I read the AmeriCorps Alums blog on a regular basis through my RSS feed, and one post in particular last week caught my eye. “Amerisaur” wrote about how difficult it is to find your passion. He writes, “I asked some of my current team members and friends [and] realized that a lot of twenty and thirty somethings don’t really know what they are passionate about either. Do we have a generation of folks who failed to learn how to dream, or is it part of the twenty/thirty something experience?”
Now, I am a sucker for musicals, so when I read this post I immediately thought of the show Pippin. Pippin is a musical written in the ‘70s about a young man who is trying to find his “corner of the sky,” his purpose in life. He doesn’t want to settle for an ordinary life, he wants to change the world! Sound familiar?
I think the search for passion is something that people of any generation go through, not just ours. It might manifest itself differently as the years go on- certainly the fact that a college student can use Twitter to talk with top professionals in their field changes what 20 year olds expect from themselves and others- but the struggle remains.
I, like most of you I’m sure, wrestled with the idea of finding my passion a great deal after I graduated from university. Over my years as a student I excelled in the classroom- I love learning, and it came pretty naturally to me to quickly understand what teachers expected of me, and rise to that occasion. The goals were laid out at the beginning of each semester, each project had a due date, and each exam was set from the beginning, giving me clear benchmarks by which to gauge my success. If I didn’t particularly like a class, hey, it would be over in about 14 weeks, and I could always choose something else.
By my senior year I was sick of it-I was hungry for “real life.” I had a degree in archaeology that I used for about nine months, and then traveled halfway around the world to teach English in Taiwan. Since then I have been a lead teacher at an after school program, an outreach educator for a domestic violence shelter, a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with AmeriCorps, and now I work for Volunteer Maryland developing training materials to support our AmeriCorps*VISTA members.
Throughout this circuitous journey there was no syllabus, no due dates, no clear benchmarks to help me find my passion. I had to make it up as I went along. Sometimes this was ok, and sometimes it scared me to death.
I write about all of these feelings in the past tense, but truthfully I haven’t figured out any kind of certainty for myself yet either. I have decided to become a nurse, and have been taking courses in the evenings and on weekends for the past year to get ready for nursing school, which I will start in the fall. When I made this decision as an AmeriCorps member, I worried that it would be yet another twist in my tangled journey- another change, another new direction, one that built upon my skills, yes, but would require a great deal of new knowledge, time, and effort to achieve.
The difficulty finding your passion isn’t just a “problem” AmeriCorps members or alums in their 20s and 30s are having- it’s bigger than that. Nearly everyone searches for something to direct their lives, a goal or ideal to give their life meaning. And the truth is that there isn’t just one thing that most people can reach out, touch, and define as their passion.
I haven’t wanted to be a nurse my whole life. What I have wanted my whole life is to help others learn, to be a useful member of society, to acquire new skills, and to be challenged. This shows in all the paths that I’ve taken, and will all be essential to me as a nurse.
My passion isn’t one thing. It’s a network of my past experiences, my current interests, and my future goals, interwoven with the people around me and their situations, dreams, and struggles. My passion isn’t something I can sum up in a blog post. It’s how I choose to get up in the morning, put on my shoes, and turn my feet in the direction that I see most fit. My passion is not going to get handed to me at the beginning of the semester, with a nice timeline of due dates and exams. It’s something I create for myself.
And I think that is what most 20-30 year olds are really having a problem with now- how do we create our purpose? How do we direct our passion?