Monday, January 17, 2011
What Are You Passionate About?
Last week, a friend and I were having some drinks at a Mexican restaurant. We were seated outside - just a few feet from the host - and were chatting, like we usually do, about kids and education, learning and unschooling. Shortly before we left, the host (a kid I'm guessing in his early twenties) turned to us and asked,
"Are you two teachers?" Then he laughed a little and said, "Not that I was eavesdropping."
We told him what we were: moms who are just really passionate about our kids, and about alternative forms of education. We introduced him to unschooling when he showed an interest, and told him a little bit about ourselves and our kids. When I mentioned that I wrote, this already animated guy's face completely lit up.
"I'm a writer!" He told us how much he loved writing, and how he's written plays and poems, books and short stories. He was beaming.
As the conversation progressed, it gradually wove itself back around to the subject of school. When it did, this kid's whole demeanor changed with it. His shoulders slumped, his tone softened, and he visibly just... deflated... when he said, "I go back to school next week. Twelve. Hours. A. Day. All science."
I was actually rendered a little speechless by the fact that he was going to school for something in a science related field, when he clearly had such a passion for the arts. Thankfully, my friend still had control of her voice, because she asked all the questions that were on my tongue. He was a biology major. He was studying to become a nurse.
He said he loved it. Only....
his FACE didn't say he loved it. His face had said he loved writing. And when she asked him about it again, he dismissed it out-of-hand.
"Oh, writing's just my hobby."
I live in the real world - most of the time - and I know that marrying dreams with necessity can be a complicated thing. I know that people have all kinds of reasons for choosing the fields that they choose, and I know that a five minute conversation with a stranger does not make me an expert on his vocational desires. Maybe he is just as passionate about nursing as he is about writing. Maybe I read him wrong.
I hope I was wrong.
And I hope that my own kids do the thing that they're passionate about, the thing that makes their eyes light up, the thing that they know, deep down, that they were created to do.
College is great if it's used to further an interest or lay a foundation for an inspired career. But is it necessary for greatness? Necessary for success?
And I'll put myself out there and say that in a huge percentage of cases, it turns into nothing more than a hugely expensive waste of time and money, especially if you don't yet know what you want to be "when you grow up." Will college tell you? What on earth is to be gained from a college experience that you couldn't get ten times over by traveling, by taking advantage of your public (and free!) library, by researching how to start your own business, by exploring what it is you're truly passionate about?
I don't care if my kids make tons of money. I don't care if they go to college, or earn lots of titles after their names, or work in a corner office with a view. What I care about is their happiness. What I care about is whether or not they are following their own passions.
If you're following someone else's path, someone else's idea of achievement, how successful can you ever really be? Giving up your own sense of self for the high paying job or the white picket fence is not success.
When I talk to my kids about their future, and about jobs, I am ever thankful for the people in their lives who are clearly doing what they love to do...people from all walks who are doing all different kinds of things; people who are living, breathing, inspiring examples of following your passion:
The friend who took a huge pay cut to follow his dream of becoming a cop, who didn't give up during the years that he struggled with only being able to find part-time work, and who is now a full-time bona fide police officer.
The cousin who loves music so much that he found a way to make it a career, and works as a sound technician for a big theater downtown.
The uncle who works out of his house as a computer programmer, often in his pajamas, and who loves what he's doing so much that there is almost no distinction between his computer work and his computer play.
The friend who became a video game designer, who worked his way up from company to company, and who was a lead designer on some hugely well-known and well-liked games.
And the list goes on.
When people ask about why I homeschool, this answer is always there, always on the forefront. I want my kids to be able to follow their passions. Not that it's not possible when you're in school...But how much easier it is when you're given freedom, when you're not tempted to let yourself be herded into the masses, be talked into following someone else's plan, be persuaded to take someone else's path. Maybe the person who loves math isn't meant to be an accountant, but a forest ranger. Maybe the person who loves to write isn't meant to be a journalist, but something else entirely. Maybe when we're young and impressionable, it's all too confusing, and maybe well-meaning adults and schools just muddy the issue. Maybe we need to get the heck out of the way, and let the kids be.
I've spent way too much time wondering where I'd be today if I hadn't gone to school, if I hadn't spent twelve years being told to put my pen and notebook away and pay attention. To stop writing, and doodling, and dreaming, and do what I was supposed to be doing. I can't do anything to change my own past, but what I can do is to live my life in such a way that my kids can learn from it.
I can trust my own passions, and follow them. I can live authentically and joyfully, and in the manner that I was individually created. I can show them that life's not about having a certain amount of money, or a certain kind of job, or a certain kind of house. It's about being who you are.
It's about finding what you love to do, what you were meant to do...
and doing it.