Listening to most commencement speeches, at random, on You Tube, it’s apparent the most oft given advice is: do what you love; follow your heart; do what you are passionate about. No wonder so many newly minted graduates fumble about for some time, trying to figure out what it is they love.
For every graduate who knew since third grade she wanted to be a doctor, a policeman or a baker, there are ten times as many who have no clue what their professional path should be. My advice? Do what matters, what makes a difference. In the process, you might find what you love and fulfills you.
I left college hellbent working in music. It’s what I loved, it’s what mattered to me. I knew enough to know I possessed no musical talent so I focussed my energy in finding a job that would put my skills – whatever they might have been – to the service of those who had talent. I loved it. For a long while, until it took its toll and the negatives titled the balance towards wanting to move on.
Later, I found my inner baker. A bit by chance, and then by sheer will, I inched and burrowed a path in the culinary industry. I loved it. I learnt a skill I can replicate at a drop of a hat to freelance, or just to make my family happy. I loved it until two things happened: 1. the sheer physicality of the job stopped agreeing with my joints and 2. I stopped caring about spoiled Angelenos’ ridiculous food requests. Time to move on.
That is when I realized that doing what you love is not what you might need, in the long run. But doing what matters is. I love writing but I know full well I don’t have enough talent to make a living from it (and even with a lot of talent it is a hard proposition). I turned to what matters. To me but also to society. I ended up volunteering at a hospital. But it could just as easily have been working with dogs or in grassroots politics.
Over the last three years assisting patients and nurses, I learnt more than I ever could imagine. Which brings me to a further point: the ongoing process of learning go hand in hand with long-term satisfaction.
Somehow, again by sheer will and a bit of luck, I parlayed my three years of volunteering into a paying job, essentially doing what I already do in terms of supporting patients, their families and the nurses, combined with some administrative work. On December 18 I will be hanging my chef’s coat for good (mostly – I will still pop up in the culinary world from time to time) and don scrubs. I know I will love it enough to see me through the 12 hour shifts, the Christmas Day spent working and other inconveniences of being employed in health care. The elation will not come from a multimillion seller cd or the developing of a new recipe – the love will have nothing to do with riches, recognition or ego. It will stem from knowing that what I do, somewhere, to someone, matters.