“Find your passion–because colleges want to see it. Find your passion by January 1st, or December 1st if you’re applying early.” -Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How To Raise An Adult
When I was younger, people would ask, what do you want to do? What’s your dream? When I was a little older, I started answering: “I want to be a writer.” And that was a lie.
Don’t get me wrong–I like writing. Sometimes I love it. (Another time I’ll tell you why, if you want to know). But I’d been told, not by my parents and not by a friend, that I was supposed to have a passion. Anyone without that special elusive something was a bit of sunbleached cloth, forgotten in a field somewhere, watching the more vibrant world go by. I didn’t want to be that someone. So I lied: I saw a passion that I could have, and I stole it from society’s shelf because it looked shiny. I told people it was mine. Sometimes I almost believed it.
If we’re not careful, passion becomes a box to check, a proof of our individual flare. It becomes our saleable capital, the balance in our bank-account hearts that we trot out to show we’re a good investment to a lover, a career, ourselves. It’s the metaphorical cigarette from which, like the so-cool and so-successful James Dean, we blow a cloud of genre-appropriate smoke around our carefully posed heads. It’s what we find to get into college.
Lythcott-Haims reminds me that I don’t need to prove my passion. (She has a TED talk coming soon, about how kids become adults; she’s brilliant and she’s researched and she’s fun). I don’t need to find it and sell it by December or January or, well, ever. But I can write. I can read. Teach. I can be confused and still learn: the harmonica, the steps of a dance, the habit of being open with another. I can ask a question, build a fence, cook a meal, hold my niece, make a friend–because all of this, all of this, is mysterious, and there are others here. I don’t think any of us have just one passion. I don’t think there’s only one me, a star to find in a sea of black: we are each a constellation, a yelling, singing crowd of identities and desires and values and loyalties. In any moment some of them are speaking, but there are others who could come forward. We are ourselves overwhelming and wild. I think I love that.
People say that you’ve got to “figure out what you love.” I must be pretty far behind with that. I suppose I could make a list: start it with chocolate-covered most things, run on through every shade of green in the forest, and end with a long roll call of all the people I love. But I don’t think I need to figure them. I don’t think I need to add them up. They’re there–here. I could work to feel a connection with them, but I feel that already, if only I look up and say hello.