Toddler boy in white clothing eating red autumnal applesI remember getting home from what was my very last day of work from an old job, flopping onto the couch, and sitting there in complete silence for the better part of an hour. Later, on the phone, I would suffer under tidal waves of advice from friends and family who meant well but weren’t helping.

“That wasn’t what you’d planned on doing for very long any way. It was only a stepping stone toward your real dreams.”

“Look at this as an opportunity to start doing what you really want to do.”

“This is a blessing in disguise. You were stuck there. Now you’re free to follow your passion!”

Hearing these things I was both excited and encouraged, emboldened by the idea that nothing was in my way now. I was free to realize my dreams, to boldly go forth and conquer and achieve and so forth. And, for a while, it was liberating. But then I started thinking about what it was that I really wanted to pursue, what my passion was, my dream, my bliss (or what have you) and that’s when  I hit a roadblock.

I had absolutely no idea what it was.

In high school, my vision for the future was clear. I wanted to be a fireman. No, wait… a doctor. Definitely a doctor. I took anatomy and physiology courses and consulted with people in my circles who had experience in the medical field. I read a ton of magazines and books outside of the classroom and trained myself to be ok with the sight of blood and organs and gore and such. I thought of all the contributions I’d like to make and considered what I’d what to focus on, what kind of doctor I wanted to be – a cardiologist.

By Junior year, my TRUE (truest!)  passion came into focus. I wanted to be a musician. I was prepared for the life of a starving artist, constant rejection, perpetual auditions and mediocre gigs at dive bars and birthday parties and senior centers. I embraced this all with the unblinking courage of a robot gorilla.

I went to college to study music and, as before, poured myself into all things music – theory, history, performance, etc.. I practiced a minimum of 20 hours a week, gigged as often as I could, and even made a little money on the side. Nearly all of my friends were musicians… you get the picture.

All of these things were genuine passions of mine – lifelong passions that I hold even now – but none constituted a career interest. And that was the most important revelation for me.

You’ll usually hear this: “What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about money?” as something to consider in finding your calling. For me, though, that’s always been a moving target: medicine, music, teaching, writing – all of them in their turn and, subsequently, all at the same time. For me, my career goal is less about connecting personally with those choices and more about situating myself in a place where I can be passionate. Put another way, I found that my dream jobs can be many jobs that I only need room to be creative, expressive, and dynamic in a job that is relentlessly challenging on a daily basis.

The “follow your passion” trope ignores the idea of a moving target, or, more importantly, of practicality. One could be really passionate about reading romance novels or riding roller coasters or people watching, but it isn’t likely that one could make a career out of those things. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on what drives me, what motivates me to be and give my best, and to focus on a career that allows for that.

And if I lose or leave my job or decide to change career paths, I am no less prepared than I was before. Moreover, I don’t have to sort out the existential quandary of defining my passion against what I’d do if money wasn’t an issue.

Money IS an issue, and likely always will be.

I submit that it’s a far better thing to discover what it is you have to contribute and what best maximizes those qualities. Put another way, discover your passion, sure, but go one step further. Passion is wonderful on its own but where does it come from? Give a man a fruit and he’ll eat for a day; give a man a seed… and he’ll… grow things.

Or something.

I’ve learned to find out why I was passionate about the things I was passionate about and used those revelations to connect myself with a career in which I can feel satisfied.

Now if only I could get them to hire me…

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