Thursday, May 15, 2014

Finding your passion

This is commencement week at Large Southern University. Young people around campus are busy gluing glitter to their mortarboards, figuring out how to conceal booze under their gowns, planning their graduation blowouts, and realizing that they should have been looking for a job already.

The last time I cared about who was speaking at commencement was my own graduation, but I am sure whoever it is this year will exhort the new graduates to "follow your passion."  I remember a news story published last year that centered around this universal commencement advice. One new graduate, concerned that he had not yet found his one true calling, sought advice from an economist about what to do. As our young protagonist pointed out, some people find their passion early in life, while others search for decades, or forever. (Spoiler alert: this is another area where economists were sure they could provide an answer, but in the end were as clueless as the rest of us.)

Follow your dreams, no matter what others tell you. Now put on this identical garb and line up to receive a certificate of your worth as a person. Image from here.

I could have been the poster boy for the (vocationally) passionless. After abandoning uninspired attempts to live up to the potential that people constantly told me I possessed, I drifted through several careers, pursuing goals of the moment, and prone to fits of depression. I realized later that my problem was not that I didn't have a passion. The problem was (to quote a friend) that I felt like a raging failure because I didn't have a passion, and everyone else had one. Didn't they? A lot of my friends had Volvos and college degrees, so I assumed they had driving ambitions.

The first days of Spring of the worst year of my life found me unemployed, almost unmarried, far from friends and family, and an unwelcome guest in my own house. I loathed myself, my life, and my prospects more than I have at any time before or since.* By the time my birthday rolled around I had divorce papers,** a crappy apartment, a crappy sales job, a few pieces of donated furniture, and an old station wagon with a slow leak in the right rear tire.

By the Fall I was back in school, and working odd jobs to pay the bills. My apartment was still crappy, but I had a new tire, and designs on the hot girl at the opposite end of my building. I had also stopped worrying about finding my passion. I was so busy trying to survive, and working to accomplish my next objective, that I really had no time for self-absorption.  I was content with the satisfaction that came with learning something new, acquiring a new skill, or making a new friend. I learned to enjoy my own company again, and to appreciate the days as they passed.

Along the way, I fell in love with computer science. I realized that my passion had always been learning new things, understanding how the world works, and thinking hard. CS is a perfect fit. It's not that I only care about computer science because I stopped worrying about my passion, but I do believe that focusing on what I have and enjoying who I am, rather than what I wish I had or who I would rather be, has made it easier to stay committed and enthused. Corny, I know, but no worse than "follow your passion."

* Much better now, thanks for asking.

** Served on my actual birthday. The ex claimed it was an accident, but my lawyer was certain it was intentional.

1 comment:

  1. Just attended a college graduation at a Small Expensive East Coast University. Rotten graduation speech - something about finding your passion. i didn't track it all because i was busy bashing the flask in my purse and catching up on the eff-books.... Oh, and your ex is a turd.