By Mary Lou Sanelli

The beauty of a lucky charm is that it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. It’s a personal attachment.

Mine include a paperweight globe, shells, 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. “It’s good to be afraid sometimes,” the shells remind me. “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 my work. I wondered, too, if I should have directed Rose toward a higher-paying career to help drive the economy.

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 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 in order to continue, most of us can’t fall prey to owning all the things people buy to try and ensure their happiness.

After college, I 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, dance studios don’t pay all that well, either. But I found 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 tech world, dedicated to making more and more stuff we don’t need. 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 and all the trendy furniture to fill it.

I know how delicate balancing passion and a 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.

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 is an author whose latest book is A Woman Writing. When not working as a literary speaker on the Mainland, she lives in Honolulu. For more of her work, visit

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