As a parent, I’ve struggled with the advice I give to my children. Growing up I was never told to “follow my passions.” I don’t remember any specific advice my parents gave me but I think it was pretty much like most people my age: Get a good education, get a good job, retire as soon as you can. My wife and I have made the transition as most my age who became parents to encourage our kids to follow their passions. Hopefully we’ve provided an environment that allows them to explore and experience many different things that help them discover what those passions might be. If you asked my kids, I’m not sure, even though 3 of them are adults, that they really know what their passions are. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing or particularly unusual.
I’ve been fortunate that I’ve fallen into my passion over the past several years and even more fortunate to be able to make a living off of that. I think that’s a message we need to stop placing on our kids and students. Not only is it a lot of pressure but also suggests that finding work that supports your family that may not be your passion, means your life is lacking. The shift I’ve made of late in terms of talking to my own kids is not to suggest they don’t pursue their passions but to not necessarily tie their passions to their vocation. It’s great if you’re able to go to work at something you really love but that doesn’t have to be the case. My daughter is an artist but has decided that she doesn’t want to make a living as one. For many reasons, including the idea that mixing work with your passion often takes the joy out of it, she’s chosen to teach. She seems to be enjoying that but certainly views it much more as work than a passion. I think that’s okay.
Sidebar: Those of you who are educators reading this are likely pretty passionate about teaching. Perhaps you’d define it as your true passion/calling. I’m not convinced and don’t believe it’s necessary all teachers fall into this category. It would be nice to assume but the reality of it is that many teachers do it because it’s a job and that doesn’t mean they suck or are bad teachers. And if we want more teachers to be passionate about their jobs, the biggest thing we need to do is change the profession.
I have many friends who have regular “jobs” like accountants, railroaders and engineers. If won the lottery tomorrow, they would quit those jobs. That’s not sad, that’s the reality. Part of the reason you might feel sad is because of the way we’ve demeaned work as something to be avoided. In a culture devoted to “me” and “self-esteem” it seems incongruent to spend 8 hours a day doing something you don’t really love. Many think you should only do work you really love. How selfish is that? People work for many reasons and working to support a family, survive, make a contribution to your world is not demeaning. The more we as educators and parents tell kids how important it is to find their passion and tie that to their vocation the more we are telling the bus driver, the janitor, the waitress and the gas station clerk that they are failures. The problem with our schools remains that they are largely designed to train students for university, to get “good” jobs.
A few years ago I attended a career education conference and heard Kristin Cummings, a career counsellor says, “Stop asking kids what they want to be and start asking them, how do you want to live?” That’s a great question and takes the emphasis away from vocation as they way to pursue passion and lifestyle. This blog post was inspired by a link sent to me by Dr Joan McGettigan from Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs who also works for Discovery. There were a few things in his talk I might question but I do like the notion of celebrating work as opposed to passions. Work, hard work, dirty work needs to be elevated. Passion and work aren’t necessarily the same things. Watch the talk.