I Don’t Have a Passion
Is it because I didn’t go to college?
A man and his elderly father walk down the beach together when suddenly the father falls to the ground.
“Father, are you alright?” says the man, kneeling in the sand. The father takes the man’s face into his trembling hands, knowing his final moments are upon him.
“Son,” he says, “thank God I took that $10,000 pay raise instead of chasing my dreams.”
When I first joined the corporate workforce, I was ecstatic to be financially independent. Although I still lived largely paycheck to paycheck, I had just enough money to move into my own apartment in the city of my dreams.
I had my first taste of freedom, and I became obsessed. I was the first of my peers to break away from my parents and earn real money. I had a head start in the race, and I was determined to make the most of it; I set the arbitrary goal of earning a six-figure income by the time I turned 22, which I thought would be all the more impressive without a college degree.
I got my first raise soon thereafter, and another raise a few months later (still not anywhere near six figures though). My family was proud of my success, and I sneered at my peers who were still in college and would take years to reach the salary I was earning.
But the money didn’t really change anything. With every new raise I found myself squirreling away more and more money into investment accounts, but spending nothing in my everyday life. I still lived in a cheap little apartment and cooked my own meals. I never worried about my expenses, and in general I wanted for nothing. I was already happy.
Plus, I realized that I was playing in the big leagues. Six figures is laughable in Silicon Valley. It’s basically minimum wage in an area where the cost of living is so high and the majority of the population is insanely talented. Being a 22 year old making six-figures wouldn’t turn heads in the slightest.
And it’s not like tripling my income would significantly change my life, either. I was lucky enough to be able to afford a nice lifestyle, save some money regularly, and not worry about a rainy day. I didn’t want a house or a Yacht or a Tesla or anything, so I’d ultimately spend my entire life growing my savings to no end.
All that said, I can’t help but covet yuppie drudgery.
I inevitably feel a serotonin high when I put money in my savings account. I’m still reluctant to chase anything “fruitless”. I love making incremental money moves. I’m complacent and comfortable and ready for retirement, I guess.
Honestly, I don’t know what I’d rather be doing. Even if money wasn’t a factor, there isn’t another pursuit that interests me. I’m not a creative artist, or a daring entrepreneur, or an insatiable intellectual, or a compassionate humanitarian. I don’t particularly love coding or data or following rules or even breaking them.
Maybe skipping college hindered me; I never got the chance to sample different trajectories. I never took the time to indulge my intellectual and creative passions because I’ve been preoccupied with “survival” since I turned 18.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I need to figure something out. I may not know what I want, but I sure as hell know that I don’t want to turn into a corporate zombie or a mediocre has-been-that-never-was.
I don’t want to die with regrets, and right now I regret not having a passion.
So, how do I figure out what my passion is?
Well, I’m trying a few things. I’m not sure if any of them will work. And, if I’m being honest, the fear of failure and the potential realization that I’m condemned to a life of purposelessness terrifies me- I’d almost rather not even try. Ignorance is bliss, right?
But, on the other hand, what if I succeed? What if I unlock the secrets of the universe and “never work a day in my life”, as they say? I would finally have a game plan, lifelong motivation, and a sense of self. What do I have to lose, anyway? (Besides my current job, my apartment, my savings, my family’s approval, and my reputation… let’s not think about that.)
The first aCtiOn iTeM on my rOaDmAp is to try a bunch of different jobs. I’ve only ever worked in one industry, really, so I have no idea what other careers are out there. Granted, I’ll probably stick to the tech genre given my location, so my sampling will be somewhat limited. It’s possible that my passion lies completely outside of tech, but right now it feels easier to work with a subset of careers than to try to conceptualize the vastness of human occupations.
I’m also limited based on my abilities; I can’t code so I won’t become a software engineer any time soon, for example. Which leads me to the second action item, which is to learn as many skills as I can.
This one is tough for me, personally, because I like to plan with an outcome in mind; I can’t just sit down and learn for fun, I have to know that what I learn will be somehow useful to my career. If I don’t know for a fact that the knowledge will get me one step closer to that pay raise, it feels to me like a waste of time. Thus I regress into my capitalist cage.
I have to retrain myself to be curious for the sake of curiosity, and to keep an open mind. There is so much to know about the world, and not all of it is attached to a LinkedIn badge. Since I didn’t go to college, it’s my responsibility to wonder about philosophy and medicine and music and physics.
The third item on my roadmap is to take a bunch of internet quizzes.
Actually, the third item is to talk to other people. There are almost a million other people living within five miles of me and, while they are generally constrained to the Silicon Valley archetype, they can’t all possibly do the same work. There have to be a hundred jobs I’ve never heard of, and it would be a crime not to leverage my geographical privilege.
The fourth and hardest action item is to take risks. I don’t plan on quitting my job any time soon or without a backup plan, but I have to be open to the possibility that I may take a pay cut, or that I’ll have to sacrifice significantly to get someone to take a chance on me, or that I’ll try something that doesn’t end up being my passion.
Maybe I’ll lose everything and have to move back in with my parents. I really, really, REALLY hope not, but it’s probably better than dying like the old man in my terrible parable.