This was an anonymous question I was asked; I’m repeating it in this format upon request, to make it rebloggable.
The ultimate goal in life seems to be to find a passion and to follow it. But how does one cope with a world that pretty much asks you to have your passion in business, engineering, or IT if you wish to make a living? I am at the breaking point between being done with college and not yet having started a career (or any sort of full time employment), and it seems impossible to find a career fitting for a compassionate/creative type with a knack for organizing things. Do you have any thoughts?
Well… hmm. I guess I have several thoughts.
1) I reject the idea that that’s THE ultimate goal in life. If it’s YOUR ultimate goal, that’s fine. But it doesn’t HAVE to be. You can have a different goal, or you can have several goals that you balance. (Not that that’s easy, either.) But there’s no REASON why finding/following a passion should be the ultimate goal, unless you want it to be. Personally, I think there are way more important things, like living a morally correct life and helping other people and being kind and considerate and polite.
2) Honestly, I personally think this idea of an all-important personal passion (which is a common idea! Not trying to attack YOU at all!) often ends up being kind of selfish and immature. There’s a line from a TV show I like that goes something like “What happened to work? Not everybody can pursue their dreams. Someone has to work.” And I really believe that. Now, sure, you could say that in an ideal world, everybody would be able to follow their dreams, but a) that is not the world we live in and b) there is literally no way that that would result in a functioning civilization. Given that, when anyone says “The only important thing is following my passion,” I can’t help but hear “I think I’m a superior person and worthy of getting to do whatever I want, and those inferior people can worry about mundane everyday responsibilities.” And on a more micro level, people who only care about following their dreams tend to be quite difficult to deal with for family or friends.
3) So really, I think it’s about balance. If you have a dream, great! Unless it’s, I don’t know, being in the Olympics, it probably doesn’t have to be the only thing you pursue. And pursuing your dreams doesn’t have to mean getting paid for it. You can, say, have a job that provides stability AND take care of your family AND do the activity you love as a sideline or hobby. I promise: The great majority of people are not in a career or job that directly leads to their ultimate dream, and THAT’S OKAY. Most writers and artists support themselves with other jobs. That’s how the world works.
4) It’s also really about priorities. When I got out of college, I decided that supporting myself (and taking that burden off my parents) was way more important to me than doing something I loved, so I started working in a store and now work in an office job that’s perfectly fine but not “my dream.” I also decided that stability and health insurance is more important to me than having my job be fun. I do fun things and pursue my dreams in my free time. And you know what? That’s fine. I don’t accept that I’m a less interesting or creative person because of it, just as I don’t accept that it’s some sort of failure of character that my father gave up painting years ago in order to get a steady office job and support his family. The whole “starving artist” idea sounds romantic, sure, but how does the starving artist’s kid or aging parent feel about it?
So I mean… well, sure, if you have one overwhelming passion and are independently wealthy and don’t have any familial or other obligations, then do whatever you want! Have fun! But I believe this idea that we’re “supposed” to follow a passion ends up damaging a lot of people who have complicated lives and various obligations and end up being told they’re disappointing everyone or squandering their potential when they’re just trying to do the best they can given their personal options and circumstances. Often, if people can’t devote enormous amounts of time and resources to something, they are told that they’re not “real” writers or artists or whatever else, and really, perpetuating that idea is just perpetuating elitism and reinforcing privilege. We don’t need to do that.
As far as practical advice for your situation - for finding a first job after college - I have three main recommendations:
1) Do some thinking about your priorities first - Is living near family or friends important to you? Is there a minimum salary you need? Do you need health insurance? (Yes! I worry about my friends who have no health insurance!) Do you care what your schedule is like? Do you mind sitting at a desk? Do you mind running around all day? Do you care about working somewhere big or small? Are there certain things that are deal-breakers for you? (For example, I won’t apply for jobs that have public speaking as a primary duty, because I hate it.) Brainstorm! Make lists! Talk to friends and family about what they like and don’t like about their specific work environments (not necessarily about the content of their jobs).
2) Try to keep an open mind when looking at job ads. You might like something you’d never expect. Go ahead and apply. Applying for something means you want to learn more about it; it doesn’t mean you’d have to actually take the job.
3) Remind yourself ALL THE TIME that this job does not have to be what you do for the rest of your life. Especially if you’re young and don’t have dependents, it’s perfectly fine to try something for a year or two and then look for something else if you want to try a different field. (Try to stay for at least a year, though.) And it’s COMPLETELY, ENTIRELY FINE to work in a retail or service job to support yourself while looking for a job in your field.
To sum up: “Follow your dreams” is a nice idea that can become a dangerous myth, and you should think about what YOU need and want rather than what your goals “should” be.
Did that help? A little? I hope!