the piano, but didn’t enjoy it. As a parent, I see that happen sometimes with my own kids and it’s so hard to know how far to push something. My son has an aptitude for playing the trombone and could be quite good IF it was his “passion”. It is not, and therefore the trombone simply becomes a dust collector and I nag him once again to practice. So as a parent, how do we encourage our children to find their “butt tattoo” while also not letting them let go of talents they clearly have but might not be as excited about?
    As for myself, it’s a continual process and once that stresses me out from time to time. I’m at a stage in my life now with my youngest going to school more frequently that I’m beginning to wonder what is “my thing”. Sure, I love to sew but is that a “thing”? And in my faith journey I also wonder where God is calling me to be involved, which again requires an awareness of what ignites me. No easy answers:)

    1. I’m so familiar with that feeling of “now what?” once the kiddo(s) are spending large swaths of time at school, Lucinda! And you’re right — no easy answers for how to nurture inborn talents in our kids and ourselves. And when you have so many talents as you do, makes things harder!

  9. K is brilliant, to take the cutie mark-concept to real life! Not sure what I would want tattooed on my butt though… Maybe I put too much weight on the concept and shouldn’t be looking for one or two things that are perfect and providing income at the same time. My husband has little formal education and works long hours, but he doesn’t have the same urge to find a passion in his work. He’s content just to have his work and some hobbies, whereas I tried seven different majors at university, always looking for that one perfect thing that would keep me excited forever. Needless to say I haven’t found it, but graduated and created a fine job for myself. But still I’m looking for my cutie mark 😉 Blogging does come pretty close, but then it gets me wondering wether I should try to make my living with that or just continue my “okay-job” and keep this as a hobby. So, I’m contemplating on, I guess by my all-or-nothing-mentality or perfectionism. So I really enjoyed your post, giving me a fresh point of view to continue contemplating the topic!

    1. Thanks for your contemplative comment, Nienke! Yes, I’m in the same boat where I keep reverting to thinking I need to focus on one or two “talents” and that they should lead to my dream job. It would be wonderful if that happens, and I’m not saying that it can’t but I guess I’m trying to be more open-minded about everything. Seven different majors! I want to hear more!

      1. 🙂 I started off studying Textile Design. After two years I switched to Art History and Law (a sudden need to branch out I guess…), then on to English language&literature (a foreign language over here of course), continuing to General Literature and graduating in Theatre at last, with a temporal sidestep towards Film Studies….
        But it’s very funny to find myself moving back towards textile ever more now, almost ten years after graduating. Guess my first choice wasn’t that bad after all, but I really enjoyed and needed my digressed road!
        Like your open-minded look on life!

  10. I love this post! I remember the moment at 19 when I realized that what I like doing best is making things. As long as I’m making things I know I’ll be happy. Thank you for sharing your story!

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