I’ll be honest, readers, I’m the type of person who is easily invited to stand atop a soapbox and can rant ad nauseam on various topics with the best of them. (After all, if this blog proves nothing else, it demonstrates that I’m rarely without an opinion and not terribly shy about sharing it.) So you can imagine that when a dear friend posted a link on her Facebook feed that led to a blog posting entitled “Screw Finding Your Passion,” I was intrigued.
(The full article can be found here, readers, but please note that I have given it a PG-13 rating for strong language; govern yourselves accordingly.)
What really resonated with me in the blog was the following:
“Really, what is so wrong with working an OK normal job with some cool people you like, and then pursuing your passion in your free time on the side? Has the world turned upside-down or is this not suddenly a novel idea to people?”
As someone who works closely with teenagers who are both in the midst of determining exactly what their passions are (though since I work specifically with young equestrians, many have already found it) and what role said passion should play in their futures, both in terms of where (and how) they will educate themselves after high school and then later on when it comes time to pursue a career path, you better believe that the questions above are ones I grapple with daily.
Students (and their parents) typically choose to work with me because they love the sport of riding so much that they want to continue with it at the college level in some capacity and want me to help them find the right fit school. (I highlight the phrase “in some capacity” because some students desire a place on a college team, others want to find a school that will allow flexibility to accommodate their outside competition schedules, and still others want to find the best way to pursue a career in the equine industry.) These kids are passionate about all things horse – they muck stalls and do feedings and braid and volunteer and mentor and perform a host of other challenging tasks just in an effort to be near horses. They sweat in the summer, freeze in the winter, do their homework during lengthy commutes to and from the barn after school, miss typical teenage milestones like prom and Homecoming, and forgo opportunities to pursue other sports or clubs so they can spend their precious free time perfecting their line to the next jump or doing endless conditioning trot sets.
It isn’t what they do; it’s who they are.
And they’re kids so they’re doing exactly what they should be: discovering what they love to do and throwing themselves into it one hundred percent. It’s something gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment and teaches them life skills they’ll use later on. The problem presents itself when it comes time to transition into adulthood and the simple advice to “follow your passion” becomes an all-encompassing mantra that is supposed to somehow magically provide a path to career success and ultimate life fulfillment…
Because that’s the thing about pursuing your passion that no one talks about, readers: It’s hard work. It’s really hard work with no assured outcome.
I see this conflict present itself the most with students who desire a career as professional riders and trainers. They want to be the next Boyd Martin, McClain Ward, Beezie Madden, or Laura Graves. They want to ride great horses in exciting venues, win major competitions, and secure wealthy sponsors. They want a USET patch on their jacket and Olympic gold medals in their trophy cases. In short, they want to achieve the ultimate goal of many young riders – they want the pursuit of their passion to result in triumph. But the thing about being a famous rider that no one really talks about is the trade-off that goes with becoming one.
The moment a person pursues a particular passion in life as a means by which he or she makes a living, that passion is forever altered. No longer is it something that merely gives a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride, and an outlet from everything else that’s going on in life (homework, school drama, the stress of the college search) but instead is now the sole method by which food appears on the table, gas appears in the tank of the car, and heat is kept on in the chill of winter. It’s the monetization of one’s passion and it isn’t to be entered into lightly.
I often ask students how much they’re willing to sacrifice for their passion if they enter the ranks of the professional equestrians. Will they ride anything (and I mean anything)? Will they sleep in a tack room to save rent money? Wear their breeches down to threads and drive a beater car? Are they willing to pack up their entire lives and move across the country (or the ocean) for an opportunity? Will they sell their beloved junior mount to have the funds to pursue additional training or secure a talented prospect? Can they skip Christmas and vacations with their family to take care of the barn and its inhabitants? Because that’s what pursuing passion as career means – it means putting one’s goals and dreams ahead of comfort. It means getting up and getting on the first horse and the second and the third, etc. every single morning rain or shine, cold or hot, sick or well. It means using every single second in the saddle to get better by mere fractions because if you aren’t, you can be quite certain that your competitors are and they’ll prove it the next time you see them.
In short, combining passion and career is possible – but it comes at both a monetary cost and a personal one.
As the blog entry I cited at the beginning of this piece points out, there seems to be a particularly pervasive idea out there that if you have an all-consuming passion, you must find a way to make it into a career or you’ll never be happy and, as a result, some people make themselves miserable in the pursuit. Personally, I blame the monetization factor – the one that (remember) no one talks about. Your passion is supposed to make you happy (which is why it’s your passion in the first place!) so if you equate happiness to making millions every year and never having a single day of difficulty or doubt or dealing with problem people or situations, you’re probably in for a rude awakening sooner rather than later – especially if you want to be an equine professional!
If, however, you equate happiness to working every day at something that challenges and fulfills you and dedicating your life to the pursuit of your goals no matter what difficulties you must address along the way, if you choose the only career path that you can see yourself on regardless of income potential, you’ll be successful. If that’s a career in the horse industry, go for it without fear or regret. After all, it’s who you are, not what you do.
And if you’re in the other camp, the one where your sole goal is to make enough money and earn enough vacation days to spend every waking free hour at the barn or at competitions on your own horse and having fun, that’s okay too. You can be the kind of passionate horse person who rides the horse when you want and stays home when you don’t want to. You can be the kind of passionate horse person who loves the release that the sport gives you from the other stresses in your life and the kind of passionate horse person who doesn’t ride for money, but instead for love.