Everyone these days goes on and on about passion. If you don't have passion for something, you would be led to believe that you won't get into college or medical school, you won't get a job, you won't be happy, and your life will be a failure. I don't buy into this. In fact, I'm tired of the word passion altogether. To think that your life should be directed by an innate feeling called "passion" that is supposed to just exist within you and be strong and powerful enough to guide your decisions seems absurd to me. It's like putting yourself at the mercy of someone else - let's call him the "passion monster" - for your happiness and fulfillment in life. And if you are unlucky enough not to have a passion monster of your very own - well, you're screwed. Or you're tasked with getting that passion monster back into your life.
Don't get me wrong, I've spent many an hour writing college and grad school admission essays, job cover letters and award nomination letters that liberally sprinkle the word "passion" throughout. However, over the past few years, I've realized that the feeling that I have for what it is that I do isn't a passion monster, but rather the ongoing process of trying to fulfill a goal that provides satisfaction and meaning to my life. It is something that that even if I'm not happy every day going to work or while hanging out at home, I overall know that I am working towards something that is meaningful. In other words, my life isn't guided by passion, but rather a life philosophy. I'll give you someone else's example of a life philosophy before I tell you about mine.
My husband is in the middle of getting his second bachelor's degree as part of his fifth career. Right out of high school, he went to boot camp and became a Marine and toured the world as an Embassy Guard. He then went to college and got a degree in German (why not?) and nearly completed a second major in business. After moving to Arizona, he worked in sales and then as a sales manager before briefly trying out financial advising. I met him in between the sales and the financial advising. He wasn't happy, and once he started financial advising, he still wasn't happy. So my question to him was "What do you want to do? What would give your life meaning? What would make you happy?" In other words, what is your life's philosophy.
He was forced to explore this idea for nearly a year as I asked him these questions over and over. He returned to his dream as a child of becoming a vet, but then realized that working with animals would break his heart. He thought back on the satisfaction he had as an Embassy Guard and how it was meaningful to him to help other people. He held on to this kernel of wanting to help others. He thought about becoming an EMT but then realized that becoming a nurse would more effectively fulfill his life philosophy. Being a nurse allows him to help people, but also be flexible as to where he works and what kind of work he does (and as he just told me, "the money doesn't hurt either"). Because his life philosophy is to "Help others, do good, make people smile, and leave the world better than what you came into." So he's now in nursing school and will graduate in December with his BSN, ready to become a trauma or ER nurse!
The best part about a life philosophy is that it can morph and change - as opposed to your passion, which is supposed to be as constant as a hundred year old lighthouse guiding your life. Mine has changed over time as well, but currently is to "facilitate scientific understanding and discovery to help people through scientific research and education." This philosophy is reflected both professionally through my work providing tissue to researchers to better understand disease and personally through this blog to help everyone better understand science and their health. I admit as I reflect on this that I should probably also incorporate something into my life philosophy about happiness and improving the lives of people around me, but for now I'll leave that as the ultimate outcome of everything I try to do.
So what is your life philosophy? And keep in mind that since the passion monster is out of the picture, use your life philosophy not only to focus on your job or career but to guide all aspects of your life to help you find happiness.
Dr. Cathy Seiler is the Program Manager for the tissue biorepository at St. Joseph's Hospital and Barrow Neurological Institute. She has her BA in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Boston University and PhD in the Biological Sciences from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Her research and teaching focuses on genetics, cancer, and personalized medicine. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thingsitellmymom