Safety Versus Passion

I sat on a panel of entrepreneurs of my high school alma mater a couple of weeks ago as part of their career day. It was nice to be there and see how the school has changed and progressed in the past (nearly) 30 years.

The panelists were all running different businesses from a social impact retail store and luxury handbags to a local performance and coffee shop and a brand new distillery. Everyone had something incredible to bring to the table.

When I speak with students it’s almost like I can see the pressure emanating from their pores! The pressure to do well academically, athletically, socially, and everything in between! We had pressures too but what we didn’t have in the late 80s was information coming at us from every corner of the world nestled in the palm our hands!

Look like this!

Act like that!

This will make you feel better!

Everyone is getting that!

Rich Kids of Instagram!

Reality TV!

The pressure from outside is palpable. There’s also the pressure from within.

What does my family expect?

What do my teachers expect?

I need good grades.

So I can get a good GPA.

Then I can get into a good school.

Become a doctor, lawyer, or some other socially appropriate job that signifies wealth, substance, and success.

We continue to do what is expected and so often there is no joy. What happens when you go through all every step of expectation and you aren’t fulfilled? Feels a lot like the world we live in now. Lily Tomlin once said:

Wouldn’t it be great if we all grew up to be what we wanted to be? The world would be full of nurses, firemen, and ballerinas.

Consider her thoughts for a moment. We were all born with passion and somewhere along the way were told in multiple ways to stifle it.

What will you do with an art degree?

Writers and artists are usually broke and homeless… they make money when they die.

You can study ballet forever, do you know how many become prima ballerinas?

Wait! You’re getting a degree in history but you don’t want to teach? What will you do with that? (Full disclosure: I’ve actually said this to someone, whoa, I am so sorry!)

I could continue with this for days. My heart was always in writing and speaking. My socially responsible thought was to do something with a little more stability. Yes, smart to be safe.

But is it?

Imagine this: we begin to cultivate a different model of success with children. Success isn’t necessarily built on test scores and college degrees but on what will drive you every morning with passion and vigor. What if we encouraged tiny artists, theatre kids, and budding musicians to continue, grow, and develop these skills?

As I looked at this group of kids, they were so ready. They wanted to hear everything, learn everything, and know every step we took to get to our current places. At that moment I was so grateful for how the world has progressed. Twenty years ago if you wanted a book published you needed an ironclad idea, a well-written query letter, and an act of God! In a world where Stephen King’s writing was rejected scores of times, it made it all but impossible for common folks – like me – to publish a book. Thanks to advancements in the internet and social media you can transform your idea into a book, you can market and sell that book completely on your own! We live in a time where musicians are routinely getting discovered on reality competitions or YouTube! The world is a much more open place and we have more power to advance our own thoughts, dreams, and art.

Back to the room with the wide-eyed students. They asked a lot of questions, they had a lot of great comments, and as they sat on the very precipice of their future they wanted to know what lesson we wanted to share with them. I offered this:

Discover what you love. Once you find it, nurture it, develop it, and keep working at it. Then find a way to make it pay.

Thank you Chariho High School in Wood River Junction, Rhode Island, for having me on this panel. Not only did it introduce me to several other members of our community who took the ultimate leap of faith and gave their dreams a chance but you also instilled hope and possibility to the attendees. That is a priceless gift!