When I was in high school, I was very jealous of my classmates who already knew what they were going to do with their lives.
My father knew from childhood he wanted to be a scientist. He went straight from college to a PhD program in chemistry, and from there worked for a total of two or three companies. He worked at the same company for my entire childhood. My mother went straight from college to earning her teaching credential. She quit teaching when she became pregnant with my older sister.
I knew from age seven that I wanted to be a writer. In my clarity I was following in my dad’s footsteps, right? Only not so much. Imagine my alarm, at age ten or eleven, when I somehow began to think I wasn’t allowed to be a writer. Did my parents tell me this? I don’t remember. All I remember is that I knew I couldn’t be a writer because it wasn’t practical and I wouldn’t be able to earn money by doing it, and then I wouldn’t be able to afford the asthma medication I took daily. I was really upset until I soothed myself with the thought that I could always become a librarian.
From this point on, I didn’t feel like I knew what I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be a lawyer or a doctor. I wasn’t so sure about being a classroom teacher. I didn’t want to be a scientist. All of the exciting-sounding jobs in books were, I discovered, also impractical. So I decided to become a musician.
I know. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I’m so grateful I thought it anyway.
There’s a common line of thinking: “Follow your passion.” I don’t think this is bad advice, but I think it’s incomplete. I would say, follow your passion, BUT:
- It may be hard to figure out what your passion is. Not everyone is born knowing in their bones what they want to do. And if you grow up exposed to limited career and life options, you might need to go digging to even become aware of the possibilities.
- You may not be able to make a living following your passion. But you may have to try it to discover whether this is true or not. And the results may surprise you.
- You might be able to make a living, but you might also have to compromise on your lifestyle. Some people don’t want to do this. Either choice is completely valid.
- You may be perfectly happy not feeling passionate about your career. This doesn’t mean you can’t follow your passion anyway. I knew a dental receptionist who went sky diving every weekend because that was her true passion. I know writers who get up early or stay up late to squeeze in writing time. I know musicians who participate in community theater or play in bands by night.
- Some people have more than one passion. So if you follow one and it doesn’t work out, you might want to fish around in your brain and see if you can discover another one.
There is no one right way to follow our passions. There are an infinite number of ways, and our job is to figure out which way we will follow right now.
How do you follow your passion in your life?