Passion is a luxury

I had passion. I was 25 years old, Master’s Degree in hand and a year of full-time service with AmeriCorps under my belt. I was a faithful, faith-filled, world-changing, ass-kicker.

And then I grew up.

Then my kid got sick. Then my life changed course. Then I lied to myself and told myself to keep going even though I knew it felt wrong. It still feels wrong- like wearing shoes that are too tight.

Part of our student affairs messaging has been that “how you do stuff matters” and I bought that hook, line, sinker. I built my career and my education on it. But the last six years have shown me that that message is only the message. It doesn’t translate to practice.

I was passionate until I got burned. Until I was betrayed by friends in multiple job searches.Until I have seen colleagues with questionable moral compasses and inappropriate office etiquette get promoted. Until I called HR and aired serious concerns about fellow “professionals'” behavior, only to be told that “it wasn’t illegal.”

It takes courage to stay in environments where you’re not passionate. I do not say that to be a martyr. But to give people S P A C E to breathe. To give myself room. I am drowning. I am bitter with words that I have choked back for years for fear of…what? Being labeled negative? Too late. For being labeled aggressive? Also too late. For fear of not getting hired, or branded right, or or or or? What?

I am so tired of hiding. Of not sharing my personal truth for fear of haters and trolls. The fact that I feel this fear, and have felt this fear for years, speaks volumes about how we treat whistle-blowers and dissenting voices in our profession. I know I am not alone. I have Twitter DMs and email streams from my fellow passion-naysayers. Yet, so few of us take the time to write about the shadows we all experience.

At 40 years old, with two small children, multiple mortgages, car payments, orthodontics, and a college fund, passion is a luxury I cannot afford. The flip side of the passion coin is obligation. I have obligations that I have chosen. As a grown-up, I cannot and I will not toss them aside to pursue my passions. My passions are: chocolate, wine, writing, reading, reading, napping, and binge-watching old school episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Last time I checked that was not a full-time job with health and retirement benefits. If you find such a position, please share my LinkedIn profile with the committee. Because, my LI is up to date and properly branded 😉

Passion is a bullshit bill of goods that we all got sold in grad school to make up for crappy pay and long hours. I have friends who are teachers, pharmacists, state employees, and accountants. The only people talking about passion are the teachers and I think part of that is because they get snow days and summers off.

Work can be work.  Passion is a luxury that many people can’t afford. Passion also reeks of privilege, but that’s another post. So, let’s practice what we preach and start doing for each other what we profess to do for students. Let’s back-off the passion rhetoric and let people B E. Let people choose what works for them.

My hands are shaking and there is a voice in my head screaming at me not to hit publish. I am feeling shame and vulnerability right now. I am choosing to live into it and share my story. Brene Brown says that writing messages doesn’t give the message power, it gives you power.

I hope she’s right. Here we go…..


Giving passion the heave ho

What do I want to be when I grow up? Should I apply for that job or not?

What if higher ed is my purpose and I won’t let myself be excited or passionate because I think I am supposed to want something else? Like a non-profit job or something more cause-y? (Survivor guilt is real.)

Passion. Blerg. That nebulous gold standard that higher ed professionals think is a prerequisite to advancement, success, and fulfillment.

Usually, I am able to rein myself in and talk myself down from the passion precipice. Some days it takes longer than others. Thankfully, yesterday was an easier day. Because deep down, when I shut out the noise, here is what I know to be true.

You can be good at something and not have it be your passion.

I know plenty of colleagues who aren’t passionate. They are professional, timely, honest, committed, organized, focused. They come to work every day. They do good work. Then, they go home and live their lives. Wake up. Repeat. And really, working on a college campus isn’t such a bad place to not be passionate! Most campuses are beautiful. Here in the Midwest I get to witness the changing seasons. I work with young people who challenge me. Higher ed is relatively stable. I am fortunate to have health insurance and retirement benefits, and vacation.

What does passion even mean? Who says? When did passion become the measuring stick of higher ed professionalism? Who makes all these silly rules and why do we believe them? I am calling your bluff, higher ed.

In his pithy and profound book, Let your life speak, Parker Palmer wrote:

“Trying to live some else’s life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail- and may even do great damage.”

Abstract norm (passion). Great damage (self-doubt, survivor guilt, fear, anger, self-loathing).

What if I get a new job and hate it? What if I get a new job and don’t hate it but still do good work? There is no passion switch. It’s not like some magical position will be created just for me (or you) and then all of sudden I’ll wake up and say, “Now I am passionate!” One of the priests from our parish, Fr. Joe, used to say, “You don’t do one thing once and then say, Oh, now I am holy! It’s a process!”

I am choosing to give passion the old heave-ho and flipping the script for myself. I will no longer let other’s expectations of my passion dictate what I apply for (or not), how I choose to operate on a day-to-day basis (or not), and how I choose to see myself.

Passion and work are not mutually exclusive. You can have one without the other. Passion doesn’t automatically make you effective. You can be good at something and not have it be your passion. I think that is threatening to some people in higher ed. It confuses them because they drank the passion propaganda and believe that they have to be passionate to fit in, to be effective, to be professional, to be liked and relatable.

I wrote this post last night and didn’t hit publish because the passion demons (kind of like dementors in Harry Potter) got a hold of me and I chickened out. “What if some future employer finds my blog (doubtful) and they don’t like what I wrote and then they don’t hire me?” Yeah, what if? There is nothing I can do about that. And, if we hire people for passion instead of efficacy, efficiency, professionalism, relationship-building capacity, potential, education, and experience…well, then, I think our profession has bigger problems than lack of passion.