Saturday, June 4, 2011
How are you, NIP?
I’m well, but the end of the school year certainly has been busy. Last night, in fact, was the graduation ceremony for the DHS class of 2011. This class—and the seniors I had the opportunity to teach particularly—will be greatly missed. While there is still one final week for exams, it hasn’t been the same since the seniors left. The class dynamic changed tremendously and even the underclassmen in my APHG course have noticed the difference their presence made. For the culminating Cultural Friday Activity with the seniors a week ago, I chose to play the song “Cartoon Showroom” by dredg. It’s a great metaphor for life, and while speaking to the students after the song I emphasized the following lyrics: “Keep moving, onward. Run through that open door.” And while this notion worked well for the situation the seniors were facing, it also made sense for the underclassmen who will be carrying on in their studies at the high school level next year. But this notion could be extrapolated to fit anyone in any life situation, including you, NIP.
Life is all about progress. I don’t mean that in the abstract sense, but in a concrete one. Life inevitably moves forward with or without our consent, so why not embrace the changes as they appear? Are we all not better served by accepting what life gives us rather than trying to unnaturally force an outcome which may only hinder our personal growth? Life seems to give us what we need; when we go against the grain, it is often in an effort to get what we think we want or deserve. Often in that pursuit, however, we miss out on the opportunities that are all around us. After listening to the song, I told the students the best results often come by taking advantage of every single opportunity life offers us. When we successfully move through one “open door,” we often find another one waiting. Sometimes there are even myriad opportunities presented to us, and by making the best choices and pursuing our passion(s) we will constantly be moving “onward.”
If you’ve been reading these letters for a while, NIP, you know how important I believe passion is. The last message I tried to convey to my seniors is that they must follow their hearts, not their heads. Pursue passions, not practicalities. I’m sure some people may doubt this advice, because we live in a society that often counsels prudence. We downplay our passions thinking that they are a frivolous mean that won’t lead to a preconceived end. But that’s where a great many people err. By relentlessly pursuing our passion, life and our place within it will be maximized. When we focus on practicality first, though, we often become anesthetized to life; it becomes dull and we have difficulty extracting meaning from our everyday existence. This is not the case when we let passion take the lead. I think the reason for this is due to the undercurrent the passion creates within our lives. It buoys and sustains us and will always foster a sense of well-being, equanimity, and, most importantly, happiness. Moreover, by placing primacy on our passions, the practicalities will take care of themselves.
Take me, for instance. When I went to college I had no idea what I wanted to do with a degree or even what that degree would be. I saw (and still see) education primarily as an opportunity to discover who I was as a person and to improve upon it in some way. This is probably due to the fact that my overwhelming passion is for learning. I love learning and this love led me to study in many different departments: Religious Studies, Philosophy, English, and Classics. And while my sojourn at the University of South Florida was exceptionally rewarding, I was only beginning to nurture the seed of passion that had been planted by my experiences in there. It was the impetus to an unbridled passion for learning that I hadn’t noticed was there until I allowed it to flow freely in an uninhibited manner. In the end, however, I discovered that by instinctively following my passion it took care of the practical ends of life. Sure, I graduated with no idea of what I was going to do with two liberal arts degrees, but I trusted myself and my passion and it led me to teaching. Now that I’ve been teaching for nearly a decade, I can easily attest that I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s my dharma, my vocation. And it is directly related to my passion.
If we follow our passion, we find fulfillment. I can only hope that my seniors go on to follow their passions. Each of them has incredible gifts, talents, and strengths, and I ardently hope each one will nurture and grow them by following his or her heart. I’m sure some of them have doubts about what the future holds, as just about anyone at that age is bound to do. But I hope they don’t sacrifice their passion for practicality; I have seen too many people—family and friends included—who have done so and then feel trapped in a personal rut later on in life because they weren’t true to who they really wanted to be. Just yesterday, in fact, I told one of my juniors this very same advice. She loves to sing and has an amazing voice. She said she sings all the time; in the car, around her house, whenever she has the opportunity, really. I was surprised to hear her say that she isn’t going to pursue it, though, because she “needs to be realistic.” This is exactly the mistake many people make. Chasing after our passion incessantly can be realistic when taken in the proper perspective. I told the very same student that she should make singing her focus if she truly loves it. We never know where the “open doors” will take us; perhaps she’ll audition for American Idol one day and become a huge talent, or maybe she’ll become a chorus teacher, or a voice coach, or any one of a hundred possibilities her passion may lead her toward. As long as we allow our passion(s) to be the compass of our soul, our lives will always bear true north and bring us fulfillment.
While this letter is dedicated to the graduating class of 2011 in general and to my seniors in particular, I hope that it sheds light on your situation also, NIP. If you’ve ignored your passion for too long, perhaps it is time to reconnect with it. You’ll probably find that life moves in a more meaningful direction and possibly even become more positive about life in the process. And as a final note to the seniors who do read this—and to you as well, NIP—I felt it would be apropos to conclude with one of my favorite quotes by Henry David Thoreau; it sums up quite nicely what I have tried to convey with this letter:
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
Keep pursuing your passion(s), NIP/2011 Seniors.