Happy New Year! One great tradition of each new year is that many people usually take the time to reflect on what happened in the past year and ponder ways to improve in the future. There are lists of “bests” and “worsts” and advisory lists of things that one should or should not do.
I recently read a delightful series of "Life Reports" published by New York Times columnist David Brooks. In these reports, Brooks asked people over the age of 70 to reflect on their lives — what made them successful, happy, sad, regretful, hopeful, etc. Not only were the reports fascinating to read, but they also got me thinking about the decisions I have made in the past year and the changes that I have made in my life.
After college, I joined Teach For America as a high school math and special education teacher. I cared – and still care – deeply about education inequity; however, I realized early on that teaching full-time was not for me. At all. In fact, I realized that everything I had planned for myself (grad school, academia, policy advisement) was not for me. I wanted to sing! Act! Write!
What was I to do? Was I being selfish? Was I being irresponsible? I think not. Six months later, I am not only still pursuing my career, but I am also working for two different arts education organizations in New York City. With one, I, along with other company members, use theater as a means for educating youth about HIV/AIDS, sex education, bullying, and a host of other issues. In another job, I run an after-school singing club that uses leadership skills as the basis for its curriculum. And yes: I still audition, perform, and write my own music all around the city!
All this is not just to say that life is great or easy; rather, it is to convey the idea that you can follow your passion and deal with issues you care about. Care about medicine but really would rather sing than be a doctor? Want to end world hunger but really want to do ceramics? Want to be an advocate for kids but creative writing interests you much more than a JD? Well, you don’t have to go down that unwanted path. Here are my three nonscientific R’s that I have found to be extremely helpful:
It’s important to take time and think about what we really want. In our fast-paced society, most of us are always in a rush and rarely take the time to reflect on what we are doing. Are you doing things because you love them? Because other people think you should do them? Because of prestige? For financial security? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions — what is most important is that you are able to answer these questions honestly to yourself. At that point you can actually begin to assess what is most important to you and whether or not you are truly striving toward the things you value most. For some, that will be financial security. For others, it will be happiness. And for many, it will probably be a mix of both. But once you truly reflect on what it is you actually would love to do, then you can start trying to center your life around that goal.
So, you know what you want to do, but there are a few problems in the way: college loans, kids at home, parents need financial help, your pedigree might fall. These are all issues that worry many of us; however, we can never go after what we really want if we spend our entire lives putting our passions on the backburner. Also, most of us don’t have to deal with all of these issues at one time, but the older we get, the more responsibilities we will have. Why not be bold while we’re still young and don’t have as many financial burdens that come with building families?
Reward yourself. No, I don’t mean go on shopping sprees and vacations that you cannot afford. I’m suggesting that you look at what you love – whether it is music, writing, sports, or medicine – and make it a part of your life. If you like music but are not in a position to go fully into the music industry, make sure you treat yourself to a concert or two. If you love writing but can’t leave your consulting job, make sure that you give yourself an hour or two on the weekends to fulfill that passion. You work hard. Maybe you cannot make the big jump to a new career, but you still deserve to incorporate your passions into your life.
These have been helpful to me, and I hope that they can be somewhat useful to you. Happy living!
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons