Last night, I was among the honored few who attended a roundtable of people from the area who were doing “extraordinary things.” One math professor travels to Appalachia and New Orleans to help improve/rebuild people’s houses. A student travels to Ukraine and Belarus to run sports camps for kids. A board member helps kids meet their community service requirements for graduation. A nursing professor travels to developing countries and provides medical care. (She has also designed an instrument that will safely cut a newborn’s umbilical cord and, thus, save infant lives by preventing diseases like neonatal tetanus. So cool!) What struck me about each of their presentations was that they were people living their passions, and the nursing professor pointed out the same thing – “Follow your passion.”
But a friend of mine asked me last night after the talk, “What if you don’t know what your passion is?” That’s a great question, I thought . . . what does it take to find one’s passion? For me, it took a lot of soul-searching, prayer, and risk. For a lot of my life, I was on a path to teach, and I still love teaching. But somewhere along the way, I began to think that what I wanted was the academic life – wow, was I wrong on that. What I really like is to inspire students (when I can) and to help them see the world in new ways. Unfortunately, most of academic life is not about the students at all, at least not directly; it’s about meetings and politics and a lot of ego. Yuck!!
So there went what I thought was my passion. Now what? Well, when I peeled away my concepts of what it was to be a teacher, when I let go of this unreal notion that I would have students come by my office to just talk and learn from my wisdom (wow, how arrogant am I?), I was able to sort of drill down to what I really wanted – to write, to teach, to edit, and mostly to work with people to help them see who they really are. The best writing teachers I’ve ever had – people like Laraine Herring and David Ulin – were people who really asked me to see myself honestly and to find what was core to being me. The best friends I have in the world are those who force me to see myself honestly and ask me to do the same for them. The best writers I know show such honesty that you know they really worked to know themselves. This self-awareness, this ability for people to know themselves, that’s what I want for me and it’s what I want for people around me. This is my passion – which I pursue in words – as best I can.
So what does that mean for my friend? What is her passion? I cannot answer that for her. But because she is my friend, I will push her – hard sometimes – to find it for herself. What does she love? What cannot she not live life without? What would make her excited – as I am – to wake up every day and get to work? These are the questions that speak of passion – not duty or money.
There is great risk in this pursuit, of course. Yesterday, I had $.61 in my checking account. In the past few months, I have had well-meaning people scoff or express genuine concern at my decision to leave full-time work and cobble together work from part-time teaching, tutoring, and editing. Sometimes I wake up at 3am and worry that I have taken a wrong turn on my path. But when these worries strike me, I remember that we are called to be people of faith, that we are made with a purpose – then, I take a deep breath of prayer and keep walking. It’s the best stroll in the world.
What is your passion? If you don’t know, please find it. We need you to be who you were made to be. We really do.