The Dangerous Crossroads of Passion and Vocation

Written by Wayan Buschman

It was the spring of my senior year of high school. I had submitted my college applications, and the only thing that held me back from loafing carefree on the lawns of Central Park for the rest of my days was French Literature homework. My eccentric French teacher refused to heed any inclination toward laziness, so she piled on the readings by Prévost, Murger, Beaumarchais, and more. I cheerlessly labored through these texts until an opportunity to alleviate my burden revealed itself: an “Independent Study Project.” I could brainstorm a project, work on it until the end of the semester, write a paper, give a presentation, and then drop a class. It was a done deal. I perused my internal list of pastimes, intending to concoct the most painless project I could. I like reading; I also like art. I settled on illustrating short stories. I patted myself on the back; the lawns of Central Park beckoned.

Four months later, I had just concluded my project’s presentation, and the time had come for questions and answers with the audience, which constituted my mom, a smattering of teachers that had to be there, and friends whom I had pressured into coming. One of my friends in the audience raised her hand and asked me if my opinion on making art had changed throughout the course of my illustration project. A summarized version of my answer might be something along the lines of: “Yes. For these past four months, I knew I had to draw and, as a result, I no longer wanted to.”

Most people don’t like obligation. Optimists try to circumnavigate this fact by combining a passion or hobby with obligation, hoping that this course of action will turn work into play. It is a surprise, then, when these optimists find that they have turned play into work. When I introduced a certain level of responsibility and structure into a hobby that I adore, I began to dread it. The summer after completing my project, my art supplies lay collecting dust on my shelf.

Cartoon by Caroline Li

It has become commonplace for a certain demographic of young, upper-middle class Americans to believe that everyone merits a job where we do what we love. We believe this statement to be true but we have to acknowledge that the functionality of our society is built upon jobs where employees are overworked and underpaid. Writer Miya Tokumitsu, who more or less fits this demographic, unpacks this assumption in various articles and even a full-length book, “Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness.” She observes the nuances of this mantra, and sees the privilege—a buzzword at liberal arts schools like Colorado College—involved in the process of finding a job where one can do what they love; a wealthier individual can afford to wade through unpaid internships until the perfect opportunity arises, but the less privileged individual cannot.

It doesn’t help to waste energy on guilt if one loves what they do—they should feel lucky instead. It is not only a matter of relative circumstance and opportunity that leads an individual to being able to love what he or she does. Even if, somehow, my art hobby grew into an industry-worthy skill, and I waited for the perfect art-related job, I’d be disappointed by it in the long-run.

Privilege may raise one’s chances of loving what they do, but it doesn’t guarantee it by any means.

These words will not lead to a trite snippet of advice or fool-proof formula for successful and fulfilling work. If the privilege that allows one to work with what they love does not cement their future happiness, then what will? Does one arbitrarily pick their second-favorite interest and try to make a living from it? Should one simply choose the most lucrative or pragmatic of paths? I really cannot say—I’m only 19 after all, and I have yet to pick a path on which to embark.

I may have a cynical view on this whole dilemma but by no means should one not chase their passions down a professional path if they will regret not doing so later in life. I also do not doubt that a lucky minority would somehow be able to align their passions with their obligations. I also believe, however, that the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies not only to people, but to interests, passions, and hobbies. I wish everyone the best of luck in trying to do what you love, but don’t be surprised when, in doing so, you change the essence and nature of what you love to do.

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