The Career Man

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.

Well, bologna.

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.

25 comments

  1. Bud Carroll - January 15, 2020 8:55 am

    I believe another reason for the dropping birth rate was the American invasion of Vietnam and ensuing consequences.People feeling so deceived by governmental leaders. They felt”Why bring children into this kind of world?” I would have replied, “So you can help make it a better world.” For me, that’s real passion.

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  2. Pat Patton - January 15, 2020 11:07 am

    Good advice and so true. Thank you!

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  3. Richda McNutt - January 15, 2020 11:20 am

    You nailed it again, Sean – I loved it.

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  4. Elizabeth - January 15, 2020 11:39 am

    Perfect!

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  5. Connie Havard Ryland - January 15, 2020 11:47 am

    Perfectly said.

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  6. Naomi - January 15, 2020 12:18 pm

    Sean, you can add two more words to “passion”. Now young people want their “dream” wedding, their “dream” house, their “dream” baby showers. I never had any of this; in fact I never heard this term until about 10 years ago. Anyway, when their “dreams” don’t come out like they planned, they fall apart because everything wasn’t perfect, not their wedding, their spouse or their house. You might not that the divorce rate is a lot higher now than it was in the 50’s because of their high expectations.

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  7. Joyce - January 15, 2020 12:51 pm

    Thank you for the walk down memory road! I too grew up during a more relaxed time. We had 3 tv stations and would be outside until the street lights came on. I loved the era and sad that my grandchildren will never have that.

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  8. Harriet White - Atlanta - January 15, 2020 1:29 pm

    That’s your best column yet Mr. Writer!
    I’m going to post it on FB.

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  9. Kim Havas - January 15, 2020 2:00 pm

    Amen!

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  10. Liz Watkins - January 15, 2020 2:10 pm

    I long for the days of old!! Technology has changed all of us!!!
    I’d rather jobs than careers!
    Great read, Sean😉

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  11. MS Baby Boomer - January 15, 2020 2:19 pm

    Good points Sean! Please keep telling it like it really is. Gotta share this with my granddaughter and my nephew.

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  12. David Stephens - January 15, 2020 2:35 pm

    So true! In 1976 I began college because my momma told me I had too and I always did what my momma said. After five years of stumbling and fumbling around not knowing what I wanted to major in, I took an accounting class and loved it! I changed my major to accounting and after six and a half years, I finally graduated. Then I opened a custom cabinet shop and hired an accountant to do my books. I realized that I had rather work with my hands. Always love your stories Sean.

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  13. Bkr - January 15, 2020 2:51 pm

    Good advice Sean. Very good.

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  14. Shelton A. - January 15, 2020 2:59 pm

    Good stuff, Sean. That’s what a 19 year old needs to hear about careers and college. He has a hard time picking out which shoes to wear for a date, much less decide his future.

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  15. Jane Mobley - January 15, 2020 4:42 pm

    Really good points. Personally, I think that what is important at the young man’s age is not to cut off opportunities before he can make up his mind. Every choice we make is selecting for one thing and closing off another. He’s right about probably never finishing school if he drops out now. Doing so will shut the door to many opportunities. He may never use his college education, but staying and finishing will leave a door open for opportunities in the future that he may not have if he drops out. While doing his time in school, he may develop a “passion” for something. If not, he has the rest of his life to try different things that may ring his bell. You are so right about putting real life first instead of a job. Jobs have become so iffy in our time, and the drive for “career” has gotten in the way of developing strong families upon which a strong society is built. My kids got degrees and are now all in construction, but they do not regret their degrees. Yes, it is nice to love your job, but there is something to be said for being prepared to pay the bills if your “dream” job doesn’t materialize for some time.

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  16. Linda Moon - January 15, 2020 5:01 pm

    Is Chase Waters the letter-writer’s real name? If not, it could be an actor’s name from Beach Blanket movies with Ann-Margret or perhaps Fred and Ginger Dancing movies……but, most of all, Burt Lancaster’s Eternal Sexy Stardom in the Beach Scene with Deborah Kerr. I know and love a grandparent who has way more fun than most other folks do! Energy and passion is reserved for most of that stuff you would tell to Young You. Since you are considerably younger than said grandparent, keep telling yourself that and you’ll become a dancing octogenarian, too!!

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  17. turtlekid - January 15, 2020 5:10 pm

    Truly PROFOUND!

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  18. Sharon Brock - January 15, 2020 5:20 pm

    I found my career, or as my Mom called it my niche, when I was 44. Before that I served in the military and then worked retail sales for 18 years because this single mother had a son to raise. At some point in life you will find out what you want to do. College isnt for everybody. It took me years to get my degrees and I waited until my son had joined the Navy. It tickled him no end to call me to check on my homework. From 1995 to 2018, I worked as a professional archivist. My son the factory worker made more than I did as did. The trades are begging for skilled workers. Brick layers are so rare nowadays that generally houses are only faced with brick. Plumbers, electricians, car mechanics, computer technicians make twice what college degrees pay with little student loan debt.

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  19. Susan McCall - January 15, 2020 7:56 pm

    I wish advisors in education understood this!!

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  20. Rebecca Souders - January 15, 2020 9:51 pm

    Another reason the birth numbers dropped in the 70s is because folks — including the media — talked about the world’s expanding population. “Replace yourselves” was a mantra (there’s another word I didn’t know then) about trying to keep the world’s population stable and decreasing the problems that overpopulation causes. My husband and I, newly-married in 1970, took that seriously and two children and a family of four became the norm.
    I still feel that way; overpopulation has contributed to many of our current problems: crowding, poverty, environmental impact, and more. But “we” don’t talk about that anymore, do we….
    Sorry to be so serious, Sean. I read your words every day and they uplift me every day…. today was no exception. Your words to the 19 year-old were sage indeed.

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  21. Pat - January 15, 2020 11:21 pm

    Perfect response!

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  22. Becky in Birmingham - January 16, 2020 12:53 pm

    At 29 years old, I want back to school to study accounting, not because I always wanted to be an accountant, but because I didn’t fall asleep in class and I needed a job. I worked hard at my “job” because my dad taught me to “generate artificial enthusiasm” when faced with a task that wasn’t a passion. Best work advice he gave me. In my working years I dabbled in my hobby. I have been blessed to live long enough to have a passion for my hobby in my retirement years.

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  23. Laurie Ulrich - January 16, 2020 3:37 pm

    This is something I frequently say, and more frequently think about–but you said it better.

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  24. David Brown - January 16, 2020 4:51 pm

    From “Reader’s Digest – The Worst Advice I Ever Got” November 2019 – by James Huntington: “Follow your passion.” This advice sounded great, but it assumed I had some predisposed passion that I was born with. I didn’t. So instead, I spent years searching for my passion, wasting valuable time and money. I didn’t find it, and it left me with heart-ache. Later on in life I realized that passion isn’t something you’re born with; it’s something you develop. I wish I had been given the advice to “develop your passion”. That would have been a life changer.

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  25. Myra Guca - January 17, 2020 9:16 pm

    I love this so much! ‘Only wish someone had told me this years ago. For too long I’ve harbored feelings of guilt — for disappointing my parents when I dropped out of college…. for not aspiring to be more than an administrative assistant (now retired), when most of my classmates went on to realize stellar careers…. for being simply ‘OK’ and not especially passionate. Thank you!

    Reply

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