What are we racing to?

Aaaaah to be a student. Yes, I know we are all students of life–that's what old people say. 🙂 But to be an enrolled student in higher education where the postponement of reality and the grappling with, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" is a full time job. Most students think they are the disadvantaged ones. They mistakenly envy those who are finished with their formal education. Students labor under the wrong assumption that they have no real influence over their futures and are mere pawns in the bigger chess game of the worldwide economic landscape.

Those of us who have graduated, know that the lucky ones are those still within the ivy covered walls. That being a student is one of the most powerful, invigorating, and creative times in one's life.

Youth is wasted on the young.  George Bernard Shaw

Perspective is everything.

I had a series of encounters with undergrads and grad students at two of my alma maters, UCLA and USC, where I recently led class discussions. Not sure I could be a full-time professor, but I have always enjoyed and gained from these interactions.

Those of us who have taught know that the future lies in these classrooms. That fertile minds and grand ambitions lurk behind those youthful eyes. Yet for obvious reasons, these students crave something they think those who have graduated have–certainty about their futures–a career. Ha!

The students discount their freedom, their options, their overall power to choose a path. They are often straddling what is prudent and rational (a stable job that provides a good living and what their parents have told them) and the interests and ideas that throb within them (their emerging passions and talents).

Inevitably, I am asked over and over again, in different versions and phrases–"How do you know? How do you know what the right path is?"Race car

One bright eyed and ambitious young man blurted out, "Is your passion within you or do you discover it?" This is a great question. And like all important questions, the answer is a resounding YES! 🙂

We underestimate what is within us–what is within others. Is is definitely within you, but you have to discover it too. You discover it by the friction you have with the world. The friction of taking chances and taking on challenges that interest you. By meeting people who are doing these things. By intellectually exploring these matters that seem to matter to your heart, mind and soul. By pushing yourself to new realms of understanding about the world and your role in it. By focusing on the growth not the gain. On the process not the promotion. On the wisdom not the wealth.

And how do you do this with a sense of urgency and not stress?

Most of us have discovered that finding THE Career is a fossilized artifact of the previous generation. Today, looking for a career must be replaced with finding oneself, then one's role.

The origin of career is basically a racecourse from the french and a wheeled vehicle from the latin. So it is like a NASCAR race. You go as fast as you can in circles trying to finish first but never getting anywhere.

Those of us who have learned this the hard way, including myself, know that you don't want a career but a vocation. Vocation literally means "calling". To find one's voice and spiritual path.

Back on my student's question. This is never a pursuit done in total solitude. It requires the power of connection and experience. To understand your suffering and the suffering of others. It is about the larger meaning of your life. It demands a network of opportunities and a mentor or three. It requires you to follow your ideas and interests that emerge as your passions. By listening to the voices within you, you will hear the whispers of your calling. You ignore these voices at your peril.

Passion is an itch that needs to be scratched and never goes away. It feels good when scratched but just persists. It is not just the source of joy but the source of great discomfort. That is what surprises people. They are looking for happiness and they find passion and passion is not pure joy, it is the essence of your life. It usually is triggered by the needs of others. And all needs are painful. Passion is discovering who you are and what is your purpose.

Being in front of students, I am reminded of the opportunity that is within all of us to discover who we are. To respond to our inner desire to help others and become the best we can be. I want to keep the student within me alive (the secret formula for eternal youth:).  So I can steer my vocational vehicle along a path paved with passion instead of doing circular laps in a career racecar.

Where are you going?

Thanks for reading. John

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