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Maybe you should be passionate about work

I enjoy being a student, but I’m not passionate about it. That much has become clear this year through both inter- and intrapersonal observations. I see peers, professors and family members who chose to build careers out of pursuing their interests through academia — whether research, teaching or both — and they live and breathe it. The university, and all that it entails, brings fulfillment to them in a way it doesn’t for me.

Perhaps I should’ve realized this sooner when my brother told me that his idea of a perfect life was reading about politics, talking about politics, teaching politics and having ample coffee, and I incredulously asked how that was enough for him. Being passionate about what you study doesn’t necessarily beget being passionate about studying it. My majors are Computer Science and English, and I do appreciate these subjects more for the theory and fundamentals I’ve learned in coursework, but much prefer their real-world applications.

I enjoy learning new things and perspectives, socializing, doing assignments that stretch me in the right way, reading interesting things, engaging in meaningful conversations and not having real adult responsibility. I don’t enjoy receiving letter-based evaluations based on how closely I follow instructions, studying when it’s dark out or uncompensated busy work. I don’t enjoy that it can often be so hard to find time to spend with friends despite this being the supposed social zenith of life. I don’t enjoy feeling guilty for spending time on “unproductive” activities, like going on a walk or reading a book for fun, and wasting time on the “productive” ones that produce little of value, such as applying for jobs that ghost me or memorizing and forgetting factoids for a test.

Currently, my job is being a student. It’s fine, and I love parts of it, but I know a life of perpetual — or even just slightly more advanced — academia is untenable. School depletes me more than it fills me up. It’s okay that I’m not passionate about it because 1) it’s temporary and, importantly, 2) I have enough additional bandwidth to pursue other activities that I am passionate about.  

I don’t live and breathe being a student. I live and breathe writing. I love running and being outside. Believe it or not, I find purpose in software engineering. You can be passionate about any number of things; ideally, one of them is what you do for your job. A passion is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s love in the sense that love is a collection of all the four-letter words. It’s not a choice to have it, though I must choose to pursue it. It pushes me to grow in some way — ideally, also in ways I may not expect. I’d like to believe we’re all passionate about something — hopefully, many things. I wasn’t always so clear in knowing what I’m passionate about, but, as Scout said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” One of the worst feelings is knowing what you want to be doing — knowing a passion — and not being able to pursue it, whether or not it’s a choice.

A lot of Americans cannot choose to follow their passions, usually for monetary reasons. Good thing we’re the “exception to the exception,” and most of us really don’t, above all else, need to be making career choices to stay alive or provide for our families. This is why it’s so sad that the general consensus on campus is to do something you hate for a few years — or longer — until you are “financially stable enough” to do what you really want to. We’re the privileged few who should have infinite choices yet pigeonhole ourselves into a few boxes that don’t leave a lot of room for individual preference. 

I’m lucky that one of my passions aligns with one of the acceptable career choices, and I don’t have to make a choice in which want and expectation are divorced. However, if you must make a choice you hate or are probably rather neutral about, think about whether there is room in your life for other passions. What gets me out of bed these days isn’t my studenthood; it’s that I usually go for runs in the morning or have some other hobby or one-time thing to look forward to. Having auxiliary things to find purpose in is good enough for now, but I know it couldn’t keep me going forever when my central life activity is not completely satisfying.

I think it’s perfectly fine for your job — whether that be school, work, raising kids, or what have you — to not be your passion, but only for so long. When your five-year plan involves an “exit strategy,” maybe it’s time to rethink that plan. I think about the story of the businessman and the fisherman. Read it or don’t, but the point is that if your end goal is currently achievable, even if there is less prestige, there isn’t much reason to pursue a lengthy series of intermediary steps to end up in the same place. So many of us follow these “car wash” paths without thinking about what we really want. Always living for the next shiny thing isn’t really living.

It’s possible to not be passionate about your job and find passion in other endeavors. You’re probably going to enjoy your life a lot less, though. Over the summer, I was a software engineering intern. I assumed I would feel rather neutral about it due to the ways in which my peers here talk about work. Surprisingly, I loved it, and my coworkers, by and large, seemed to as well. When someone refers to their job as a “hobby” or tells you how high their job satisfaction is unprompted, you know they’re in the right place. It should be normal, not an exception, to like your job.

I no longer think the adage that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” is just “capitalist propaganda.” I could counter that anti-capitalist propaganda is thinking that it is impossible to enjoy trading your time and skills for money. It can actually be a rather sweet deal if you like the work and money — which, spoiler alert: I do. While I may currently be in something of a liminal space, there is solace in knowing what I want to do and knowing that all of the — if not hard, then at least mildly rigorous — work I’ve done as a student puts me in a position for being able to do so. I can wait a year, but I couldn’t wait a decade — maybe you can, but do you really need to? Until then, I will do my best to use this time to invest in my other passions and, more importantly, try to live in the here and now instead of wishing my time away for a brighter tomorrow.

Heidi Smith is a Trinity senior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.


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