"Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray."- Rumi
I wanted to be an artist. I grew up constantly drawing. I loved editorial cartoons in newspapers and bought every Frank Frazetta fantasy art book I could find. Art fascinated me and creativity pulsed in my veins. But as high school drew to a close and college loomed, my father urged a conservative career route. He worried that studying art wouldn't lead to a stable, good paying career.
Many parents, with good intentions, direct their kids to study useful majors in college. Disciplines that can lead to gainful, stable employment. Further, we live in an age of vast technology where studies in computer science and engineering all but insure gainful employment. Those who pursue disciplines like literature, art or history are considered less likely to find good jobs.
Cal Newport is an author and assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University. His book, So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion In The Quest For Work You Love, makes the case that following your passion is bad advice. Newport argues that one must develop marketable skills that have value. Because as much as we'd all like to be rock stars or Hollywood icons, that's not very realistic.
One reviewer of Newport's book (on Amazon.com) used Steve Jobs to illustrate Newport's position. Had Steve Jobs followed his early passion, he might have become a Buddhist monk. Fortunately, Jobs studied a variety of subjects, including calligraphy. The skills that Jobs acquired equipped him for who he would become. Namely, the visionary that helped bring us Apple Computers.
Being able to make a living, pay the mortgage and get your kid's braces all require income. The laws of economics are always a part of the equation. In my eBook, An Artful Life-Awaken Your Creative Spirit, I wrote about "pragmatic juggling." It means effective blending of your passion with your career.
The reality is that few of us get to make a living at our passion. We have day jobs to pay the bills and moonlight with our artwork, music or related passions. We learn to juggle. We find ways to infuse our creativity into our work.
Pragmatic juggling is a reasonable and effective way to craft some balance in your life. It allows you to stay sane by escaping into your passion. At least until you retire can adopt your passion full time.
Clearly, I've adopted a sensible approach to life. Acquire a safe job and carve out time for what you love. Get that pension. Play it safe.
But lately, I'm questioning the pragmatic approach. Just a little. Maybe your heart is a lighthouse you need to follow? Maybe you owe it to yourself, particularly when you're starting out, to explore broadly and risk just a bit more? Maybe following your heart will lead to less money but more fulfillment?
I recently read Fareed Zakaria's book In Defense of a Liberal Education. Zakaria argues that a liberal education creates a foundation to find your voice. It teaches you the invaluable skills of good writing, speaking and life long learning. He notes that with technology comes an increased need for good design, writing and creativity. In the age of machines and technology, perhaps our humanity is more important than ever?
The higher education shift away from liberal arts to technology might lead more graduates to good jobs in the computer industry. But then what? Will these graduates find fulfillment? Will they ponder the bigger questions about the meaning of life? The joys of personal expression? When the novelty of the big house, BMW and Maui vacations wane, will they truly be happy?
Zakaria notes that liberal arts majors start out making less than their technology counterparts, but often catch up later in life. Zakaria argues that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to discourage our kids from studying what stirs their souls.
I think we need to pay close attention to our hearts. I think your heart is a lighthouse you need to follow. Not recklessly, but intelligently. I listened to my well intentioned father. I got degrees in criminal justice administration instead of art. I quickly found employment and will retire with a good pension. But I yearn to spend my days painting, cartooning and writing. My creative heart never left me. And I sometimes wonder where I'd be today had I followed that artistic light burning within.
Author Jacob Norby has this to say on the subject: “You know that crazy heart of yours? The one with lightning crackling and moonlight shining through it. The one you’ve been told not to trust because it often led you off the beaten path. The one so many have misunderstood your entire life. Trust it. Feed it. Grow it. It’s your greatest treasure and will point the way to your highest destiny. It is the voice of your soul.”
I know some people are entirely unrealistic about their dreams. Others pursue their passions and fail. Yet I can't help but admire the courage it takes to find out. And that's why, increasingly, I believe your heart is a lighthouse you need to follow.