Comfort or Passion?

Left dangling as I am over the edge of the adult world of employment, I find myself thinking a lot these days about the future, and about my priorities in life.

It all comes down to the question of happiness. Having been raised in an upper-middle class home, and being someone who generally enjoys pleasing aesthetics, good food, and the arts, I find it hard to imagine being happy in life without having sufficient money to be comfortably well off – to indulge in little luxuries, to have a beautiful home. I came to a decision a few years ago that I needed stability in my life, that I couldn’t bear the thought of not having a stable income. It’s not that I have any aspirations to have a super-high-paying job – and indeed, the life choices I have made so far haven’t exactly set me up for that lifestyle. But a stable career – a career in which I would be sure to make a certain amount.

But over the last year, something of the truth of life has struck me. And that truth is: life is really, really short. It is starting to seem to me that hours spent every day on something that I am less than passionate about are precious hours wasted in a short lifespan. I acknowledge that being able to turn a passion into a career is not something that is possible for everyone. But surely, at the age of 23, I should not yet be giving up on it.

I think the problem is that I have always been afraid to actually sit down and do the things I think I passionately want to do. Perhaps it is a fear of failure – a fear of not being able to achieve what I hope to achieve. When I was a child, I expected to have my first novel written before I turned 20 – but 20 came and went, and all I’d managed were some 3,000 words on a story that didn’t feel like it was going anywhere.

And following your passion is not easy. I am well aware that attempting a career as a writer or as an academic could lead to relative hardship, difficulty in acquiring a publishing contract or a position in a university, and potentially not enough money to be as comfortable in life as I might wish. But really, what should be more important to me? Should I really give up on my dreams before I even attempt to turn them into a reality, all just to avoid stress and acquire a stable income before I’m 25?

I am a qualified librarian now. I may not have as much work experience as may be needed to find a job in this environment, but I could very feasibly move into an internship and from there into a paid position in the next couple of years. And could potentially work in this company or area for the rest of my working life. It would make the other areas of my life easier – my social life, money issues, buying a house and raising a family in about 10 years’ time.

But would it make me happy?

Would I be satisfied with my life?

I’m not sure that I would be. And yet – I find it difficult to start doing those things about which I might become passionate. I have done some writing, and I have thought about my area in English literature and started playing with an idea. But it feels difficult, like wading through mud. And I think – will it get easier? Or is this really how it would be if I stuck to this path? A constant uphill struggle with my passions in life.

But the alternative looks less and less appealing to me. I’m not ready to settle for less in my life.

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18 thoughts on “Comfort or Passion?

  1. Nice post. These are important questions. I have found that they don’t go away with income, success, travel, etc. You might get busy and they get pushed aside, but the questions remain. All we can do is learn to enjoy the struggle, to love it and embrace it. Okay, that is a little of my backwards hoser wisdom.

    Good luck with your decisions.

    Here is a nice quote from Charles Buckowski (sorry it’s a little long):

    “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

    • That’s a wonderful quote, thanks! I think you’re right, learning to enjoy the struggle is probably the only route to happiness. The important thing is that we do engage with the struggle, I guess!

    • That would strike fear in my heart, but then I’m still very young so I know I’m safe enough still! 🙂 But you’re right, I can imagine that would be so – and I would hate to find myself in that position in the future.

  2. I say why not. There’s no safe path these days- all the traditional paths – education, work, career, family, house, retirement – they didn’t exist anymore or there is no especial surety in them. You can tick all the boxes, pay your dues and walk the line and still end up living in a tent outside Fresno just as much as any meth-head or washout. You may as well do what you want to do because the risk is just the same.

    • You’re right, Seb – that’s something that has struck me recently, too. Five years ago I might have walked out of this Masters and into a career, but there are no such guarentees today. If it’s going to be a struggle anyway, I might as well struggle with my passions! Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  3. Okay, Aine. Are there considerations other than your own comfort to consider? Do you have children, for example? Does any other person’s welfare and happiness depend on what your choice is? If the answer is “No”, carry on. Vicktor Frankl said that the only paths to a successful life were total devotion to either a life’s work or complete devotion to the care of another person. I’m seventy years old, and I have come to agree after a lifetime of combining the two. Each provided the opportunity to feel that I was doing something significant and productive, and each gave me great joy in return.

    • Wonderful words as always, George. And no – I have no dependents, it’s all my own welfare I’m taking into my hands. It’s wonderful that you’ve manage to achieve both in your life. I hope to have children some day, and I’ve always imagined that that would be an equally meaningful experience, but I think I also would like to do both if possible. Thank you for your encouragement, it means a lot!

  4. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that life takes us on the most unexpected paths and sometimes the things you think you want turn out to be less important than what you wind up doing. That said, I think it’s important to explore your dreams and passions and do your part to forge your own part of the path; just remember there are infinite ways to get to the end.

    I really hope this doesn’t sound obnoxious, I just want to share my optimism that you can and will find your path. You definitely sound like you have the passion and perseverance to do it. Good luck to you and enjoy the ride, because that is part of the fun!

    • Thanks Sam, that’s an interesting perspective – but that’s the thing about life, isn’t it, that it’s impossible to predict how anything will make you feel or turn out. But it’s nice to be reminded that there are many paths to happiness! Thank you so much for your kind words, I wish the same to you. 🙂

  5. Not an easy dilemma to solve, but I admire your willingness to explore and, perhaps, deviate from the path you started out on. Even though I have no proof of it yet, I still hold to the belief that doing what you love will reap returns eventually. Wish you the best on your path to happiness…

  6. It’s funny Áine, I’m at least 15-years further along the same path, in a sense (everyone’s path is different of course) and I still think about these questions all the time. Security verus passion, and also the other area you raise, that of tangible achievement. I’ve written film scripts and short film scripts -a few of the later made into films, although with no big splash- as well as dozens of articles on history and architecture published, hundreds of short film reviews, interviews, travel and even humorous pieces, as well as two half novels, 75% of a huge history book and a book for children in Dublin. I still don’t feel as if I am even remotely “there” as a writer, neither in terms of vocation, nor achievement, quality of writing or or accomplishment. And certainly not in terms of security. I earn most of my money from teaching (every morning, it helps keep me sane) and then write afternoons and evenings. Sometimes i wonder, if I did have children, what would I change? I would certainly have to earn more money, which might mean teaching full time, for example. Even more painfully, (here is a little thought experiment) .. I wonder what would I advice them, these hypothetical children I mean. So many artists, musicians and writers live in relative penury, and it’s difficult to live with real style and dignity if you are broke. Grand if you’re young and child-free, not so cool otherwise. So what would I tell them? I really don’t know. Unless you are JK Rowling, I doubt these questions ever go away. But as one of your commenters above rightly says, you don’t have to worry about this too much at the moment, you can work part-time and write and see what happens. I wish you the very best with it. Very good post. Arran.

    • I’ve always suspected that it might be difficult to arrive at a point of feeling satisfied with your output as any kind of artist. Your lifestyle sounds perfect to me! But yes, you ask very pertinent questions. Hopefully it’ll become more clear with time, and with more writing.

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