When I was 18, I knew exactly which talent I wanted to pursue. My English teacher thought I’d probably go into art, rather than writing. Me? I wanted neither. All I wanted was to be on stage. A working actress. Not a movie star. Not the toast of Broadway. I’ve always been humble like that.
My goals have never been driven by money-earning-capacity or practicality. I’m not talented in any of the ways that attract septuple digits. I’m a creative.
Thank goodness, so is my mother.
I never had an expectation put on me to live in the “real” world. My mother was proud, but a little baffled, by me being so academically inclined (when she was 18, she spent most of her time at the beach, or dating the water polo team – one at a time, of course). Mom just wanted me to pursue what I was most interested in, a parenting choice made easier by being divorced. Dad’s maximum input was trying to drill his dyscalculia-cursed daughter on math equations in the car.
My 18-year-old sister Hannah reminds me so much of myself at her age. So talented in so many areas. Art, hooping, and this thing where she twirls a stick with fire lit on both ends. And she can pull the most amazing outfits together from the thrift store. She’s a brilliant writer (she interned for me one summer when she was 14 – I got her Hubspot Certified, it was fun), and, unlike me, she’s equally accomplished in the numbery and sciencey disciplines.
She can do anything. (This is the ‘gallery wall’ of her art in her room. She’d rather be provocative than pretty – a valuable quality in a young artist, I think).
And that is such a hard moment for a multipassionate. When the world asks you to choose. When there’s so much expectation put upon you to plan the rest of your life.
Perhaps the biggest difference between my sister and myself is that I was raised by a creative, and she has been raised by my father and step-mother, both of whom had the ideals of pragmatism beaten into them by their parents.
It’s a very different set of values. Making the most money possible is the highest achievement.
Whereas my measurement of success has always been what would make me the most interesting human being. (Jeez Mom, what were you thinking with that one?)
As Hannah is starting her first week of college, her parents and their new respective partners, and our 20-year-old sister, are all weighing in on what path she should choose.
Our 20-year-old sister told her to go into aerospace engineering because it will make the most money (that’s what she’s doing, with one eye on her textbook and one eye on a Louis Vuitton handbag).
Hannah, however, is thinking about going the pre-med path. She wants to be a doctor. Not for the money. (Dammit kid, be an artist!)
My father and his latest wife (who is a doctor) told her this is impractical. The education takes too long, it’s too expensive, she should set her sights lower, like on nursing.
(Every feminist brain cell in my head explodes.)
So I text my sister the advice I wish I’d had when I was the young recipient of all the great ideas others had for me.
I realize it’s tough to choose among so many talents. Forget the advice to follow your passion – we have too many of those. Follow curiosity, follow joy. Either one will lead to living an interesting life.
Don’t try too hard to plan. It’ll change, and it should. Explore, move toward things that bring you joy or spark that curiosity, and don’t limit yourself by what other people tell you is practical.
You’re an eagle among emus. They don’t understand how high you can soar.
Okay, that last line was to get a laugh out of her. But it’s true.
She’s a multipassionate creative surrounded by people who aren’t. And if she’s not getting their advice, she’s getting the equally piss-poor wisdom of “Follow your dreams! Follow your bliss! Follow your passion!” which is impossible when you have a million dreams, multiple blisses, and passions coming out your ears.
All of this advice – to go the practical route and make money, or to follow your bliss – it’s all given with the best of intent. But these rules don’t apply to us. We have to forge our own paths. And those paths will not be straight, but they will be scenic and worth the journey.
My sister texted back (because Millennials converse via text):
“Ah, that’s something I needed to hear. Too much talk about needing to pick the best major to make the most money and blah blah blah. Thank you.”
Sometimes I wonder what my 18-year-old self would think of my 33-year-old self. She’d be disappointed that the whole acting thing didn’t work out, but I’d explain that she’d never be happy with that much rejection in her life. Also, she wouldn’t be that skinny forever (but becoming a good cook makes up for this). But I think she would be proud that I’m living my life on my own terms, creating my own career, and not putting aside any one of my dreams, except for those that come with too high a price. Which is reasonable, I think.