Making Sparks Fly: Getting Unstuck at 30,000 Feet

view from the plane

As soon as I settled into my window seat aboard a recent flight home from Bangor, Maine, I had my hands full. The day before, I’d keynoted the Positive Youth Development Institute’s opening session – an event my dad had keynoted just two years before – so it held special meaning for me.

As I sat there thinking about the day, reliving the speech and the powerful conversations I’d had with people afterwards, a young woman in her early 20s sat down in a huff next to me, her tattooed arms loaded with items wrapped in craft paper. She turned to me with pleading eyes. “Sorry, but could you hold these for a minute?” I held out my hands and asked what it was.

“Pottery,” she said. “I just spent three weeks at an art camp in the woods.”

Totally intrigued, I asked for more details.

“I’m trying to find myself,” she shrugged. Her parents were both teachers, she explained, so a career in education seemed like a natural fit. But two years out of college, after working as a full-time camp counselor and after school program leader, she felt stuck and unsatisfied.

“I really like kids,” she went on, as the flight attendant handed us our in-flight beverages. “But I want to work with them doing things I really like doing instead of just showing up for a paycheck. So, I’m spending the summer trying to figure out what I like doing. And I really like art.”

She unwrapped one of her pieces of pottery and, when I remarked how beautiful it was, she excitedly shared every little detail that went into making it. After several minutes, she stopped herself and looked up at me.

“Sorry, enough about me,” she said sheepishly. “What were you doing in Maine?”

“Believe it or not, I was speaking to people like you about how important it is to find the passions and interests that light you up from the inside out.”

Her jaw dropped open. “No way! Most people think this little early-life crisis of mine is crazy,” she said.

“It’s actually brilliant,” I told her.“Finding those inner sparks not only brings you joy, but gives you the tools and desire to help the kids you work with do the same. If you can figure out ways to serve others doing the stuff you love, everybody wins.”

She lifted her half-full plastic cup in the air. “Well, cheers to everyone finding their sparks,” she said. I’ll toast to that.

Speaking at PYD Institute

About the Author: For the past 20 years, youth and family engagement has been an undercurrent in Liv’s work as a journalist, publicist, and creative entrepreneur — inspired in large part by her dad, Dr. Peter Benson (1946–2011), former Search Institute president and CEO and a pioneer in the positive youth development field. She relishes the chance to carry on his legacy, beautifully blending his messages with her own. Check out her web site www.  

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