Follow your passion, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have one

Successful people are always telling you to follow your passion, even if you don’t think doing so will allow you to pay rent. Don’t worry about the money, they say. Do what you love and the money will follow. This is 100% true, as long as you’re passionate about finance or fossil fuels.

Much of the advice young adults get about choosing a career and developing a professional life comes from people with a skewed perspective on what it takes to be successful, and this is a problem. When everything has turned out okay for you, it’s easy to tell other people that if they just be themselves and do what they like, everything will turn out okay for them too. It’s easy to realize that you’ve been successful at something, but it’s very hard to pinpoint why. And so when successful people try to articulate the causes of their success, they often fall on one fashionable, click-inducing reason: they followed their passion, and everything fell into place. They might say they got lucky, and they might know intellectually that success is partially about luck, but they don’t feel it. The outcome tints their view of the process, and they really believe that doing what you love leads to success and stability.

So what, you ask. Maybe people are advocating for following passions based on slightly irrational thinking – is that such a bad thing? Doing what you love is still a good idea, right?

Yes. I agree. But what’s not good is telling people that it’s only worth doing things you’re passionate about, and that’s often how this kind of advice comes across. When the theme of a motivational speech could be described as “doing anything you don’t love is selling out,” something is wrong.

It leads to people wearily insisting they’re passionate about some topic that might as well have been chosen out of a hat, because it puts enormous pressure on young adults to just be passionate about something (bonus points if it conveniently sets you up to make a lot of money). But in all the excitement over doing what you love, we’ve forgotten that you aren’t necessarily an awful person if you don’t have a burning desire to help underprivileged kids go to college or to save an endangered tree species. You shouldn’t feel like a failure if nothing particular comes to mind when guest lecturers and bosses and TED talk people tell you to follow your passion. Having a quirky mission in life and trying to turn it into money isn’t the only the only thing that makes life enjoyable, and it’s certainly not the only indicator of whether a person is worthwhile.

Monsters University is a good movie for adults

I saw “Monsters University” recently and thought it was great, but at first I wasn’t sure why.  I thought maybe it was just because I got to see one of my favorite movie villains ever, Randall the invisible purple lizard, grace the screen again.  But as I thought about it a little more, I realized I liked the way the movie didn’t pander to its audience.  It would have been easy to do a movie where Mike and Sully went to college, became friends, graduated, and went to work at Monsters, Inc, and lived happily ever after, but that’s not what happened, because the people who made this movie expected as much from their audience as their audience expected from them.  This isn’t as great a movie as previous Pixar offerings “Toy Story 3” and “Wall-E,” but part of what made those movies so good is here in Monsters.  The people in charge thought the most of their audience, and it showed in the dialogue and the nuance of the characters’ emotions.  They weren’t worried anything would go over the audience’s heads.

Seeing “Grown Ups 2” around the same time helped me realize why I liked “Monsters” so much.  “Grown Ups” was hilarious in parts, but I got the impression that the people who made this movie thought their audience were idiots and that every joke had to be spelled out in neon letters and punctuated with exciting noises.  Both movies were entertaining, but only one of them made me feel like I was a intellectually capable human being, and because of that, I was much more invested in the story and the characters.  I think we as audiences project our emotions on characters we like, so if a movie makes us feel worthwhile, it improves our opinion of the characters.

So as I thought about people’s estimations of others, I realized that a lot of the time I’m too much like the people that made “Grown Ups.”  When I say or make or write something, I often feel like I’m doing it for people who aren’t like me and who won’t necessarily understand what I’m doing without a little help.  And maybe sometimes that’s true, but I’d bet most of the time it’s not and it detracts from whatever I’m doing or saying.  I think if we all had a higher opinion of our audiences our messages would come across clearer and be received better.

Finals Week is a Conspiracy

Actually it’s not a conspiracy, and neither is ‘dead week,’ but you clicked, so I’m happy.  This post really is about finals week, though, so keep reading.

I’ve noticed something strange during my time in college.  Everyone gets really stressed out during the last week of the semester (the Facebook tells me this definitively), but I can’t figure out why.  Finals week is suspiciously like every other week, except you have less things to do and you can eat every meal at taco bell if you want to because everyone accepts “it’s finals week” as a valid excuse.  Sounds pretty good to me.

But we’re all stressed out by the idea of finals week, even if the reality isn’t usually that bad.  Consciously or subconsciously, we think college is less legitimate if finals week isn’t awful, so we make it horrible in our minds to build up the importance of ourselves, as college students.

I do feel cool and contemporary if I go study at Panera during finals week, admittedly.  And maybe I feel a little more contemporary if I paint myself as a struggling college kid trying to synthesize six months of information into a comprehensive understanding of some obscure subject, but I don’t think that little self-esteem boost is worth the inaccurate image of myself it’s built upon.  So I’m pretty okay with seeing myself as just a person who likes broccoli cheddar soup and looks at funny pictures on the Internet with a textbook laying forgotten at the edge of the table.

For me, that’s a much less stressful way to think about finals week.  And since I’m such an open-minded, community-oriented, hyphenated-adjective college student, I won’t even be mad if you want to adopt that same way of looking at finals week.

Seriously, though, relax.  You’re not alone, you’re not doomed, the weather is beautiful, and winter break is almost here.  Good luck everyone!