Your “Passion” Might be Bigger than Your Job Title

Recent conversations with my teenage kids lead me to believe that the hubs and I may have done something wrong. We’ve done a lot right. Our kids are respectful and hardworking with good character and senses of humor. But after years of global economic uncertainty, something this younger generation must certainly have been shaped by, our kids still fear getting jobs in fields they’re not “passionate” about or that will somehow not be “fun.”

How-to-find-your-passion-in-lifeI graduated from college during a recession and recall being desperate for any employment that didn’t require me to wear a name badge created with a label maker. “Just let me through any tiny crack in a door and I’ll take care of the rest,” I thought. I just wanted a break and believed I could leverage most any opportunity. I was also especially keen on not being broke. Ever. Again. I guess you could say I was passionate about being gainfully employed in a grown-up job. Exactly what that job title would be was secondary at best during that stage of my life.

Whereas our children wrinkle up their wary faces upon discovering that the hubs and I are currently not employed within the fields we studied in college. It’s as if they fear investing in their passions if they’ll only end up in careers unrelated to what they’re currently passionate about.

When I was a kid, growing up in a blue-collar industrial town, lots of people dreamed of getting jobs in manufacturing–not because working in a factory was their dream, but because they would get a regular paycheck that could fund their dreams. This thought process seems not only unacceptable among young people today but a virtually taboo thought–doing a job you don’t “love” simply to earn a living. Gasp!

Herein is where we may have failed our children, by not regularly discussing or expressing our gratitude about being employed at all. About how grateful we are that our income allows us to fund our passions like non-profits we’re passionate about and family vacations we get to take and our kids’ college savings. Maybe we haven’t talked enough about how what we do at work may not always be fun but that it still matters and adds value not only to our employers but also to the world around us in ways that may seem intangible. That this knowledge can bring about joy in a way that may look different from having a job at Disneyland or Google.

The whole, “Discover your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life”mantra is ridiculous! Work isn’t always fun even if it’s your passion. It’s called WORK for a reason and sometimes it’s hard or boring or thankless.

This disdain for work you’re not “passionate” about seems similar to how the culture, ever since women began entering the workforce in large numbers, perceives those who choose to then exit the workforce to parent full-time. A belief that sacrificing your college degree, even for something as important as caring for one’s own children, is somehow objectionable because it’s not what you studied in school. (Of course parents are passionate about their kids. Don’t start with me. You know what I’m getting at.)

Educators may be piling on as well. In my children’s middle school, home economics classes have been replaced with a class called college and career readiness. Beginning in sixth grade, students are told to begin thinking about attending college, what they should study and which career paths might best suit them. In sixth grade! I still wanted to be the Bionic Woman in the sixth grade.

Not only are middle schoolers encouraged to consider careers they’re “passionate” about, they also spend quite a bit of time researching how much each of those careers currently pay. So the pressure is double. Not only should kids be “passionate” about their work, they should also be “passionate” about work that is well paid. Trouble is, some jobs that people could have a spark for, may not pay well, like education for instance. C’mon teachers. Is it about the passion or about the money? Cause you well know, we don’t always get both.

Find-Your-PassionBut here’s another truth: not everybody has an overarching passion that is career specific. Sure, the hubs will admit that he’s currently not paid to do his “dream” job. But he’ll also tell you that he doesn’t know what that “dream” job would be. From a man with more working years behind him than in front of him–he still can’t define his “passion” down to a specific job title. What he can tell you is that he’s passionate about being with people. He’s energized by conversation, is a great communicator, is unafraid of conflict and wants to help improve people’s lives. That said, he could potentially be employed in over a dozen different fields. In a dream job? Maybe not. But are we living the American dream? Absolutely. Plus, he can sew a button on a shirt and cook a meal from scratch, something he likely learned in home economics.

I understand the pressure in today’s economy to want our children to be college educated and I believe in the value of higher education. (Although some are beginning to question the value and that’s a topic for another discussion.) But, I do wish we had talked more to our kids about the value of a hard day’s work in whatever field they find themselves in. That living your passion might not be as simple as following a clear-cut career path. Your passion may be bigger, broader and harder to define than a job title.

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How Much is Too Much Parental Guidance?

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

Graduation season is upon us. Bring on the cured meats, dinner rolls, deli salads and sheet cakes. Glad-handing graduates is always a good time. Plus, there’s no need to cook on open house days.

But as I stuff envelopes with overpriced and unoriginal greeting cards and bits o’ cash, (what is the going rate for grad gifts anyway?) the hubs and I find ourselves in a looping conversation about where to send our kids to college.

It seems adults tend to project their own experiences onto their offspring and it’s no different with us. For me, having lacked guidance and financial support during that stage of my life, I’ve always felt a bit short-changed of education opportunities afforded to upper-middle class students. Plus, when I was in high school, the college test prep and application process had yet to become an extreme sport for American parents. But either way you shake it, I’ve dreamed that my kids would receive what I lacked–access to the highest levels of academia. But I’m unsure how to get them there. I don’t micro-manage or even check up on their homework. But I have mastered the stern, eyebrow lifted look of disapproval at any lack-luster grades. And our kids are at least bright enough to understand their parents’ expectations regarding academic achievement and try to avoid “the look”.

But the hubs and I diverge when it comes to my hero-worship of well-branded institutions. He sees little incentive to pay big bucks so that our kids can have a well-recognized name stamped on their degree. Maybe he’s right.

But the hubs is also extremely cautious of steering our kids toward any particular degree or career choice. One of our boys excels in math and science. So I figure–since the world seems to be clamoring for brainy math and science types–that it’s wholly appropriate to chat him up about possibilities in the realm of engineering. I’ve poked around online for engineering school rankings and once signed the boy up for a career day at 3M–a math and sciencey type employer in our own backyard.

But the hubs is concerned that we might be pigeon-holing our son too early. That a high school freshman who shrugs whenever you ask about his “passion” is too young to know what he wants to be when he grows up. The fear is that without a burning desire to pursue any particular career, kids will just do as parents say and potentially end up stuck in a job they hate; bored and burned out. (Ahem, projecting our own experiences?)

On the flip side, our middle school son is an artsy people person. He has on occasion said he’d maybe like to be a schoolteacher or even a pastor when he grows up. Prepare to shake your frowning face and say “tsk-tsk” when you discover that I’ve nay-sayed both of these vocations. Why? Because I fear a lack of job satisfaction, job security and low income. (Gah! Projecting fear based on my experiences with being broke.)

What I’ve said to the younger son is likely worse than what I’ve said to the older one. Unless you believe a child with some idea what they want to do with their life won’t really listen to reason anyway. Plus the hubs, with his always irritating and irreverent logic, reminded me that becoming a pastor is a calling and is not something I’m likely to wholly negate with concerns about financial stability. His concern is more about kids who don’t have specific ideas. Kids who might aimlessly follow their parents’ advice and later blame them for any potential unhappiness. (Or credit them for success? I know. I know. Shame on me. Blah blah.)

Okay. So I am reminded of a friend’s struggle with this issue. She’s the mother of children exponentially more brilliant than my own. One of her brainy kids once said they wanted to be a schoolteacher. She scoffed at the notion since her then soon-to-be high school graduate was accepted into a prestigious smarty-pants college science program surely more suited to her child’s potential. But that didn’t last long. What followed was a couple of years in community college and low-skilled employment until these exasperated parents inquired about their twenty-something’s plans for the future. Welp, guess what? The kid sheepishly admitted to still wanting to be a schoolteacher. And God bless those parents for coming around to support that decision.

You see, this parenting thing is a learn by doing endeavor. And most of us really are trying our best. And that’s good because our children need our guidance and wisdom lest they cleave to the notion of becoming professional video game designers or athletes. Oh hush, it’s unlikely your kid will become a professional athlete. Just sayin’.

But how do we balance parental guidance with our children’s self-discovery? How willing are we to trust that our kids will be alright? I suppose it begins with recognizing that we are doing alright. We made it through. And if we’ve laid the proper groundwork, so will the next generation. Some will discover their passion. Others will stumble into a suitable vocation. And college is simply a step along that path. It’s not an end of the line–a win or lose gamble. So let’s all try to relax. Or at least help me try to relax.

Kudos to your graduate! May they navigate their next steps with guidance more divine than mine.

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How Social Media Can Be a Career Killer

social-media-exhaustionYou’ve surely heard about or most likely experienced the power of social media and its ability to lure us in with photos of an old flame’s wedding, a friend’s new baby, tips on creating a quixotic tabletop display, recipes for the latest gluten, sugar, fat, dairy, nut and taste free side dishes, as well as those hilariously quirky cat videos. But these time-sucking, productivity-killing banalities aren’t the only sinister mind traps of the 24-hour online world.

There is also a crap-ton of terrific, useful, inspirational and motivational art and information flying over those fiber optic freeways. As a writer and editor, I regularly wade through a torrent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blog posts–mostly great stuff about what other people are doing to make the world a better and more interesting place. I want to be like them. Those people are “out there.” They’re moving and shaking and making things happen. They’re writing reams of content, noticing and photographing tiny seeds bursting forth in springtime, designing killer web pages and mixing Mad Men styled cocktails for their weekly poetry readings. It’s all so amazing and exhausting.

But here’s the thing… The thing is, we (and by “we,” I mean, “I”) too often tend to lump all that online action into one giant pile of competing ambitions and then attempt to ascent this impossible media-made mountain–or just sit immobilized along its foothills trying to discern our next best move. And then, if you’re anything like me, you eventually say, “Screw it,” and go watch The Voice while folding laundry and tweeting about whether Adam Levine’s shirt selection makes him look more or less sexy.

It’s kind of like what happens when kids go off to college and spend too much time checking the status of friends at other universities. The constant social media impression that students at other schools are having better parties, meeting more interesting people and receiving a better education experience can leave a kid feeling unsatisfied and questioning her choices.

I’m way beyond college, thank God. But I still find myself wondering if I’m in the right place. Maybe you do too. If so, let me share what a wise woman recently reminded me of. She noted that when your career and/or life is already in pretty good shape and on an acceptable trajectory, it makes little sense to burn out trying to go in a dozen different directions, especially if it prevents you from doing your best work at your current job. Stop. Self evaluate. Don’t confuse contentment with complacency.

Heck, even if your career and/or life are a hot mess, it makes little sense to attempt to plod a dozen different paths just as much as choosing no path at all.

Social media can help promote and even elevate your career. But it can also be a career stifling distraction. Focus more on being who you are and what you’re doing well right now. Concentrate less on trying to imitate or measure up to social media standards. Create more content than you consume. (This includes those crazy cat videos. I love those.)

Find your niche and plow into your future with purpose. Go ahead and leverage the inspiration and knowledge you discover online to help improve your writing, networking and creativity. But stop letting it distract or discourage you. (And by “you,” I mean “me.” But if this advice also helps you, then my work here is done. Godspeed.)

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