Passion: a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something — http://www.merriam-webster.com
I like passion. I mean, is that weird? Doesn’t everyone like to feel enthusiastic and excited about what they do? As a parent, I like it when my kids are engaged in activities they feel passionate about. In fact, a major focus of my homeschooling style has been to help my kids find their passions, and to nurture them.
Then I read this New York Times article by Lisa Heffernan called Our Push for ‘Passion,’ and Why It Harms Kids. Harms kids? Have I been harming my kids?
The piece is good food for thought, and I don’t disagree with much of what the author says. Seems like passion has become a buzzword of sorts, the latest trick for getting into the college of your choice and embarking on a happily-ever-after life of achievement and success.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been blissfully homeschooling all these years, but I missed that memo. I still think of passion as that feeling of excitement, the one that drives you to work, to experiment, to try, to learn, and as a result, to grow. I get what Heffernan is saying about “passion pushers,” but supporting kids when they show an interest in something isn’t the same as pushing. There’s a fine line, you may say, and I agree. I found that when I miscalculated and crossed it, I got the back off, Mom message loud and clear from my kids.
Like the writer of the article, my garage and attic are full of stuff. There are the unicycles my kids used to constantly ride, the juggling clubs my son enjoyed for a couple of years, and remnants of his former obsession with birding and nature photography. The cast-off stuff isn’t limited to the kids. There’s also the tandem bicycle my husband bought when he used to bike our daughters around town, the Italian tapes I purchased when I decided to learn the language, and a bunch of camping gear that we don’t use very much anymore. To me, these things are evidence of the rich, full lives we are fortunate enough to lead. The fact that my son no longer juggles or takes pictures of birds doesn’t take anything away from the value those activities added to his life while he was doing them. The fact that the unicycles are currently collecting dust in no way diminishes the joy (not to mention exercise) they gave my daughters during the time they were riding them all over the neighborhood.
My kids have cycled through a lot of passions. Besides the aforementioned unicycling, juggling, birding, and nature photography, there were Legos, mustelids, basketball, soccer, fantasy novels, jazz, folk music, psychology, politics, neuroanatomy, Shakespeare, Moby-Dick, and theater.
Sometimes my kids pursue their passions like rocks along the stream of life, hopping from one to the next with glee, and sometimes they hold steady to one or two, making them roots from which to grow the rest of their lives. If pursuits are abandoned, some might think, then they’re not really passions. I disagree, because here’s the thing about passion. It’s about the present, not the future. It’s about learning and embracing in the moment. Sometimes that leads to the formation of long-term goals, and sometimes it doesn’t. In order to avoid becoming one of the “passion pushers” Heffernan describes, that’s something we parents have to accept. Quitting happens, and it doesn’t necessarily signal wasted time or effort.
How else to avoid pushing? Value the process, not the product. Expose your kids to plenty of subjects and activities, but don’t jump every time you perceive an interest — if they really want to pursue something, they’ll let you know. Perhaps most importantly of all, be a model, and live your own life with passion.