A friend of mine is currently experiencing a daily outbreak of bloodthirsty war over dinner. While scouring the horizon for jobs, as he will soon graduate with a degree in Maths from Bath University, he has bravely moved back in with his parents; a step which has apparently brought forth a multitude of difficulties and disagreements. Every evening, the three of them sit down warily at the table for dinner, and inevitably the conversation turns to my friend's job-searching. A bell resounds in the dining room, the dog whimpers under the table; the trouble begins.
The basic gist of this ongoing battle is that his Mum advises him to seek jobs he will enjoy doing, brushing off money as secondary. In the other corner of the ring is his Dad, emphasising salary first and foremost. The two of them bicker furiously about it, then sit glaring at each other across the table, violently stabbing food and chewing in mutinous silence.
Lets eliminate the myths
'Vocation' and 'avocation' are terms which are sometimes blurred by definition, but in essence, I understand it in today's world as a distinction between a career motivated by money or by passion. To me, this black-and-white separation of what a person wants to do against what they 'should' do seems not only old and stagnant, but also overly simplistic. In this blog, I wanted to examine and hopefully in some ways collapse this polarisation, perhaps dispelling a few arty myths along the way.
There is a commonly-held view that happiness comes from making a career directly out of one's passion. It may be surprising for an art student to say this, but actually, it may not necessarily be the case. Take first of all the many people who are passionate about making money: that particular objective value of success is what drives them. The salary at the end of it all enables them to bring passion and enthusiasm to a role that is not as scintillating as others that are worse-paid. Sometimes this type of job can also enrich passions outside of it: financially or mentally. Alfred Wallis, a fisherman in St Ives at the beginning of the 20th Century, made stunning paintings of his experiences and was incredibly influential on subsequent painters, despite having never had a formal art education. As he put it, his subjects were "what use To Bee out of my memery what we may never see again..." In that margin of time each day which we often seem keen to murder ('I'm just killing time') Wallis had made a legacy that the world would remember him by. Without his unique experiences as a fisherman, I doubt the paintings would have been as evocative and sensuous.
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Does everyone need to be passionate and successful?
Perhaps there is a difference between 'being passionate' and 'following a passion.' In their projection of different value systems, we must work with the assumption that my friend's parents both want him to be happy. Ultimately, there must be a level of introspection where he decides for himself how much he wants to commodify his passions: from my experience, assigning the pound sign can kill it stone cold flat. What does it mean to him to have a 'job', what does it mean to 'succeed', what person does he envisage himself being?
More in keeping with the emotionally-driven approach of your typical art student, I know that following one passion and seeing it through to the end for me is more fulfilling than anything. 'Passion' is becoming an increasingly elusive and muddled term each time I use it in this article, but in this context, I refer to childhood dreams; an obsession that you'll be mulling over while brushing your teeth or doing the washing up. Mark Zuckerberg said in a talk at Belle Haven Community School, 'If you actually do something you love it's a lot easier and takes on a lot more purpose'. At times it can be demoralising, upsetting, frustrating, or sleep-depriving, but I know it is how I want to spend my life, and that any time I spend on it is never time wasted (I certainly never want to kill it).
Passion over money?
The boyfriend of an artist friend studied Computer Science at Cambridge. She described him as the least materialistic person she'd ever met: he valued intellectual achievement and respect from his peers foremost, and salary was entirely secondary to him when looking for work. When I asked her why she thought that was, she replied that he had previously held a position earning bucket-loads of money, but found it thoroughly unfulfilling academically. Now he is happy, as he has understood not that passion is more important than money, but that for him, intellectual achievement is his idea of success. For others, it may be that compromising on material things for the sake of a passion is not enough, and they need a different type of freedom that comes from having lots of money. They want to be able to travel, for example, and sometimes enjoy a more sensible work/life balance. And of course, it is ok for these values to adapt as life goes on. Perhaps decisions motivated by passions early on in a career (seriously, what do we really have to lose?) will later adapt to more monetary values. Conversely, after working in highly paid positions, some of us may decide to follow inner desires later on in life.
Fulfilment is perhaps a better thing to aim for than passion. It suggests a tenacity to follow what deep down makes a person tick. Discover what you're really good at, and how to recognise and develop your skills.
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