Recently, during a higher education panel, the issue of “following one’s passion” arose. More than one participant grew visibly uncomfortable with the concept. Sure it’s a lovely thought and one that’s uttered ad nauseum in coming of age films/novels. But does it actually make sense when discussing 17-18-year-old’s education and career decisions?
It is the rare adolescent who knows that being a surgeon/lawyer/steam-pipe fitter is his/her destiny. It does happen, but it is rare. Most jobs/careers aren’t exactly a calling. There aren’t a whole lot of financial analysts or fundraisers who dressed in little bland casual Friday outfits and played number crunching as children. If we’re lucky work is mostly a pleasant environment in which we are fairly compensated for utilizing a majority of our talents. Encouraging a teenager to pursue post-secondary education as a means to one’s passion is not useful. It not only ignores the reality of the workplace and economy but also is misleading for the student.
“Following one’s passion” in regards to employment is about as useful a term as “having it all.” They both smack of a certain entitlement and haughtiness. They are vague enough to be appropriate for waiting room posters and meaningless in one’s actual life. What does “following one’s passion” mean in terms of a teenager choosing an educational/training path? Do we really mean to suggest that what an 18-year-old finds exciting will never alter? (I shudder to even consider that suggestion.) Wouldn’t it be far more helpful to discover what a teenager finds interesting?
Getting good grades in English doesn’t necessarily mean you should be an English major and then find a job in an English-y field. Depending on the curriculum of said class, a good grade might reflect; being a good analytical thinker, a good writer, a good communicator or having a finely tuned ear for language or that the reading selections for the class were just of particular interest to the student. Grades only tell part of the story. A poor student is not necessarily a poor learner. He/She may be wildly curious about a subject outside of the academic curriculum. He/She might be incredibly gifted with their hands; an artist, baker, craftsmen.
Secondary education/training (for better or worse) is no longer about staring off onto the idyllic ivy-strewn quad and thinking deep thoughts. It is (at times) a very expensive undertaking that must deliver a return on investment. For many it is also a one-time only offer. Life doesn’t always allow for continuing education. What will put a young person in good stead is to pursue post-secondary training/education that is of interest and is useful. Pursuing an area of interest ensures that one will feel engaged with one’s work/studies. “Interest” is far more lasting and tangible than “passion.”
For those teenagers who will not be concerned with earning a living; follow your passion or lie by the pool. But for everyone else it is probably best to remember that the world simply cannot support that many ballerinas. If you pay close attention you will find work that makes you happy and supports a life that allows you to dance.