don't follow your passions
Decisions about life after high school are difficult for many young people. It doesn’t help when kids are advised to “follow their passions.” It may make them feel good, but it’s silliness masquerading as sage counsel.
I enjoy working with teens and applaud their intensity and idealism as they think about how they want to live their lives. However, it’s misleading when this “if you dream it you can do it” nonsense influences their thinking. That famous quote from Walt Disney doesn’t reflect how he lived his life.
Dreaming accomplishes nothing. Here’s how I guide kids about life after high school.
- Your passions change during your life. Don’t assume that your interests in high school will remain constant for the rest of your life. One reason why college is so valuable is that you’ll be exposed to lots of different people and ideas. You’ll develop other passions and explore careers that you never thought about in high school.
Be open to learning new areas and considering other perspectives. I took my first psychology course in college because it was required, not because it was of any interest. I stumbled upon a career that has been immensely rewarding, although it was never my passion in high school.
- Don’t confuse passion with talent. You may feel passionate about sports, video games, music, or the arts. However, successful careers require talent, not just an intense interest. It doesn’t matter how much you want a career in music if you don’t have incredible talent, a work ethic to practice several hours a day, and a bit of luck. Dream as much as you want, but accomplishments come from talent and persistence.
- A life of meaning doesn’t result from following your passions. Job satisfaction comes from many sources, but primarily a sense of accomplishment, working around nice people, and a feeling that what you do matters to someone. It’s possible to work in a meaningful job and follow your passions as a hobby.
Many people feel passionate about sports, but never play professionally. However, they still enjoy watching sporting events, and athletic activities are still an important part of their lives.
- Don’t define your life by how you make a living. Many jobs are routine, even boring, with lots of stress and little recognition. It’s great to keep searching for a job that seems right for you, but stay focused on what matters.
Our happiness is partly defined by our work, but more so by the people we love and who love us in return. Our journey on earth is about family and friends, and a sense of gratitude for the gift of life.