Lately, this subject has been occupying my mind: my passions, other peoples' passions, how they affect the way we live, and how they should be affecting the way we live. These last few years have been interesting, during which time I've been forced to reevaluate what is most important to me, and to realize what I am most passionate about. My method for doing so has, for the most part, been observing others. I've been watching and listening to everything around me, for some kind of a glimpse of what makes people so passionate about what they do; or not, and why.
So many people in the United States today hate their jobs. I've seen it in family, friends, and complete strangers. Americans are over-worked in jobs that they hate, making them only hate their jobs more, and building stress levels to inexplicable levels, which only creates more problems for them. Living "the American dream" is just not what it used to be. Americans don't just want to make a living to sustain their families. They want to make a difference. They want to live to work. So, how does one find something that they can be passionate about over a period long enough to give them the time to find the resources they need to pursue that passion while making a decent living? For someone, like myself, who has found a deep-seeded, long-lasting passion in something as economically unstable as classical piano performance, it seems like an impossibility.
I've recently observed the "rise and fall" of a passion in a close friend of mine, which has taken my curiosity. This friend, let's called him/her "Sam," for practical purposes, was passionate about...let's call it... "olives". [I work well with food analogies.] So, Sam loved olives. Sam wanted to have a hand in every part of the olive-tending process. He grew his own olives, he picked them, was a very talented cook with olives, and made a daily snack of tapenade, which he had produced on his own land, in Greece. He had big ideas for the "future" of olives and how olives would change people's lives and make the world a better place, in the long run. He shared several of his fascinating and innovative "future-of-olives" inventions, which I agreed truly would make peoples' lives better. Talking about olives with Sam was what drew me to him, and led me to be such good friends with him in the first place. I loved his passion. I loved his creativity. One day, Sam was offered a high-paid position at an olive farm. It was his dream-come-true. He started work, loving his job, thinking how lucky he was to have landed such a great job. He met all kinds of other young people, like himself, who were passionate about olives and filled with more great, new ideas. Talking with Sam about olives was entertaining and engaging because Sam knew his stuff, and he loved his stuff.
After a few months working at the olive farm, Sam began to grow tired of working there. He missed his own olive trees, and his brilliant ideas for the "betterment of the world by olives" were sitting motionless in the back of his mind, while he mechanically went about doing his job. More and more, Sam began to realize that this olive job was just not for him. And more and more, Sam began to think that perhaps olives were not really for him at all. Sam eventually got out of the olive business to pursue another interest of his. Within six months, Sam entered a new field. He became a "park ranger, in America". This job paid much less, but was more exciting and rewarding, as Sam saw it. He started a new life for himself, and is content...for now.
After watching "Sam's" passion lead him in one direction, only for him to end up somewhere completely different, I have to wonder, 'Is it worth it to pursue one's passion to an extreme as Sam did, risking every ounce of enthusiasm he had for olive-tending, and losing it all? Or should one find a job from an interest that is not fueled by the fire of passion, but could lead to a content life in the long-run?' Should I be searching for a "content" life, or a passionate life, regardless of the risk involved? It's hard to say. There's certainly something to be said for taking a chance, and pursuing one's passions, and sticking with something until the end. But, if you lose, is that loss worse than the merely "content" life you would have to lead otherwise, had you not taken that chance and risked your passion?
Take, for example, Billy Joel. This is a man who is clearly passionate about what he does. He has a lot of talent, and a love for music, as he does music. He is an older man, but his passion provides a certain sex-appeal that cannot be replicated, even by those with younger, or naturally more appealing features. It's his passion that drives people to him. It was "Sam's" passion for "olives" that drew me in. I wish I could just find that "Billy Joel" kind of passion, and stray away from the "Sam" type. I want to make a good "investment" with my passions. And, I want to change the world, as is so stereotypical of my generation.
Was my decision to not pursue music in college a good one? I highly doubt that I would have made it in any kind of a performance career, which is what I would have wanted most from that. Although the passion is there, I think I would most likely find that my skills are not honed enough and I would not be able to compete with the incredible talents around me in a music conservatory. Had I followed that dream of mine, would I have inevitably met failure, only to lose the passion that I feel most strongly about, as "Sam" did? Or would I have found a different path, keeping my fire alive, and leading a happy, healthy life? I cannot know for sure. All I know is that I let my fear of losing a passion guide my decision when I chose to attend this college, and my passion is still with me. I know, and have accepted that I will never be a great concert pianist, or any concert pianist, probably, at that. Yet, every time I sit down at a piano, I feel calm, and collected, as though I have my act together, even when I clearly do not. Every time I look into the eyes of a listener, or I saw my dad asleep on the couch while I played, I've felt peaceful and happy. I can vividly imagine myself sitting on stage at Carnegie Hall, playing to thousands of listeners. It is a fantasy that is so real to me, I can smell the mustiness of the hall, hear the deafening silence of the room as my heels click on the hard-wood floor to the piano bench. And because I refuse to risk it, I will always have that fantasy.
Will I find something that I am just as passionate about to pursue? Have I already found that? And with that new-found passion, will I forget about the old? Will my dreams of playing at Carnegie fade into a new dream, that is just as vivid, or even close to being as crystal clear in my mind? Are these questions, like so many, ones which I will never find answers to?