There is a video that is making its rounds on Facebook at the moment http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nif01WZ9aI
It asks the question ‘what would you do if money didn’t matter?’ Having posted it on my own Facebook page I began to think about the things that get in the way of daring to following our passions. My initial response was based on my experience of leaving my chemistry career behind following my first postdoctoral research fellowship. I worked in a retreat centre for four years. Now that I have returned to chemistry those years have become the ‘hidden years’. More importantly though, I know without doubt, that if I was faced with exactly the same choice now I would find it more difficult to make.
I would find it more difficult because I have more to lose now. I have begun the painstaking process of building my chemistry career. Slowly beginning to publish my own work, slowly gathering experience in postgraduate supervision, slowly becoming known in that microcosm of society. When I chose to walk away 10 years ago, I had nothing of that. I had not yet grown into being a chemist, I was still just doing chemistry. It wasn’t really a part of my identity. Beyond that I have a mortgage now, I am paying into a pension fund and those kinds of financial considerations are not trivial. I can no longer carry all my possessions in a single backpack. Choosing to leave all this behind feels less simple.
For others, the choice may be further complicated by having dependents. People who rely on their capacity to earn within a particular financial bracket; people who will be emotionally impacted by choosing a path which appears to be substantially less certain. So for those who are older, it is more complicated.
But then it occurred to me that one of the joys of getting a little older is that it begins to matter less what other people may think. I have certainly begun to realise that other people really don’t care what I do (unless it is food for serious gossip). My good friends don’t treat me any differently now that I am an academic, than when I was a spiritual director or a teacher. When we are younger we tend to be far more invested in what people think. Whether it is to comply with expectations or to react against them is irrelevant, the presence of the ‘expectations’ still have a substantial influence on what we choose.
The point is this, there is never really a time where making the choice to follow one’s passion is easy. It will always require a leap of faith. The only thing which steadies the heart is the recognition that to choose anything else would be to fail to truly live. Following one’s passion may not be a straight line, it may end up leading one right back to where one began. The destination is far less important than being able to look myself in mirror each day and to say I believe that I am where I am meant to be for today.
Regardless of the challenges involved in making these kinds of choices, the benefit of pursuing one’s passion seems to far outweigh the pain involved. I am privileged to know a fair number of people who have had the courage to take the leap of following that deep inner call (after a sensible period of soul searching to determine if this is actually the pearl of great price!). Most of them have struggled a fair bit along the way, but there is not one among them who seriously regrets making that choice.