Life's goal: Find your passion, but beware the consequences

In life as in love, passion isn’t everything. Photo: In what direction does a college like Harvard take its graduates?

CHICAGO, October 6, 2012 — High school seniors are filling out college applications. Stay-at-home moms & dads contemplate returning to the work force. Workers who have lost jobs wonder what lies ahead. With all of this uncertainty, America has a new mantra: Find your passion.

The mantra isn’t actually new. People have been asking themselves what color their parachute is since long before blogs such as Jenny Blake’s “Life After College” existed, and probably were wondering about it long before Richard Nelson Bolles began self-publishing his best-selling manual for career-changers, “What Color is Your Parachute?” in 1970.

But with so many people facing so much change, the mantra has taken on renewed energy. And why not? As long as you are facing change, why not make it a change you are passionate about?

Because life isn’t only about passion.

Life is also about planning for your future, whether you have 70 years ahead of you or 20. Life is about paying bills. Life is about the people you care about who, whether you like it or not, are affected by the decisions you make and the actions you take.

Gac Filipaj, a janitor at Columbia University, at graduation ceremonies

Consider high school seniors. Many of them are counseled to follow a college and career path that will interest them and make them happy. Not many of them are told to consider the lifestyle that that career will bring them. Once you decide on a path, do some research into those who are already there.

If you want to be a lawyer and live in a big house with a fancy car, understand that it means long, hard hours away from your family. If you want to go into social work and help those with whom life has dealt harshly, take a look at the pay scale in your area and compare it to rents plus utilities plus insurance plus cell phone, satellite TV and any other amenities you may be used to. Will you have to make sacrifices?

Does Your High School Have Your Big Picture?

Once you’ve set your sights on a goal, the path to getting there needs to be considered. When speaking with counselors, adults and friends about college choices, remember that while they may have your best interests in mind, they may not know your whole situation. A student-athlete was once told by a school counselor that if he didn’t enjoy his sport anymore, he shouldn’t play. So he walked away from a scholarship expecting that his parents would foot the bill.

The counselor never considered that walking away from the scholarship might present financial hardship to the family. Four years of college is expensive. How much debt will your ideal education rack up, and how long will it take to pay it off at the starting wage of your chosen degree? It is not unheard of to be paying off college debt well into your forties. But if you are, you probably want to be enjoying the job.

Stay-at-home parents return to the work force for one of two reasons. Either the family needs the money or the parent needs a life change. Both are valid reasons. And unless you manage to find the ideal job that allows you to work when the kids are in school, make enough money to be worth the effort, and maintain the errands, chauffeuring duties and still get a hot dinner on the table, going back to work is going to affect your family as well. This can be a good thing. Every family can use a little more cash, and the kids do reach an age where they are fully capable of getting themselves dinner once in a while. They can also benefit from watching their parents empower themselves.

Benefits of Being A Stay-At-Home Parent

Unexpected things of life change our direction

They also are going to be high school seniors someday, and soon after that, family dinners won’t be an option anymore. The chauffeuring duties you’ve tackled for years have given you insight into your kids’ lives that you can’t get by asking direct questions. While you pay attention to getting everyone safely to soccer practice, they practically forget you’re there.

Then, you eavesdrop. Then, you realize how much they’ve grown and what amazing people they really are. Then, they’re at college and gone. Or you’re at work and gone. The opportunity to watch your family grow ends. Following your passion back into the workplace can be a wonderful thing, but if you have a choice, be sure to consider it from all sides. Then make the choice that is right for you and your family.

That leaves us with the out-of-work career-changer. This is a unique position in that it can encompass both the education choices the college kids are facing and the family effects the stay-at-homes are facing. Or it can involve neither of those situations. Jenny Blake, the “Life After College” blogger mentioned above, left a very comfortable career at Google to risk pursuing her passion of helping people pursue their passions. Jenny Blake is also single and has no children. Sometimes risk-taking is easier than other times.

Some Advice for Looking At Your Future

The unemployment rate is coming down, but the economy is still fragile. Foreclosures are still happening. People who have been out of work for a while still have bills to pay. Maybe this is the perfect time to go back to school and start a new career. Maybe it’s also the time to work at the grocery store so you don’t get your gas and electricity cut off.

This is definitely the time to take a deep breath and consider the issue from all sides.

So some tips for the young person looking to the future:

1. Pursue your passion, if that’s the best decision.

2. Don’t let reality get in your way, unless it has to.

3. Make the sacrifices, but make the rent.

4. Go for it hard, but consider how hard it will be on the ones you love.

And remember that they have passions to follow too.

Julia Goralka is following her passion as a hobby as she prepares herself to send her high school senior off to follow his own.


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Julia Goralka

In addition to her work at The Communities, Julia Goralka is a free-lance novel editor and has served as a volunteer board member or committee member for several local charitable organizations. Prior to writing and editing, Julia was the Division Coordinator for the interest rate derivatives marketing desk at a large financial institution based in Chicago.

Contact Julia Goralka

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