An Examined Life
A good friend of mine is in the process of re-engineering his life. He’s having to do it from a combat zone, which brings with it some expected complications like heat, angry camel spiders, grumpy field grade officers and random bouts of poorly targeted high explosives.
Where his companions are more interested in filling their scarce free time with dog eared paperbacks, XBox 360s, and card games, Jeff is taking the time to rediscover something about himself. He’s trying to figure out where his Passion is.
Well that’s stupid – everyone knows what they’re passionate about.
Really? Now before you go and say something about how you’re passionate about “your wife” or “your family” or “Sam Adams Chocolate Bock” – you need to understand the kind of passion we’re talking about. We routinely tell people we’re passionate about art, or cinema, or NASCAR. But how many of us make our living doing the things we’re passionate about?
Real people don’t do that – we work for a living – passion is for hobbies.
That’s the answer I hear from almost everyone I talk to. As Americans we’ve all been raised to put away the childish things we love very early on and to get serious about making a living. We do it because it’s what our mothers and fathers have always done, we do it because we know it’s what’s expected of us. We do it because we grow up wanting STUFF and STUFF costs MONEY.
Passion is Hard – Giving Up – Easy
Most of us never even think about trying to make a living doing what we’re passionate about. We give up on it for the same reasons most of the jocks you knew in high school never get a shot at the pros. We give up on it because it’s HARD WORK – and success is never guaranteed.
This is why people with a bachelor of science look down their noses at those with a bachelor of arts. It’s why business administration students always laughed at the theater kids in college. It’s why your mom and dad pushed you to be an accountant instead of a wildlife photographer.
Dreams and passion becomes things we look at when we have time. When we can tear ourselves from the grind of feeding ourselves and our mortgages. It’s why theaters are filled with countless movie goers that once dreamt of being actors and actresses, it’s why there are scriptwriters and art critics overflowing our Starbucks, and thousands of painters and inventors hiding in the guts of cubicle farms or working on assembly lines. Every single one of them trying to touch the things they love in the scant hours of free time they allow themselves between the work, debt, and death cycle we’ve all plunged ourselves into.
We as the people of the most opportunity filled nation on the planet have so convinced ourselves that work is work and passion is for later – that most of us never even look to join the two. For a nation that is known worldwide as the place where you “go to make your dreams come true” – we’re unbelievably negative towards those that actually try to make it happen.
That’s where Jeff is now. He’s looking back at a strong career in a challenging field. He’s putting together a laundry list of the skills he’s accumulated, the experiences he can share and he’s determined to find a way to use this knowledge in order to remake his life into something he truly loves.
And here’s the real rub: he’s doing this in his mid 40′s.
It’s Never Too Late
Think about that. Here’s a guy who is in his earning years – he’s built a successful career in marketing and web development when millions of his counterparts are drawing unemployment and combing Monster.com for scraps. He’s social media savvy, internet literate, he’s good with words and amazing with a camera. He’s a leader, a combat veteran, and a huge pain in the ass to work with. Why? Because he’s passionate about all of it and passionate people have strong opinions that they’re not afraid to share.
So why is he even bothering? Why mess with a good thing – why take a career that has thus far been a happy success and try transforming it? Because he knows he has to. The world is changing around him, work is becoming more contractual, more transactional, the concept of ”full-time work” becoming more and more transient.
When Jeff and I look at our younger soldiers we’re seeing a generation of tech savvy kids that are growing up in one of the worst economic downturns in history. Few of them have full-time work and most of them don’t seem to care. They work as retail warriors, savvy bartenders and even soldiers. They eagerly go to school and an increasing number of them are creating their own businesses. They are independent, they are fearless and surprisingly, they seem to be far less hung up with the notion of “what real work is” than their parents and grandparents. These kids are growing up freelance and they’re wearing it well.
To survive and thrive, Jeff knows that he needs to do the same. He knows about hard work and he knows about the tightrope without wires act of holding on to a career through the Dot.Com boom and bust. He knows that passion can come from getting good at something and he’s put in his journeyman’s hours. But while he knows that there is no substitute for good, hard work done well, he wants a better confluence between what he does and what he loves.
While the market fills with millennials and as they continue working out the congruences of their boundless enthusiasm and the small, small world they’ve inherited – Jeff and other graying Generation X holdouts are getting ready for the next act in their lives. They’re older, they’ve seen the rise and fall of economies and they’ve ridden their latchkey youth to places both strange and wonderful. While the generation that came after them is filled with boundless optimism, Jeff and his generation hold tight to the same no-nonsense pragmatism that has guided them through the jobless 80s, the boom and bust of the 90s and into falling towers and war. They recognize that you never really stop paying your dues, you just make the checks out to someone else. Jeff is working hard to find his place in this new world and he’s ready to start writing some of those checks to himself.
more like this
Think Work and Passion don’t mix? Check out what Curt Rosengren from the USA Today has to say about it.
Need some Millennial Pantless Wisdom? Check out “Why Passion Never Earned a Paycheck“.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “If a man is called to be a street-sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street-sweeper who did his job well.’”
Keep an open mind, work hard, play harder, give back where you can.