Avoiding lives of ‘quiet desperation’

Maybe it’s the weather.   A day of spring sunshine is followed by miserable cold and rain and although it isn’t snow, it is bone-chilling.   Or maybe it’s the fact that quarterly reports were due this week which is kind of a drag.     Quite possibly it has to do with the fact that every time I open the paper, I am confronted with another effort on the part of the powers that be in Congress to cut funding for the arts and to remove protection from wildlife and their environments (such as in the Everglades) because such protection makes it difficult for industry to fully exploit our natural resources.   Or maybe it’s reading about the sharp rise in the number of people who  have spent so much on college that they will still be paying off those loans when their own children are of age;  or that according to Deanne Loonin, a lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center who works with people who have defaulted on loans and who was quoted in the NY Times on Monday, “About two thirds of the people I see attended for profits (colleges); most did not complete their program; and no one I have worked with has ever gotten a job in the field they supposedly trained for.”   (those italics are mine)

Or maybe it was reading in the Education Life section of today’s Times about the Top 10 Fastest Growing Careers, complete with expected salary, appearing just ahead of a long article about how students consider getting a degree in Business so boring that they do just enough to skate by – and this is the most popular major in the U.S. at present.

In other words, the entire section is about choosing a career based not on what you love to do – based not on following your passion or your talent, but based on how much you can make and how little (or how much) you will need to do to get there.   Oh, and how the most sought after major in the U.S. is also the one that requires the least effort and is the most boring.

How’s that for inspiration?   It’s no wonder Justin Bieber (oh god, I can’t believe I’m actually talking about Justin Bieber) is so popular.   Or, on a slightly lesser scale, American Idol or America’s Got Talent.   I think it’s because Justin and the American Idol singers and the people on Got Talent are passionate about what they are doing.    Despite the best efforts of many people over the last century, we are not automatons and we are inspired by people who may not be the best at what they do, but at least they are passionate about something.    How awful is it to believe that your only chance for a decent life is to do exactly as you’re told, even if you hate it, and then sit and choose a life’s work based on a completely clinical analysis of job sector growth and projected income?   It brings to mind Thoreau’s quote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”    So we live vicariously through those people who have the guts to sing, or at least to try.

Reading about the state of our country and the role of education in it can be disheartening to say the least, for all the reasons I mentioned above.  (except the weather, which has nothing to do with any of it but contributes to my general bad humor), so where do I turn to feel better?    If we hadn’t discovered life learning, the story might be different, but as it stands my kids are the best medicine.   Their entire lives are about following their passions, even if those passions change from month to month (which at their age they almost always do).     Right now for Maya it’s making and editing videos, and for Ben it can be imaginary dramas involving Lego warriors, or working for hours on pastel drawings.    There is no quiet desperation here – no songs being left unsung.

My hope is that my kids will always follow their passions and inspire others to do the same.

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