Next week I’ll be returning to my alma mater for my (rescheduled by a year) 20th reunion. I suppose this is where I say it’s hard to believe it’s been 21 years, but I’ll also be celebrating a child’s 15th birthday next week, and some parts of the early 2000s feel like ancient history. I do remember working as a server at the 15th reunion when I was between my sophomore and junior years, and thinking those folks seemed quite old…
Anyway, this time of year always turns the mind to graduation, and graduation clichés. Commencement speakers everywhere will tell people to “follow your passion.” It’s not bad advice. I’m glad I followed my passion to become a writer, even if it was not an obviously viable career option.
But of course “writing” encompasses a lot of different ways you can spend your day-to-day life. What does one write about? What form does the writing take? How does a writer spend his or her hours?
Many careers have similar variances. A school nurse and an ER nurse will spend their days differently. I recently met someone whose job involves going to landowners and communities to get formal permission for utility right-of-ways.* It’s document production and signing, but it is a very different day to day job than, say, an in-house corporate legal person.
It turns out that professional happiness is often a function of how you spend your hours as much as anything else. One source of dissatisfaction for a great many people is that they have jobs that sound cool in theory, but they spend hours daily in boring meetings, or responding to angry emails.
It would be hard to ditch meetings and emails entirely. But I do think the “follow your passion” advice should lean a bit more on this question of what you want your days to look like in addition to the “stuff” of the job that tends to dominate.
All sorts of questions come to mind. Do you like quiet? Do you like talking with lots of different people? Do you mind having the same conversation over and over again with lots of different people or would that make you go insane? Do you want to be able to control when you do things or do you like to go with the flow? Do you want set hours? If so, do you care when those hours are? Some industries feature much, much earlier hours than others. If you do clerical work for a construction company, you will likely be starting your day by 7 a.m., but if you do clerical work for some tech and media companies you might be starting more like 9:30 a.m. or later (and going later too). Do you like to focus on one thing and develop deep expertise, or would you like to learn about lots of different things? Do you want to go to the same place most days (which could be a home office) or do you like going to different sites?
These things might be a bit harder to suss out as people consider jobs and careers because they are not as immediately obvious as what the “stuff” of the job is. Some hour by hour happiness is also dependent on the specific people you wind up working with. But these questions are definitely worth thinking about. My passion is writing, but my passion is also sitting in a quiet office, all by myself, with large blocks of unstructured time. It suggests a different life than, say, corporate communications, or a daily newspaper job, or being part of a TV show writing team.
What do you think of the “follow your passion” advice? Did you follow your passion or figure out your passion along the way? (I realize sometimes this phrase is “find your passion” — but that is something else entirely!)
Photo: Where the magic happens most days, though it looks different now that I have my junk all over the desk.
*I am pretty sure they can get the right of way whether people approve or not, but I think the idea is that everyone feels happier if they feel like they were consulted.