Originally posted May 27, 2012 on Sfu.ca/olc
“I was never given any advice. I had to figure it out for myself. But my best advice is to let your passion lead your purpose. There is a sea of desire inside every person, and if you get still enough, you can feel it. You can’t feel it if you allow your mother, friends, school or everybody else to tell you who it is you’re supposed to be. But there is a seed of heart’s desire that burns in every person and your real job on earth is to figure out what that thing feels like and then spend the rest of your life following it!” – Oprah Winfrey
Oprah, Oprah, Oprah.
I’m well aware that Ms. Oprah Winfrey may not be the saint some think she is, but really, who among us is? In general, she is a fabulously successful woman who came from essentially nothing, became insanely successful (launching your own network is hard) and does a whole lot of good. Whether she’s giving away a parking lot full of cars, establishing new schools in Africa, or just generally boosting self esteem across the nation, no one can argue that she’s made some real change in the world.
She also has some excellent advice to share, as the above quote proves. Now, at first glance, it appears to be yet another inspirational, if unrealistic gem about following your dreams. The truth is that few people end up in their dream job, no matter how hard they try. And that’s OK. You don’t need your job to fulfil your dreams. Do you want to be a published author? Start a blog and practice writing. Always dreamed of acting opposite Meryl Streep or Johnny Depp? Join a local theatre group and discover some amazing talent closer to home.
The point isn’t that you follow your passions, regardless of everything else, the point is that you have a passion, and more importantly that the passion is yours. You can’t pursue anything that requires hard work and is worthwhile if you’re not following it with a passion that comes from within. If you’re following the wrong path while choosing a simple hobby then you won’t lose much more than a few hours of your time, but if you try pursuing the kind of career or education that requires deep commitment with a passion that rings false you could end up spinning your wheels and getting increasingly frustrated for years.
When I was younger I wanted to be a lawyer, but more importantly, my parents wanted me to be one. Throughout high school I liked the idea of becoming a lawyer, and as my parents would easily attest to, I’ve always been skilled at putting together logical arguments. I’ve always been skeptical of unsupported claims, able to catch details that lead to loopholes, and generally pick apart any argument I come across. Even now, I find certain aspects of the law more interesting than most. My parents weren’t wrong in pushing me towards law school.
The problem was that I don’t particularly enjoy any of this. I hate long arguments, partly because I work myself up far too much, and I eventually get bored of picking at loopholes and piecing together debates. Actually reading a legal document causes my eyes to glaze over. Now there’s nothing wrong with ending up with a job that includes details that are too boring to deal with, but law school involves a lot of commitment and a lot of competition. If I went I’d be competing against people who have a real passion for the stuff, and all the natural talent in the world isn’t going to overcome that. I would have been miserable and would have probably performed mediocre at best.
So how did I eventually realize that this lawyer dream was my parents doing and not my own? More importantly, how was I sure that it really just wasn’t the extra school work that turned me off?
I thought about the things I chose to commit my time to. I wasn’t on debate club in school, I was in theatre, and I wasn’t looking up case studies online when I couldn’t sleep, I was reading about Coke’s latest ad campaign. That is what I was passionate about, and that is what I was willing to put in the extra hours for.
I wasted a lot of time looking up law school requirements and debating the merits of a Criminology major while following a passion that I never really had. I had always been told I was good at something, and I never really questioned it, until I realized that I couldn’t answer why I cared.
Borrowing someone else’s passion for something can get you pretty far, but it will never take you as far as a passion that comes from yourself.
So the question to ask yourself is: What do you choose to care about? What do you willingly put extra time and effort into, even if you’ll be the only one who ever knows? Find whatever that is, figure out what you need to do to make it a part of your life, and make that the passion that drives you forward.