Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Pressure to be Passionate About Everything

My husband has a lifelong single minded passion for guitars.  He loves everything about them from the sound they make to the way they are constructed.  His endless curiosity about the instrument has lead to a depth of knowledge that is both vast in amount and specific in detail. For example, he can name the favored string brands and gauges of nearly every well-known guitar player and some not so well known players with Rainman like precision.  He also loves to experiment with our guitars and the equipment that goes with them. Not a week goes by when he doesn't change the pickups or rewire the internal components of one of our guitars or bring home a new effects pedal - all in a search for a richer tone or a new sound. It follows that his professional career has included successful stints as a touring and recording musician, a repair shop guitar tech, and an instrument salesman. Simply put, he is a guitar expert, whose combination of love, knowledge and expertise for the instrument has allowed him to succeed in a difficult and ever-changing industry.

I envy my husband because I have never experienced such a single minded love for any one thing.  Sure, I have things that I have a great deal of interest in.  Like my husband, I have a love for music and for the guitar.  But my love is far less all-consuming.  Days will go by when I feel no desire to pick up the instrument - days when I'm sitting on my ass investigating other things that capture my momentary attention and interest.  

Today, I investigated the possibility of learning Danish, which was inspired by my enjoyment of the Danish TV series Rita, currently available on Netflix.  This series interests me because for much of my professional career I have been a teacher with a rebellious streak, much like Rita, the lead character.  In short, my interests connect to each other and almost always swirl around art, music, literature, media, and culture.  But no single interest has ever reached the depth my husband has for guitar. Moreover, I have had many small short term interests that, like Millay's first fig - burned at both ends but didn't last the night.

Even my almost 20-year career in education is not a deep, intensely focused passion. To be sure, I enjoy interacting with my students and engaging them in discussions about literature, writing and thinking; and my varous evaluators have reported that I'm a "talented" and "good" teacher. But talent and competence are not the same as passion; and there is nothing less interesting to me than discussions about education - or theories about how best to deliver content to students. That kind of shit makes my brain bleed. In this sense, I have zero interest in my career and as a result, I will never be a true educational expert regardless of my talent for teaching.  My core lack of interest in the foundations of my current profession makes me feel like a fraud; and, as a result, I have resisted fully committing to the career. I am perpetually looking for something different that will arouse the mystical passion people speak of - or that won't expect such passion at all.

Perhaps none of this would bother me if there wasn't such a cultural premium placed on "passion." But, Americans are obsessed with finding their "one true" passion. Moreover those who ARE lucky enough to find a deep all-consuming passion do seem to succeed at higher levels because they have such a narrow plane of focus. This is perhaps what really bothers me. There is nothing - NOTHING that I love so much that I can imagine developing the intensity of focus or ambition needed for a successful long-term career. I am a jack of many trades and a master of none. In the end, I expect I'll have a lot of little things I did but no great capstone of professional achievement. Because I've been culturally programmed to believe that i should have a "passion" for something, and that my career should circle around that passion and should build toward something great and that only outlier success matters (thanks Malcolm Gladwell), I'm bothered by this.  

Is anyone else bothered by all this pressure to be passionate?

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