The beauty of a lucky charm is that it doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else — it’s a personal attachment. Mine include a paperweight globe, shells and a stone with the word “INSPIRE” inscribed. 

The globe is a reminder to keep things in perspective. The shells recall the year I taught dance throughout the Caribbean and how afraid I was at times. 

“But it’s good to be afraid sometimes,” the shells remind. “You pay closer attention when you’re afraid.” 

The stone is a gift from a friend who said one of my early columns inspired her daughter, Rose. 

“Really?” I said, “because I remember thinking you wouldn’t like what I had to say.” 

Why did I say it anyway? For the same reason I keep my charms close, to remind me that risk is a huge part of it. By “it,” I mean my work, the most essential part of my life. But saying this is what I was afraid of. It would have been safer to say not that my work is the most essential part, but second to love, family, the kind of thing people say all the time. 

I wondered, too, if I should have directed Rose toward a higher-paying career to help drive the economy into the next 50 years. The thing is, I don’t believe in driving this way. My traveling advice is: Inch along until you find the work you really want to do. 

You may be thinking, “What, are you kidding me? That won’t pay the bills.” But you know what? I’ve come to believe that money is overrated: Too little is horrible, no one wants too little. But less is not the end of the world. 

I don’t know how much of this insight comes from being a woman or an artist, or both, but I can’t stop trying to figure out the conflict between what we really want and what we’re told we should want and why it so often keeps us from pursuing our dreams. 

Basically, what I said to Rose is that if we have the courage to do what we love, it’s our best career choice. But to continue, most of us can’t fall prey to owning all the things people buy to try and ensure their happiness. 


The delicate balance

After college, I moved to Seattle and worked as a waitress...until I threw a drink at a patron who said a very inappropriate thing with his hand on my behind. I’m glad I was fired. Because the money was good, I might have stayed too long because of it and not got on with my dream of opening a dance studio. 

Well, obviously, dance studios don’t pay all that well, either. So I found an affordable town to move to and a dirt-cheap barn to rent with a smooth wood floor  — heaven to a dancer. 

My life moved on, and so did Rose’s. 

Rose dreamed of becoming a writer. But she went to work for the huge, thrusting, economy-driven tech world, dedicated to making more and more stuff we don’t need. 

The last time I heard from her? February 2014. She gave reasons she had no time to write. 

So often I’ve wondered what would have happened if she’d kept at it, if she’d allowed herself to go without mortgaging a condo on Capitol Hill and all the trendy furniture to fill it. 

I know how delicate a balance between passion and a lofty paycheck is. I also know how many well-paid people I meet who can’t remember the last time they felt excited about their work. Why is it that so much of what we do is what others expect of us? 

Recently, I came across a display of stones like the one I have. But their inscriptions were stronger: SMART. PROUD. POWERFUL. And I was thrilled to find my new favorite noun: PERSISTENCE. 

I lost touch with Rose. But I keep my eye out for that book she always wanted to write.

MARY LOU SANELLI’s latest book is “A Woman Writing” ( To comment on this column, write to