Who does what they love anymore?

“Do you know anybody that studied music and math? Do they work in your office Mommy?” asked my teen, as we talked about pursuing majors in college. The question had the tone of “is this fairy tale or real life?” Feeling slighted, I quickly hastened to respond that just because I personally don’t know them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The connection between math and music isn’t new, but citing ‘celebrity stories’ wasn’t going to make it credible with my teen.

I listened to Miya Tokumitsu, a Ph.D. in Art History on the radio, not too long ago. According to her, while many are fed the mythology of ‘anyone can do what they love’, the majority of those that actually get to do it are those with the financial muscle to acquire credentials necessary for many of these rewarding jobs. These credentials can be degrees, but can also be access to hiring managers, internships, rent in cities where such jobs exists.

This mythology of doing what you love is just drawing a pretty mask at the social mechanisms that favor ones with the financial capital.

I agree that turning passion into a bankable career is not the case for many people, and whenever the mythology of “do what you love” is professed, it creates a burden. A burden that screams to the wrong choices made if one is not deriving pleasure from the job or career path. In 2008, when the job market was tough, I personally know friends who were doing work they certainly did not plan or dream to do, but rather did whatever was needed to get by.

However, the answer to my teen’s question of “Do you know anybody that studied music and math? Do they work in your office Mommy?” was tough. What would be the right response?

One that paints a landscape where work and career are very important, if not primary source of love? And the belief that hard work and passion can turn anything into a fantastic success?
OR, should the response be: do what you need to, to get by, even if not emotionally satisfying, so you have the financial capital to do what emotionally satisfies you?

Perhaps the question needs to be reframed: from a simplistic binary model to one that is multidimensional and dynamic. It starts with the premise that each person has a unique set of skills, talents, and passions, that makes their career journey unique, to fulfill their true potential.

Sometimes, one’s passion and profession overlap, and at other times they don’t. Timing is crucial, and the velocity of change in professions is entering an unprecedented time in human history. However, knowing and understanding “that which you love”, “that which you are good at”, and “that which you can be paid for” helps define the passion vs. vocation vs. profession . Some are lucky to be at a time where their professions and passions intersect.

Last winter, brought to light the dark underbelly of the society I live in: a 17-year old girl growing up in sub-urban Silicon Valley had committed suicide. There were several whispers of speculations, each played out their ‘view’ of what likely led to a young girl committing suicide. Besides the two most common suspects - over bearing parents, and pressure cooker environment at schools, a few others emerged. The culture of “hyper-performance” that is deified in the Silicon Valley, how technology has hijacked people’s minds to obsess over the unreal, to risky lifestyles, substance abuse and the likes. The sobering fact was that this wasn’t unique to our community, and despite how much we wished, it wasn’t an isolated event.

Truth be told, we all share part of the blame and guilt.

The families, friends, school, failed in helping the child develop a purpose or passion for life that was stronger than the despair she felt.

Try as we may have, we, as a community, did not notice the void inside of her. A void that could have been filled, by helping develop identities and purposes for living that were strong enough to inspire other choices than the one made. I want to believe that such incidents can perhaps be averted with a more holistic discovery of one’s Ikigai to bring meaning to life.

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