by Susan L. Lipson
When I answer people’s questions about what my young adult kids (in their 20's) are doing, explaining that they are all pursuing their passions in “the arts,” I encounter reactions ranging from fascination with my rare parental species; to “And what about for their actual careers?”; to raised eyebrows and sniffs; to frowns of pity for me because my artsy dreamer kids (despite all being labeled “gifted” by schools since 2nd grade) “obviously” couldn’t get into a guaranteed-high-paying profession; to questions about whether they’ve “actually been paid for” their work in film production, writing, songwriting, musical performances, or acting; and finally, to their “back-up plans.”
Even my own parents, their grandparents, respond in reaction to my sharing news of their accomplishments with sighs accompanied by dismissive words like, “Well, let me know when he’s on the radio—then he can be really proud,” or “Let me know when we can see her on the BIG screen, rather than just a silly TV show for kids—something she can be proud of,” or “Let me know when she gets credit as a producer or a writer—then you can really feel proud.” Substitute “if” for the “when’s” above and you’ll hear the dubious tone of my parents’ words; and substitute “we” for the pronouns “he,” “she,” and “you” in the clauses following the dashes and you’ll hear their primary concern—their own conditional pride, measured by tangible gains alone.
This conditional pride is shared by so many parents I know, who can’t imagine a passion becoming a career. I should feel sorry for them, rather than resentful of their disdain and doubt. If they were in careers that nurtured their own true passions, they’d never react as they do to my kids’ chosen path and my support of their paths.
What makes me different from some of those parents? The same thing that makes my kids different from theirs: the belief that passion is a purpose.
If we can find a way to make a living that doesn’t stifle our passion or even incorporates that passion within some other more mundane manner of earning a living, then we will have a spiritually fulfilling purpose for getting up and going to work each day. And if we are among the lucky few who can make a living solely via our passion, then we must yell it from the rooftops to inspire disillusioned folks whose dreams have become, as Langston Hughes so eloquently said, like raisins in the sun. Why not at least TRY to keep those raisins plump and juicy during the years when the sun is high enough in the sky not to dry them up?
And if that pursuit of passion ends up yielding more stress than fulfillment, then, and only then, should we make a decision to reroute our life’s path, on our own terms, not out of bending to social pressure. Not trying to cultivate our dreams guarantees that our passions will never bloom. Regrets grow like weeds, choking out dreams, unless we pull them up by their roots: doubts.
The very fact that my kids have felt sure since high school what makes them passionate is a blessing. I have met far too many young people plagued by apathy (the “I-guess-I’ll-go-to-college-and-figure-out-what-I-want-to-do” attitude), or by burnout (“Four MORE years of studying things I don’t care about?!”), or by angst (“What if I end up hating my career after all those years in school?”). The passionless kids step off one treadmill onto another, never exploring real scenery or feeling fresh winds in their faces. Sometimes this is because their parents are running on adjacent treadmills, too busy to leap off and pull their kids onto unexplored paths.
I have always felt that my job as a parent is to guide my kids to discover their passions and empower them in pursuing those passions. Poetically put: Persistence in pursuing passions predicts positivity of purpose (and also allows for awesome alliteration). So the next time someone comments, “Wow, you’re brave to let your kids study the arts,” I plan to say, “No, THEY are. And I’m proud.”
My son, Ian Lipson, taking Wistappear’s music to the mountains…