Monthly Archives: May 2014


Five watchwords to thriving (and surviving) passion

The instant I discovered my passion, a chorus of voices harmonized and fireworks exploded – actually that isn’t what happened at all.  Let’s rewind.

I often wonder, “What is passion anyway?” The word-nerds tell us that passion is ‘any strong, powerful emotion’ and clarify this big feeling is most especially ‘love or hate.’ I can testify that following your bliss means embracing this duality.  I am a filmmaker, a mother, and a teacher.  I find tremendous joy in each of these roles and at times a kind of feverish madness takes over.  This past November, I literally threw out my back because I became so engrossed in throwing an outrageously fun Clue Mystery Party for my daughter.  I saw the warning signs that my body was giving out, but I couldn’t resist the passion.

Sasha dressed as Mrs. White

Passion is dangerously delicious and intoxicating. In the throws of doing what I love, I do feel sparks like fireworks, but there is also the unglamorous grunt work and if you’re not careful passion can destroy your body, relationships, and even the work itself.  The unmistakable hallmark of passion is that illogical, implausible, and nonsensical driving commitment. It’s not surprising that the word passion is rooted in the Latin passio, meaning suffering.  Usually passion involves sacrifice and even pain.

So here are my five watchwords to thriving (and surviving) passion:


I was seven months pregnant when I shot my first feature film.  If I had known anything about being a mother or making a feature, I may not have made that choice.  Yet juggling the inward and outward focus was illuminating. Knowing I needed to take special care of my health.  As I waddled around the set, I realized how essential it is to nourish: to breath, eat, rest, connect, and play.


I didn’t plan to be a teacher, but I stumbled into it.  In my twenties, I went to Argentina to study photography; I taught English to pay my way.  When I lived in New Mexico and was writing, I taught skiing to cover the bills.  And now that I’m all grown up and an Emmy nominated filmmaker, I teach writing.  It wasn’t a conscious part of my vision to be a teacher, but one day a little light bulb went off and I realized, WOW, I love teaching!  If I hadn’t been flexible, I would never have hatched W.O.W. Writing International.  Flexibility is saying ‘yes’, is being willing, and is essential to growing.


When I bake with my daughter we always remind each other that it is impossible to cook without making a mess. As the saying goes: you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs!  Making mistakes is part of the process.


Don’t waste time blaming; find the funny in mistakes.  Blunders are an opportunity for laughter.  Humor can right size things and fuels resilience.


You know you have found your passion when you like to tinker. As an independent filmmaker, my projects have had extended time horizons.  The finish line usually keeps receding. Celebration is the way to activate gratitude.  Pause to enjoy the process.  Celebrating doesn’t need to be big and noisy.   In fact, celebrating is often best when it is quiet and small—like a really great hug.

You know your passion when it shows up.  Now are you ready to nourish it? Be flexible enough to see it? Laugh at your mistakes? Be risky? Celebrate where you are right now. Be open to where your intuition is leading you. Say yes and start again.


Sasha Rice's picture


SASCHA RICE is an Emmy nominated filmmaker, public speaker, and teacher. Her documentary “California State of Mind” garnered a Grand Jury Prize for Cinematic Vision. Sascha created the educational curriculum My California Now, is the co-founder of W.O.W. Writing Int’l, and offers creative workshops for all ages. Sascha tutors children privately and is the program coordinator and a mentor for the Young Writers Workshop at Ivanhoe Elementary. She has appeared on television, radio programs, and has been published online.

Old Radio

From hotel bars, to film scores, to Pandora

I’ve loved music as long as I can remember, and I spent 15 years trying to make a living as a musician. First playing piano in hotel bars and at weddings, then in touring rock bands, then as a film composer. I was surrounded by hundreds of incredibly talented artists who, for lack of an effective means of promotion and discovery, had virtually no chance of making a career out of their life’s passion.

In late 1999 I read an article about Aimee Mann in the New York Times. She was stuck in a record deal that kept her from releasing another album because it couldn’t justify the costs. Here was a talented artist without a home in the industry; hundreds of thousands of fans, and potential fans without any knowledge of her pending record. The web had arrived in full force – global distribution for all, but the plight of artists hadn’t changed.

It triggered the idea in my head. What if I could create a technological way to efficiently connect artists with their fans based on the sound of their music?  My passion for music was morphing into a passion to enable musicians and their music to find their rightful place in people’s lives.  The broadcast world was not setup for that – being limited to a very small catalogue of music at any given time, a situation only amplified online by emerging popularity-based recommendation systems designed to mimic that net effect.

I started believing I could change that as I worked with film director after film director, striving to compose the right score for their films, trying to home in on their musical tastes, with an eye to creating something new that they would like.  I felt there must be some way to create a musicological system that could intelligently comb through catalogues to find like-sounding music without regard to popularity; a system like that would enable the Aimee Manns of the world to make records by overcoming the hurdle of marketing costs.

That passion of mine led to the Music Genome Project, the first approach to music discovery that sought to replicate the experience of talking to a super knowledgeable record store clerk.  Pretty much everyone thought the idea was completely hair-brained, but that was the only way I could think of to address the challenge faced by my fellow working musicians all those years.

It took us a few years to realize the best way to bring that to life was through personalized radio, but the underlying inspiration remains central to our mission. Beneath it all is a passion I have always had for discovering music, and in sharing that joy of discovery with others.



Pandora Founder Tim Westergren started the popular personalized radio service in 2000 with the Music Genome Project. Tim is an award-winning composer and accomplished musician with 20 years of experience in the music industry. Tim received his B.A. from Stanford University, where he studied computer acoustics and recording technology. Tim now spends most of his time as Pandora’s chief evangelist – traveling the country to connect with some of the tens of millions of people who listen to Pandora. 

Discover Your Child's Strengths


Superkids: A passionate writer, jumping in headfirst

There are some students who just seem to “get it”—get it in an innate, self-motivated kind of way, get it in a fundamental and profound—seemingly effortless—kind of way.  One such student is Adithi Iyer, a focused young woman and a sophomore in high school who embodies what it means to pursue one’s passion and indeed to chase it emphatically.  A role model for students who are struggling to pursue what it is they enjoy, she recounts her journey not only to explore what she loves but also to inspire others to do the same.

-Jenn Curtis, Owner, Futurewise Consulting


Q:  How were you able to identify your passion?  

A: I have been writing for as long as I can remember—my interest really stems from telling my story, explaining myself, and feeling the need to make a difference. That is the passion I capture with writing—I have always found it relaxing and necessary to write everything down….From competing to freelance writing to trying to tackle novels, I always found it exciting to revisit my thoughts and let them stew through writing.

Q: You have taken the initiative to pursue your personal passion in an interesting way. Tell me about what you did.

A: At school and in the community I’m in, I notice a lot of the time that imagination as a learning tool is effectively removed from the system at a young age. At the same time, in our world I notice that a vast majority of us with the ability to become great storytellers and the potential to achieve great success simply don’t have access to the resources needed to do that in school. The common factors to me stood out: Imagination, creative thinking, and writing skills are necessary to produce the inventors, the scientists, the speakers, the activists—the people who make change in the world. And the need is real.  My immersion in the creative writing community by my early middle school years made that very clear to me. So I started to take some steps towards fulfilling that need. Recently, I appealed to the public library system to facilitate a summer writing program with a series of contests and a public forum for new writers to get “published.” After…hashing out all the details to a T, however, I was told it wouldn’t work. The initial dejection I felt from the end of a months-long campaign was quickly turned into this determination to continue with the project. Since the city’s guidelines were restrictive on the public level, I decided to combine a potential outreach literacy advocacy program with the website I had originally planned to launch, and launched in fall of 2013.

Q: Your website both is an extension of your passion and allows others to engage in their own.  How do you see your role in inspiring others?

A: As a writer, my goal is simply to circulate new knowledge and grow with others in the polishing and display of new work. As an advocate of worldwide literacy, I hope to spread this knowledge to places that truly need it and make writing accessible anywhere, no longer a first-world commodity. It’s a part of writing culture, as well, to be the inspiration you need to see; online forums are scattered with tips and tricks to overcome such plagues as writer’s block and the frustration of novel editing. And as such an intrinsic tool to the growth of students in any field, I hope that this site allows students of different walks, different passions, to reap from the benefits of truly embracing the art of storytelling.

Q: Students sometimes find it difficult to dive wholeheartedly into their passion, either because they don’t know how or other demands seem to take precedence.  What is your advice for them?

A: When we think about the overarching pressures put on us to succeed in the conventional sense, or do something that is generally accepted as “success,” we often get scared into doing things for the sake of other people or get distracted by this “background noise.” The real value of having a passion is that we are not afraid to jump in headfirst—we can’t let fear or intimidations stop us from living our wildest dreams. The real only way to discover this is to let go of preconceptions and go into everything with an open mind, and most importantly to try everything.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to become deeply involved in the things in which you are interested?

A: Getting involved is such an umbrella term, I think, and it’s thrown around nowadays. Many students get involved in their local programs or school events and never really take much from it; a lot of people who have gotten involved in one topic have taken an entire 180 and switched their majors, for example. Interest should be, above all, the first thing to gauge our levels of commitment, and that goes back to trying new things and going into everything with an open mind. In the end it should all just “click”—and it always does!


I encourage you to check out Adithi’s passion, Inspire OC.





A smiling family

Ten ways to maximize family harmony

10) Be Firm But Empathic in Limit Setting

So many parents seem to get confused when I suggest they offer empathy to their children.  They think that limit setting and having empathy are mutually exclusive.  Not so.  It is good practice to always let your children know that you understand and care how they feel and that you can help them, but that it is simply your job to protect their brain and body by helping to make good decisions for them.  Certain decisions are simply non-negotiable; while for others there may be some flexibility, but that is your call. Ultimately, your children should see you as having things under control on every level — meaning you always have the power to help them, but you are also the one that holds the decision making power in the household.  When it comes to empathy, don’t worry about giving too much.  Reflecting back your child’s feeling to him/her (e.g., “I can see you’re really angry”) will help them not only organize and understand their own feeling states but also those of others.

9) Stop for One Moment When Your Child is Arguing with You and Say:  “Tell Me Your Idea.  I am Listening.”

You would be surprised by how effective this actually is.  Your child may be ranting and raving, and by uttering those words they may stop right in their tracks!  You do not have to adopt or agree with their idea, but sometimes, providing a stage for them to be heard may help.  Stay calm and even in your approach.  When your child is yelling, don’t also go there.  Instead whisper and speak slowly so that both of your engines do not rev at the same time.  If you need to go into your room in private and bang your head against a wall, feel free!

8) Instead of Thinking You Always Need to Consequence Your Child for an Infraction, Consider Instead an Act of Kindness

It is not good for any child’s self-esteem to feel as if he/she is always getting in trouble and doing something wrong.  For that matter, for some children, consequences are not even meaningful.  So instead of always feeling as if you have to take something away if your child or adolescent breaks a rule, think instead, of something that might be contributed.  For example, your child might contribute something to the household such as clearing the dinner table; or find something in his/her closet to donate to charity; or send a care package to someone in need.  You can have fun brainstorming and filling a box with acts of kindness that can be selected when needed.  Contribution may send a better message than continual consequence. 

761 Their family harmony is at an 11. Not a 10. An 11.

7) Keep Communication Simple and Straightforward

Blah, blah, blah.”  This is sometimes all our children process.  We can say things repeatedly until we are blue in the face, and still the information does not compute.  Perhaps that is because we say too much.  Have you ever thought to yourself, “If only my children would listen, how easy life would be!”  (I’ve always thought this would be a great book title!).  Perhaps in this instance, less is more.  Choose words carefully and pick one simple main point.  Do not try and impart any logical thought to your child when he/she is worked up.  Save your breath for moments when you are both calm.  IQ points drop dramatically when we are emotionally charged.

6)  Expect to Adjust Your Parenting Strategies Based on Your Child

Comparisons are very natural to make, but will not work, since each child is different.  Unfortunately, our children do not come with rule books and formulas that guide us in the direction of strategies that will work best for them.  Instead, we learn over time through trial and error.  Sometimes by adjusting our parenting strategies and modifying a child’s environment, their “problems” improve.  Sometimes, a good question to ask is: “Whose problem is this anyway?”  It is a problem we create if we have put our children in an unfair situation (e.g., such as having them out late and expecting them to listen well).

5) Don’t Take Your Adolescent’s Moods Personally, But Do Be Vigilant from a “Perceived” Distance.  Don’t Be Naïve

Increasing independence in the tween and teen years is a natural developmental progression.  Peers will increasingly be sought over parents.  Do demand respect, but do not expect that every personal detail will be shared with you.  Know your children’s friends well and their families better.  Host at your house.  Don’t be afraid to drug test, even if you think, “My child would never do that.”  Eyes wide open.  Be cool and sly, vigilant and informed.  Your adolescent does not have to know that you are checking up, but you should.  If a problem arises with trust, address it immediately with an explicit action plan.  These will be stormy years indeed.  We just want to prevent a deluge.


4) Realize That Some Brains Do Not Handle Screen Time in The Same Way That Others Do, and Don’t be Afraid to Do Something About It

For some children and adolescents, too much time in front of a screen can be personality changing.  When the video games and screen time reach a level of obsession, cause meltdowns, and are preventing natural human engagement; they have to go, or be dramatically reduced.  Limits such as no screen time during the week, with one hour permitted each weekend day may be an easy way out, depending on the age of your child.  While we all as adults need breaks, and screen time can be a good “babysitter,” just keep in mind the flip side.  Buyer beware!

3) If it is the Last Thing You Do, Pound the Idea of Appreciation and Gratitude Into Your Children Day after Day

Ay yay yay, this a tough one, but don’t give up!!  We live in a society where the question is always asked, “What’s next?” You may have just spent the day at Disneyland and your children may still ask, “What can we do when we get home?” It is OK to remind your children of those starving, homeless children in third world countries.  Let them get a visual in their minds so they learn to appreciate what they have and be able to count their blessings.  This is a great life lesson for all of us.

2)  Establish Family Values Early On and Let That Be a Source of Pride For Your Children

Instead of framing these as your rules, “my way or the highway,” create buy in as soon as you can about what makes your family special.  Examples might be:

  • We are a sharing family.
  • We are a forgiving family.
  • We are a non-violent household.
  • We are a respectful family.
  • We are a listening family.
  • We are a patient family.  (With regard to patience, I try to “sell” it as something that is a “superpower”)   

Just keep reminding your children of these values on a daily basis, and hopefully they will then adopt them in life.

And above all else:

1) Take an Interest in Your Child’s Passions and Nurture Those Passions

Life is more than memorizing information from a textbook.  As we know, many of the most successful people in life are those who have vision and drive, not necessarily those who got A’s on their exams.  Moreover, you can use your child’s passions productively to embellish their thinking and learning.  For example, if your child’s passion is social media, instead of having them text all day, have them think about establishing rules of text etiquette for younger children or those with social challenges; or participating in an informational interview with a marketing executive of an internet start-up company; or brainstorm a plan for improving social media channels.  Certainly do not use taking a passion away as a consequence.  Find something else, anything else – but NOT the passion.  

I hope these tips help bring harmony (or at least sanity) to your family!




Dr. Jonine Biesman is a California board-certified pediatric neuropsychologist and co-developer of the Thrively Strength Assessment.  Read her full bio here.


Develop Your Child's Strengths


Aspire: An interview with a real life equestrian

Sarah and her horse, Oliver

We’re joined today by a truly inspiring achiever, Sarah Bradford. Sarah knew she was taking a risk by pursuing horse training as a career. But with this level of passion must come hard work and commitment. Sounds like a recipe for success in Thrively’s book.


Q: How old were you when you started horseback riding?

A: I started riding when I was 6 years old.

Q: Did you always know that you would want to work with horses as a career?

A: It’s hard to remember back to when I was a little kid…I remember that horses were an obsession, though. It was all I thought about. I think my dad feared that I would choose horses as my career, so he pushed me to play sports in school: track, lacrosse, that sort of thing – in the hopes that I would broaden my interests. When I was about to finish high school, I announced I was going to England to ride and train. My dad convinced me that college was a better idea, so we went and looked at colleges. I had every intention of applying to at least three schools, but, as I liked the format of the Colorado College application the best, I applied there early decision and threw away the rest of the applications (all for East Coast schools). I didn’t tell my dad about that stunt till just recently.

All through college I worked at a local stable, then graduated early and immersed myself full time in riding and teaching, eventually moving out to Summit Point, WV to work for Sharon White, an upper level eventing rider. I didn’t stay on the East Coast…there was something about that world that wasn’t sitting quite right with me, though I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time. I moved back to Colorado and actually quit riding. There was something in me that realized I needed to do a lot of reflection and self discovery before I could go back to horses. So after a brief stint being a mountain bum, I got a job as an instructor at the North Carolina Outward Bound School. The riding hiatus lasted about two years before I was dying to get back to the horses. I moved back to Texas (where I grew up) and started on the usual route of working at a lesson barn, teaching, riding the clients’ horses, and eventually starting my own business. That has changed, too. Now I’m working for another farm riding and training and showing their young horses. I think it’s really about finding your niche, in the horse world, and in any world.

Q: What challenges and rewards do you encounter in this career?

A: I think this actually goes back to the previous question about knowing if it was always something I wanted to do. Looking back, it seems like I was probably fated to be a horse trainer – no matter what I did to try and convince myself that a career in horses was equal to financial and social death, I always came back to it. I also kept getting burnt out and quitting and then starting over. It wasn’t until a month ago that I think I finally found my niche. There’s a generally accepted track in the horse industry: you start at the bottom and work your way up. This slow climb usually ends in an assistant trainer position at a local barn, teaching lots of beginner lessons, churning out riders and horses like a factory assembly line. It’s impossible for me not to show my biases here…I went this route, but I think that’s why I kept getting burnt out. I’ve never liked to follow a mold, per say. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll work my ass off for 15+ hour days with no day off: I think hard work is the only surefire route to success in ANY field. Hard work and throwing any sense of entitlement down the toilet.

It felt like I kept running up against a brick wall, though. When I started my own business, I was focusing a lot on training and showing my own young horses. As time went on, I realized I could only afford to show one horse (I had four or five that needed showing). I didn’t have many clients or students. The horse world is possibly one of the most fickle out there, which in itself is a huge frustration. I also felt myself pushing some of these horses in ways that weren’t right for them. They weren’t getting injured or anything; they just didn’t feel right. The horses will always tell you what’s going on, but you have to be willing to listen. I could feel myself about to throw in the towel again, when this opportunity came up. My very first riding instructor offered me a full time job at her farm. I would be riding, training, showing and a bit of teaching. But the objective was no longer selling the horses or churning out student after student. The objective was learning. And listening. To really train a horse, you have to be willing, like I said, to listen. You have to toss out your ego and any notion of instant gratification. You’re essentially vowing to a life of patience, slow, monastic meditation. It becomes a dance, where your partner gives and you take and vice versa. This was the niche I’d been looking for.

Challenges: In addition to finding that place where you fit, money is the big challenge. It costs a lot to enter the horse world, yet it pays almost nothing. Also finding a balance in life. The horses are all-consuming and require constant attention; if you’re not careful, you’ll start losing the other parts of your life like family and relationships and time for yourself – I’ve done that many times.

Rewards: There are so many…there are the big ones like getting recognition for some success you’ve had with a particular horse or at a particular show or getting written about in an article. There are also the more personal rewards that come in smaller moments. There’s the ability to stay present and clear minded. There’s that brief second where you feel the horse suddenly understand exactly what you were asking it to do, where you feel like you really are dancing. There’s the adrenaline rush of jumping over a huge fence.




Q: What is your proudest moment as a horse trainer? 

A: On the competition side; I’d say taking Maxine (one of my young horses) to three shows and in each, she placed higher: 6th in the first one, 3rd in the second one, and 1st in the third one. There’s such an easily visible sign of her progress and my training. Less tangible though, would be the smaller moments that might not be visible to anyone, where the lightbulb suddenly goes off in the horse’s head and everything just clicks. It’s also exciting when other people get on horses I’ve trained and say how easy the horse is to ride, how “light” and responsive it is.

Q: Do you have a favorite horse?

A: They’re all so different! Maxine is really competitive. She goes to a show and seems to understand her job is to go out there and perform. She’s very driven. It’s a good quality, but can have its downsides: she gets frustrated easily, so it’s up to me to channel that energy and focus into something productive (see the similarities to people?!). Lolita is wonderful because she’s so business-like and also so athletic. Larry is an incredible athlete, but his mind isn’t there: he’s always looking for stuff to get scared of, but that moment he focuses, it’s all there.

Q: What is your dream ride (like the best ride you could ever go on… eg. bareback with James Franco along the Jamaican coastline)?

A: Dream ride…I’ve never ridden on the beach, actually, and I’ll admit galloping through the water sounds pretty awesome (especially with James Franco haha!). I also love galloping out in the open, no fences or anything. Preferably in the mountains. But I’d say my all time favorite is galloping cross country (where you’re jumping massive fences) and making it look effortless – it takes a special relationship with the horse to make this look effortless.




Sarah Bradford has been working with horses since she was 6 years old. After some post-collegiate introspection, Sarah took a risk and decided to commit herself full-time to her passion, training horses. Sarah has a wealth of knowledge from which to draw, having ridden with and worked for some of the best riders in the country.  She is an inspiring and patient teacher of both horses and riders. 




Discover Your Child's Strengths