So, there I was this morning. Woke up at a reasonable hour while the sun was still low in the sky and the house was still quiet. I shoved a bowl of cereal in my face while I had a hard enough time digesting what has been happening for the past few days. I shut off my Twitter feed, had a stretch, drank my coffee and got back to my first draft.
Ideally, I like to get a jump on my projects in the mornings. I’m not a morning person, but I do like getting stuff done earlier in the day. Some mornings go smooth. Still, there are other mornings that feel more like an inflatable pool raft. They take a little while and a lot of effort to get up to where it should be to be sea-worthy. And when they do, when all the things are set in a row and organized and neat, everything is fine. Those mornings go swimmingly as I lounge on my giant, imaginary ducky floaty.
Then some prick comes around and lets all the air out.
For the most part, I feel that, after many years of fumbling about and finding a place for myself in this world, I am lucky enough to have found a calling. Notice I didn’t say the calling or my calling, and I’ll get to that in a minute.
In my sophomore year of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And I know that for some people that’s normal, and they don’t concern themselves with this until much later in life. But for me, it was kind of a big deal. Like, wake up in the middle of the night big deal. Fortunately, a teacher recognized an ability in me that I didn’t notice about myself, and so he encouraged me to get involved in Theater and Speech Club. Thus began a pursuit of a passion. I must have been doing something right. I went to state championships, regional championships. I came in 2nd in a region of 6 states participating in competitions that forced me to do the thing that would make most people wet their pants. Public speaking, performing, learning to take control of an area no wider than your shoulders. Looking people in the eye and selling a character. Second. In a region of 6 states. Not bad for a shy kid. </dadbrag>
I call it a passion for lack of a
better term. It was more like my “A-ha” moment where I was taken by the hand by this gorgeous hunk of a Norwegian comic book character into this surreal melodrama that involved European race car dri… sorry, that’s not right. Scratch that. What I meant was my “a-ha” moment where I finally knew or at least had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t kid myself. I knew I had to work for it. Just like everything else. But at least I knew what I was doing. I had a direction. It was enough. This pursuit got me through college, but it was finally dealt a Quivering Palm Death Touch when I made the mistake of moving to New York while still a little green. Real life set in quick. The passion faded.
Since that time, I’ve been through several jobs. Most of them were a dead end. All of them had nothing to do with what I went to school for. I didn’t pursue my passion at the time because it wasn’t financially possible to do so. I had day jobs to do while I pursued the one thing I worked very hard for. But it wasn’t before too long where my Plan B suddenly turned into my Plan A, and any hope of getting back to my passion withered like a vase full of neglected orchids. I was no longer in pursuit of my passion. I was in pursuit of a paycheck.
And I think, therein lies the problem I have with the “Don’t Follow Your Passion” movement. It’s a mentality of “Give up on your dreams because they’re unrealistic and instead, do something you’re good at.” Well, what if your passion is the thing you’re good at? What if my passion is something I worked at and practiced on a regular basis? Do I give up on something I worked hard for to find an unrelated job that pays the bills or do I follow my passion and face ruination because, in the long run, it’s too hard because there are too many people wanting the same thing?
Should I have even bothered in the first place?
Am I a “loser” for following my dreams, or am I a “loser” for finding a McJob in an exchange for something that’s meaningful?
Some might say the answer is to marry both of these choices together to find happiness, but I suspect those people are usually close to retirement, or financially solvent and at the end of the day, could give a pimpled rat’s ass about you and your stupid little passions. Sometimes, you can’t have it both ways. Sometimes, life gets in the way.
Sometimes, you get lost.
And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Didn’t you want to be a chef at one point?
Too much stress and it enabled my alcoholic tendencies.
How about an IT guy?
Good work if you’re willing to jump through some really REALLY expensive hoops to get to what, in the end, was going overseas anyway.
Did you go to school for it?
Have you ever kept a ledger?
Is that the same thing as balancing a checkbook?
Can you define ‘mortgage’?
Dude, I’ve rented my whole life. And, why is it spelled like that anyway?
Then, yeah no. It’s probably not a good idea.
It’s conceivable to regard writing or any other piece of wonderfulness that lights a fire under your ass and gets you out of bed in the morning as “just a hobby” as more of a realistic term. Especially, if one were to concern themselves with other goals that are more tangible to them; promotion at their day job, running their own business, raising a family in the suburbs. And it’s easy to step back and look at the sharp decline in readership for the past couple of years and mourn our semi-literate society as they blindly walk out into oncoming traffic to catch another goddamn Pokémon and say, “Whelp, nobody’s reading anymore. Guess I should give up altogether. Oh, look! A new season of Big Brother is on! Let me slip into my Faded Glory pajamas and throw a bag of Dollar Store popcorn in the microwave while NOT thinking about killing myself. Giving up this way is so much better!”
I understand it, and I get frustrated by it a lot. I’ve felt it. But you know what else has taken a hit these days? Theater attendance. Not a lot of people are watching movies at the theater that much anymore. Is Hollywood packing it in and only making movies for the one or two people who kinda sorta pay attention maybe? No. They seem content to crank out the same meaningless, poorly written, completely forgettable crap they have been for as long as anyone can remember because that’s what people want according to some algorithm or something.
We are slogged with mediocrity, and we don’t care. They’re still making it. People will eventually watch it. Just because a movie is obviously not “Oscar™ Worthy”, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to watch it and be entertained. Just because a book isn’t on the New York Times Bestseller List, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to read it.
And, here’s the thing: If the movie wasn’t directed by Spielberg, does it mean no one is going to see it? Is he the “exception to the rule”? Have I dodged a bullet because I didn’t follow through hard enough on my passion for acting to instead embrace the world of the cubicle? Personally, I’m not so sure.
I too hear the voices of dogged practicality. The ones that barely contain their disdain at the mere utterance of what I do, have done and want to do. The ones that sound exactly like disapproving parents who mourn the day that their child dropped out of Law School.
“So, you know I was talking with Moira the other day,” (Note: For some reason, the Disapproving Parent voice in my head sounds a lot like a Jewish mother from Staten Island. To the best of my knowledge, none of my relatives are Jewish…or from Staten Island, for that matter.) “You remember Moira? She used to be part of our book club until, ya know, the accident? Anyway, we’re talking the other day and she told me her bubby graduated from Harvard. Pre-Law. Isn’t that wonderful? I thought it was wonderful. I just thought it was nice, seeing her being so proud of her successful lawyer son. Yeah. Good times.”
The ones that are so quick to equate creativity with poverty. “Oh, you’re a writer. Wow, that’s neat. What do you do for your day job?” You know, those ones. Don’t think that the side glances and hushed conversations haven’t gone unnoticed. I know I’m in the minority. I know that what I have done and what I am doing is fiercely competitive in nature. But you know what else is fiercely competitive? Being a lawyer.
As recently as 2012, Law Schools were stuffed to the rafters with cute, little lawyerlings all ready to hatch and fly after speeding ambulances. That is until word got out that the world is overflowing with them (Shakespeare saw this coming). The internet, with its vast wisdom and convenience, just made the roles of internships and paralegals obsolete, because legal documents were easier to get online and print out, rather than consulting a law firm. And those that were lucky enough to find employment on the other side of Law School were too focused in hanging their shingle in a specialized arena, rather than work for something that might benefit them in the long run (i.e. show business law as opposed to trial law). Basically, there were too many new lawyers and not enough law firms. There were too many people pursuing the same thing, and not enough things (jobs, opportunities) to go around. The market became saturated.
…sound familiar yet?
Financial Assistants, Pediatricians, Personal Bankers. Hell, even trying to be a food server at the local Chili’s is competitive. It’s going to be the same no matter where you go, or what you want to do. Competition should be a given. So with that in mind, why do writers, actors, singers, scientists, and athletes get dismissed so readily when it comes to pursuing their own goals? Why do people who have a passion to follow their dreams in the financial industry get a pass? Is it inconceivable to presume that there aren’t people out there who dream of being a hedge fund manager, but have to be satisfied with being just another investment banker? Why aren’t they considered idealistic, starry-eyed losers like the rest of us?
These are the thoughts that have been brewing and bubbling in the back of my head for a while now. It’s always out there, but it has been taking center stage lately has young people transition out of school to the real world. Maybe it was just me, and maybe it bothered me so much that I started seeking it out like some sad drunk with a chip on his shoulder and a newly minted ex-girlfriend when he grabs the biggest, meanest, baldest guy in the biker bar, grabs him by the front of his densely patched leather vest, looks him square in the eye and whispers, “You are such a pussy.”
Well, maybe not quite like that, but the displaced rage is the same, and the result of following through with it might leave me just as damaged. I’ve been known to punch above my weight. Never turns out well.
There seems to be a lot of people who will tell you that “Following your Passion” is pretty bad advice. I can see what they’re saying, and I have a pretty good idea who they are saying it to. It’s a reality check for those people who…ooohh…pffff…I dunno…want to play video games as a career. You might be good at it, and it does sound like fun, but seriously building a future around playing the Madden franchise, might be looked at as a little risky when looking to get a mortgage.
See? There’s that word again!
What they say when they say “don’t follow your passion” is something along the lines of, “Look. It’s good that you have a passion and that you are driven to do something great and change the world. But the reality is that more than likely, what you want to do isn’t going to be the best fit for you. So a better option would be to do something along the same lines of what your passion is. You will still have your passion, and you’ll have a more fulfilling life.” Which is all they have to say! If they would have led off with that, then it wouldn’t be so bad. I wouldn’t have to write this long-ass post, and I can get back to my first draft.
But harsh reality is better than sugary platitudes, and the advice still knocks your teeth in like some bald biker who just had his masculinity challenged. What it sounds like is, “Congratulations on dumping a hundred grand on an education that’s not gonna get you anywhere, dumbass. Good luck trying to figure out the rest of your life, because we have no idea, and it’s not our job to figure it out for you. We just like to knock the stars out of your eyes so you’ll be compliant enough to take anything that comes your way. We want you to be just as frustrated as we are because this is reality, loser.”
I dunno. Maybe I’m giving these people too much credit. Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe I should try and turn the other cheek when it comes to some nameless d-bag who leaves a comment on my post and tells me in so many words that I should just give up because nobody is reading anyway and following your passion is stupid.
The thing I hate most about this way of thinking, other than being defeatist, mentally damaging, and unhelpful, is that I think it presumes WAY too much about other people. It presumes that the person who has dreams of becoming something someday is still a child. Even though this “child” has a College Degree in, or relating to, that thing they wanted to be when they were an actual child. It presumes that every person who follows their passion has not worked for it, will not work for it, and is expecting to be dropped right into the thing they want to do completely ignorant and unprepared. It presumes that we, the ones who do follow a passion, are stupid.
And what about that word I keep repeating? No, not mortgage, the other one. Passion. Perhaps it’s the word itself that people have a hard time with. Passion: That Purple-Prosed, Bodice-Ripping bastard that pollutes the shelves in airport bookshops and local supermarkets. Passion: the very presence of the word makes you want to lock up your daughters.
The dictionary definition of passion is essentially “to have strong emotions about something”. I think that most people think that something refers to one thing, and it should. But we forget that a passion can be easily replaced. Especially after life-changing events: I had a passion for smoking and junk food, now I have a passion for smoothies and yoga (not really, just sayin’). I had a passion for chasing girls around the mall, now I have a passion for chasing my children around the house. I had a passion for acting, now I have a passion for writing. People change. Plans change. Passions change. You still have that passion that lights a fire under your ass in the morning, but it’s fuel doesn’t come from anything external. It comes from inside, Grasshopper. Now, go fetch some water and when you return, see if you can take the pebble out of my hand.
In my lifetime, I have accumulated many callings, and I feel lucky to have experienced all of them. If it weren’t for that fire, if it weren’t for passion making things interesting, I would be a lump of couch potato salad wasting away watching The Simpsons every night. Which is something I don’t want to be. Potato salad is very hard to get out of a couch.
Another thing that chafes my thighs is when most people say “don’t follow your passion”, they don’t follow it up with anything actionable. There are no alternatives to doing your do. Just the cautionary, knee-jerk, face slap that can easily be housed inside a fortune cookie.
“Don’t follow your passion.”
“Because it’s bad.”
“So bad, you have no idea. It’s the worst. The absolute worst. Believe me.”
…Wait a minute, you’re Donald Trump, aren’t you! How did you get in here?
Saying “don’t follow your passion” is like giving a death of a thousand cuts where the words don’t kill you right away, but rather they take their time and root and fester in your mind, until you wake up one morning and notice the fire is gone, and you look in the bathroom mirror, and you notice you resemble a human husk made of toenails, cobwebs, and failure. Uninspired, drained of will, and waiting for your last breath to leave your body. Say, “be flexible.” Say, “see the world.” Say, “keep an open mind, you never know what might fall in.” Not following your passion sounds an awful lot like “just give up.”
I don’t feel like giving up.
My calling, if that’s what I’m calling it, isn’t even mine. I didn’t make it or give birth to it, I just scraped off the masking tape name tag of someone else it belonged to, and added my own. And as I hold it in my hand, I can feel the warmth of every hand that loved and nurtured it in their own way, and that gives me hope. What I do now is barely a shadow of what I once did, and that’s okay. In my experience, the world needs more storytellers and fewer lawyers. I’m happy with what I do now. In the future, who knows?
Whatever it is…
…just let me be happy doing it.