I have here a letter from 19-year-old Chase Waters. The handwriting is messy, just like mine has always been. This letter could have come from 19-year-old Me.
“Sean, I don’t know what to do with my life… My mom wants me to stay in college but I hate it and if I drop out now I’ll probably never go back and she’ll kill me. I know I should follow my passion but I don’t know what career path to choose.”
Chase, the important thing to remember here is that I’m a painfully unqualified guy to ask. You’re talking to a major dork who when he was 8 years old owned two pet rabbits named Fred and Ginger.
Still, this phrase about “following your passion,” it stinks. So does “career path.”
For starters, “passion” is a trendy word used by hip advertising executives who strongly want you to have passion for everything, including automobiles and filing income taxes. The underlying message is that the only things in life worth doing are FUN things.
Case in point: I am not ecstatic about walking my dogs. My dogs sniff every square inch of earth between Here and Eternity before finally deciding to poop on our kitchen floor. But I do it. Is it my passion? No.
The thing is, 70 years ago, I don’t think the word “passion” was said much. Back then it was generally used to describe either (a) Harlequin romance novels, or (b) the crucifixion.
I’ll bet your grandparents didn’t have much career passion. They probably just went around doing ordinary stuff like everyone else.
When the motor oil in the ‘51 Nash Rambler needed changing, your granddaddy simply did it. And it was the same with everyone’s professional lives, too.
Not so long ago, people had jobs, not careers. Jobs were something you did, not who you were. Many folks worked jobs with the same attitude you’d use for raking the yard. You don’t have to be passionate about raking, you just do it.
You wouldn’t, for instance, take the rake into your living room and cradle it passionately while watching “Love Boat.” Neither would you invest $2,300 in a top-of-the-line rake because you were thinking of turning pro.
College is the same way. You either like it or you don’t. You don’t have to feel deeply emotional about it. If you want true emotion go to a NASCAR race.
Once upon a time, there was a different attitude among Americans about education and livelihoods. Take the 1950s. There was a sense of nation-wide cheerfulness because the war had ended. The troops were finally home. People were extremely happy.
And if you don’t believe me, check the birth rates. Americans were having babies like cuh-RAY-zee in the 50s. If you look at a chart showing birth rates between 1950 and the present day it might surprise you.
Statistically speaking, in the 1950s Americans were so happy they were making babies faster than my rabbits, Fred and Ginger, who popped out new batches of bunnies every Tuesday.
But here’s something interesting: By the late 1970s nobody was having babies. The birth rate suddenly dropped off. Many population experts estimate that between 1970 and 1984 America produced a grand total of 7 babies, including me.
Do you know why some experts think this happened? That’s right. Because the Beatles broke up. But also, because it was the age of Career Professionalism.
All of a sudden young people were no longer interested in plain-old jobs and making families. Young people were anxiously thinking about careers. As a result, many of these people grew up to suffer from serious constipation. Sound familiar?
Have you ever seen a teenage college student decide on declaring a major? It makes me sweat just thinking about it. Some of them have nervous breakdowns over the issue. And for good reason.
Because they’re only 19 freaking years old.
Asking a teenager to figure out their lifelong career goals is like asking a newborn puppy to pee in a SOLO cup. No matter how sincerely the puppy tries, someone’s getting peed on.
Sometimes I think our grandparents and parents had way more fun than we’re having. They weren’t concerned with things we’re concerned about.
They didn’t have technology to fight with. There were no cellphones, satellite dishes, GPSs, or remote controls with five thousand buttons all labeled “AUXVID-HDMI 3.”
They just wanted healthy, happy families, dependable cars, and bungalow houses. They couldn’t have cared less about “passion” unless it pertained to a fruity congealed salad.
I’m not saying they had everything figured out. Obviously they didn’t or else there would be no Englebert Humperdink. What I’m saying is that I never once heard my grandfather use the words “career path.”
When I was 19, I was like you, only considerably more stupid. I had no idea where I was going and I felt guilty about it. I wish I could talk to young Me today.
I’d tell him that life is not about figuring this stuff out. It is about rich food, kisses from loved ones, sunsets that take your breath away, holding newborns, laughing too much, romance, adventure, mystery, beauty, kindness, and of course NASCAR.
If you want a job, get a job. College is great too. But don’t worry about being passionate. Try to save every ounce of your passion for true love.
That’s what Fred and Ginger always did.