Follow Your Passion
At the risk of sounding like a cranky pessimist, I’m not so sure that we should be telling teens to “follow their passion.” It seems like in just the past week, I’ve heard that phrase repeated over and over by a variety of people — artists, writers and Steve Jobs and, while I know that they’re well meaning, in some ways, I think telling young people that can do more harm than good. I know, I know. We all want our children to “find their passion” and go out into the world and be happy, but finding a passion can put a heavy weight on a young person’s shoulders.
Think about it. First, “following a passion” implies that you have one thing that you are meant to do. Well, right off the bat, that’s just wrong. I used to work in career counseling and one of the things we always made clear to people is that most of us can be happy doing many different jobs — there isn’t usually that one “perfect” job out there. Think of what that might do to a person. If you really believe there’s only one thing you can do, and you end up not being able to do it, wouldn’t that send you into a downward spiral of depression? Or, maybe even worse, what if you didn’t have any idea what your passion was and had the idea that everyone else has a passion and is on the road to making it happen? See, I’m not being negative. I’m being positive. There are lots of things that people can do and be happy (whatever “happy” means. That’s a blog for another day.)
Besides hearing all the “follow your passion” statements last week, I started thinking about this because I have a 24-year-old son who is about to jump from his first professional job to his second one, and I have a daughter who will be graduating from college this year. “Following your passion” seems like an empty cliche to me. I really don’t think that my kids are that unusual in that they have no clue EXACTLY what they want to do. My son has learned a lot in his first job and is closer to knowing the type of work environment that he wants. While he hasn’t had a definite offer from the other company yet, he is sure that he would take the offer, while still wondering whether he can be 100 percent sure this is the right choice. He can’t know that. All he can do is look at what he does know about himself and about the job, then take something of a leap of faith. He also knows that my husband and I can’t/won’t support him, he needs to pay rent, health insurance, car payments, etc. All those things that you have to do when you’re an adult. So, is he following his passion? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure that’s an appropriate question to ask him.
As for my daughter, she, too has some strong interests, but doesn’t really know yet where those interests will lead her. And that’s okay. She’s putting some things in place for a variety of things to happen and she could be happy doing any of them, but other than maybe being a writer for the Daily Show, I don’t think she has a burning passion to do just one thing.
I think my children’s lives will be along a path of lifelong learning. If they discover a specific passion along the way, great. If not, that’s okay, too. I don’t tell my children to follow their passions because I think it puts too much stress on young people. Most of them don’t have the life experience to know what they want to do, yet by telling them to follow their passion, we’re assuming they do know what they want. I tell my kids to do what they like, make choices based on what they think they will enjoy and move forward. They can always change direction or make a different decision along the way. Our culture is too product-oriented rather than process-oriented. We need to learn to enjoy the process more — and to accept that life is a process, not an end result. If, along their journey, my kids have friends, loving relationships with people, interesting things to do, then that’s good enough. In fact, that’s great.