I’ve seen the most passionate hearts I know drown in the sad sea of “pragmatism.” Awash in adulthood, they watched helplessly as childhood dreams drifted over the horizon.
They always give the same reason: “I’d love to do that, but it’s just not practical.” Small details change from person to person, but the rationale remains: “I can’t follow my passion because I need a solid plan that leads to a solid paycheck.”
It’s a perfectly understandable line of thought, and it’s one I can’t pretend I haven’t fallen prey to. Upon acceptance into Weber, I was a physics major, and my first order of business was looking up the average salary of a physicist. Then, upon learning that lawyers can earn double that, I eventually switched to criminal justice.
Then I switched to English, when I found law schools care more about GPA and LSAT scores than anything else. My last switch was to communications, multimedia journalism, but I can’t pretend I’ve settled on anything.
If oft I’ve fallen into this trap of chasing a payday rather than a passion, why am I writing this? What changed?
The answer is simple. I thought about the career my major would bring me — the day-to-day work — and it made me want to walk face-first into a wood-chipper.
At this point, you might be thinking that isn’t the case with you or your area of study. While some people love their chosen field from the outset — and I salute them for it — I am willing to bet many readers may be looking at their future as a grind.
They probably say, “I’m not crazy about the job, but more money means more time with my family, more opportunities to give them whatever they want.” The problem with that rationale, however, is that research has shown people passionate about their jobs tend to be vastly more productive and happier.
A 2014 Deloitte University Press article states that in excess of 85% of U.S. workers lack passion for their work and are “not able to contribute to their full potential” because of it.
Business News Daily published an article in 2012 titled “12 Reasons to Do What You Love for a Living.” The article reiterates this idea while adding the potential mental-health benefits.
“It is important to do something we love for a living,” said Angelo Kinicki, professor of Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, “because our work lives will then provide meaning and purpose, which are associated with psychological well-being and health.”
It isn’t just you and I, the potential workers, that value passion as a desirable career trait. Forbes, in a 2014 article titled “Debunking Myths About Worker Passion,” pointed out that “(passionate workers) deliver sustained and significant performance improvement over time.”
Given that higher performance and a better work ethic tend to lead to more promotions and higher pay, it would seem no downside exists with regard to the idea of chasing a passion rather than a paycheck. It also seems clear choosing a career one is passionate about is — truly — the pragmatic choice.
Let’s set all of that aside for a moment. Let’s forget these facts, forget the data and focus on the human part of this equation.
We live in a culture of the most fascinating contradictions. Children are told they can be anything, but then become teens pressured into poorly-paying jobs. They are told to find a career but are made to stick with those minimum-wage jobs as a matter of “responsibility.”
When they dream, as they were told to do, we tell them, “get your head out of the clouds.” All the while, we celebrate people who bucked the idea of pragmatism: people who became writers, musicians, artists and entrepreneurs. When those same kids say they wish they’d have done the same, we ask why they didn’t.
Dreamers are portrayed as self-centered, naive and even immature. Soul-sucking tedium and a bull-headed dedication to hateful places of employment are seen as selfless, responsible and grown-up.
When we’ve been told these things, we’ve been lied to. Go listen to a song, read a novel, take a stroll through any art studio if ever you need be reminded of what the practical, safe route can never provide.