Purpose, passion and related motifs

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my middle daughter graduating high school yesterday and us leaving today for her to register for college in Nebraska, I seem to have been hearing a lot about purpose lately. For me, purpose is shorthand for “What do you really want to be when you grow up?” I’ve told my kids for years that I still don’t know the answer to that question. And that’s far more true than one might believe.

But trying to answer that question seems more difficult as time goes on. One of the things I think makes it difficult is passion, or a lack of it. It seems that some or all passions have a tendency to burn themselves out. At least that’s been my experience and I preume/hope that it is more common than unique.

When I first started writing for newspapers a few decades ago, it was in sports. I truly had a passion for it. My greatest desire was to be a sportswriter or sports editor. Today, sports largely bore me, except for girls volleyball and hockey, two sports to which my first exposure came in the last decade.

After several years writing sports, a college compatriot I admired led me to a passion for political and government affairs reporting. I grew to love it and wanted nothing more than to be a political reporter. I accomplished that goal and ending up covering presidential campaign appearances, the state legislature and political campaigns. Today, I largely abhor politics and the state of political discourse.

Political/public affairs reporting did, though, lead me to an interest in the law, a field with which I unquestionably have a love-hate relationship. I’ve had the opportunity to practice in areas I enjoyed and had a strong and caring group of partners for support. Yet nearly 21 years into the profession, the flame of passion has greatly diminished for certain practice areas and for a variety of reasons.

But what’s a 50-year-old guy with one kid in college, one starting in the fall and another starting in three years going to do? While it would be tempting to follow other passions, that tain’t necessarily feasible. I certainly don’t think I can survive writing book reviews. In fact, if you note, even though that combines two of my favorite things — reading books and writing — some of that desire has burned out a bit.  Reading a book you’re going to review just isn’t the same as reading a book for the pure joy of it.

Still, consistent with my avowed new attitude, I am pursuing what I hope becomes a new passion. Late last year, our law firm decided to develop a practice in a field of law in which we have never really been involved. I volunteered to be the point man and learn what I am finding to be an arcane, extremely broad and highly complex specialty. Is it courage, foolishness or simply part of a search for passion? Still, there aren’t very many places where someone can strike off on and explore an entirely new direction after 20 years on the job and be supported in doing so.

I think I’m learning that if passion starts to fade, you can’t sit and bemoan that, something I have had a tendency to do. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up — but I’m also starting to think a flame of passion is being ignited in this new endeavor. So, it certainly doesn’t bother me when my kids say they haven’t figured out their vocation or purpose.  I think the underlying message is to do what you love — until you find something you love more.

“Maturity,” Bokonon tells us, “is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

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