There are passions I want to pursue outside of parenting, but sometimes my ideas and energy are hijacked by…well, parenting. Having little ones is a blessing, but it’s hard sometimes to find time to pee, let alone work on projects — and that thought alone is frustrating.
I needed to clear my head one night so I went to a jazz club to watch my father play the saxophone. He was participating in a jam session, where he gets onstage with other musicians — sometimes people he’s never met before — and plays along to various songs. There could be 2 people or 12 onstage, the songs can last for 4 or 20 minutes — he never knows. He just takes it note by note and plays. It’s fascinating. He does this a few times a week.
The next morning we went for a walk, and as we talked about the concept of “jamming,” I couldn’t help but ask questions.
Me: How do you get up there without knowing the music and just start playing? Don’t you worry you’ll screw up? How do you begin?!
My dad: Musicians just call out the key, and you get up there and play. You don’t know what the song is, but you play whatever you feel. Improvise. Don’t read too far into it. They call out the key, and then we jam. Me: What happens if you mess up? My dad: (laughs) Nothing. You just keep jamming. If you don’t go with it, you’ll lose it, and the chords will pass you right by. You trust that you’ll find your way back to the music, eventually. You simply get up there and play.
I’ve experienced that feeling where I can let myself go and truly enjoy something without worrying about a to-do list or what’s next, when I’m lost in a task that’s both challenging and fun. It’s an addictive, soul-feeding feeling.
But it’s tough to feed your soul when you can hardly find time to feed yourself. I decided right there that it didn’t matter: I needed to simply begin. I was going to get out of my own way, call out the key, and start jamming.
But I suck at this.
I don’t know how I’ll find the time.
I’m going to screw up. People will think what I’m doing is stupid. I’m going to fail.
Who cares? Enough with that nonsense. Keep jamming.
The baby just shit himself.
OK, go deal with that. But then make time to keep jamming.
Sometimes we’re afraid that doing what makes us happy is selfish, when ironically, the opposite occurs. It allows us to be happy and healthy, so we can be the best version of ourselves to all of those around us. I’m a firm believer that it’s each of our duties to take what we can scrounge up within ourselves, go forth with it, and kick some serious ass. The world needs that.
Two and a half years after coming to this realization, my work is complete: I wrote and released a cookbook. A cookbook! Who do I think I am, Betty Motherfucking Crocker?! But I’ve realized that when you have a passion for something, you should never have to apologize for it or feel you don’t have the right to pursue it.
Here’s my list of how you can start to find your jam:
1. Let go of putting pressure on yourself.
I stopped worrying if I was doing it right, what other people were doing, or if it’s already been done before. The bottom line was that nobody was in my shoes, in my kitchen, experiencing the very thoughts, feelings, and actions that made up all of me and my personal experience. When I silenced the noise, I was able to hear my own small voice saying: “You can do this.”
2. Recognize that nobody knows what they are doing.
Adulthood has taught me one of the most important facts about people: None of us really knows what the fuck we’re doing. We’re all just improvising and spinning plates, all the while keeping our fingers crossed that nothing falls and shatters. You don’t have to wait until you have all of the answers — start your project and learn as you go.
3. Welcome mistakes.
Accept the fact that you’re going to make mistakes — in fact, expect it. That’s where you learn. Be comfortable with not getting it “right.” My father might miss some of the keys on stage, but he isn’t worried that the other musicians might get mad or kick him off. He doesn’t have time to worry whether or not he sucks. He just keeps going and trusts that he’ll find his way back into the music.
4. Talk about it.
Some people are afraid to say their ideas out loud for fear that people will steal them, or that they might fail and look foolish for having said anything at all. The opposite is true. When you put your intentions out into the universe, you tend to get the energy you need to keep moving forward. It wasn’t until I put my intention out into the world that I partnered with my co-author and found professionals who miraculously came into my path and helped us along the way to make this book everything I envisioned and more. Remember: The law of attraction is real, and it’s way bigger than your self-doubt.
5. Listen to your gut and be honest with yourself.
I have strengths. I also have many things I suck at. Being an adult means being honest with yourself. But I firmly believe that if a passion is there, if a spark ignites, you should follow it. If I’m not excited about something or enjoying it, time is too precious to waste. But if I wake up at night thinking about it, or find myself squeezing in time to work on it? Then I know I’m onto something.
6. Help someone.
What do you know that can help someone? Are you the one your friends call when they need a room redecorated, help with their website, or assistance corralling a feral toddler? What do you know that can help the world, or at least, another person in your shoes? I remember feeling totally overwhelmed at the thought of feeding my baby. I have a hard enough time feeding myself each day. How the hell was I supposed to keep it together with meal planning for all of us? I wanted to make this process as streamlined as possible, and feel good and healthy about doing it. I was not about to become a short-order cook. Who wants to cook twice?! If I was going to turn on the stove, I wanted to get a meal for the whole family out of it, and some to freeze for another night because I can’t cook every night. I also wanted a bunch of staple no-cook recipes at my fingertips. I knew I was onto something when more and more people started asking me for recipes.
7. Be OK with not pleasing everyone.
I used to care a lot what people would think about me until I realized a few things: 1) it’s none of my business what they think of me, 2) the odds of changing their minds are slim, and 3) caring what people think about me is a waste of energy. Two words: Do you. When I started my project, I worried that some of my mom friends would think I was a loser, or weird, or that I was silently judging them while plotting a war on Goldfish, none of which was the case. With most of them, the opposite happened: They began cheering me on. And if some people do think I’m lame? Whatever. I’m 34 and fresh out of fucks.
8. What speaks to your emotions?
For me, it’s food. When I worked on the English Muffin Pizzas recipe in our cookbook, I was transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen as a little girl, hearing her laughter as she told me she was a “lousy cook” while sprinkling shredded mozzarella over sauce. I can still see the cheese bubbling in her oven. When I made our Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe, I swear I could sense my Nonna Tina guiding my hands and showing me how to get the dough to the right consistency. They never cooked separately for their babies — they gently incorporated their babies into the family dinner table. And that was my goal.
9. Let go of perfection.
Perfection is boring. Perfection is nonexistent. If my dad refused to get out there until he knew all of the songs perfectly, he’d be in his basement practicing so much that he’d never make it onstage.
While watching my dad that night, I looked around and realized that there were many more people in the audience than there are onstage. (Of course, this is the case at any concert you attend.) Part of this is due to talent, practice, and dedication. But another part is because many people are too scared to get up there in the first place.
So, what are you waiting for? What do you have hiding up your sleeve? What is it that you may be putting off because you don’t feel it has a value, or because you think you might be put down or told you are wasting your time?
Move past your self-doubt, call out your key, and start jamming.
Congratulations to Scary Mommy contributor Alessandra Macaluso and Amy Godiwalla on their new book, “What a Good Eater!” It’s a baby and toddler cookbook designed to promote a well-rounded eater right from the get-go. And Lord knows we need all the help we can get with that!
This article was originally published on