In April 2014 the New York Times published two articles by Nicholas Kristof (here’s one, here’s the other) about the life and untimely death of a remarkable young woman, Marina Keegan, who graduated from Yale and wrote about searching for meaning in life, and the conflict people often experience between passion and pragmatism in plotting their careers.
We often think of this as a young adult’s dilemma, but I’ve treated people across the age spectrum in my psychotherapy practice who question the choices they have made.
Maybe it’s a woman in her fifties who went to law school to please her parents and become a high-earning corporate lawyer, but hates her job and wishes she had pursued her passion for writing.
Or it’s a young musician who is passionate about playing jazz, but has no financial stability, health insurance, or even enough disposable income to go on dates.
Charting a course that enables one to live a satisfying adult life with autonomy and verve requires balancing pragmatism and passion, as well as knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.
Do you have to be passionate about your career, or is it enough to enjoy the work and achieve the satisfaction of supporting yourself financially and funding pursuits, causes, and hobbies that you find meaningful?
These questions have driven some people into therapy, where they may want me to tell them what to do.
But my job is to help them with their thinking, assess whether their goals are realistic—I think of the woman who planned to pursue a career as a professional poet. If their thinking and goals are realistic, I help them formulate a strategy to achieve their goals, and deal with whatever gets in the way.
If their thinking and goals are not realistic, we have plenty of work together to develop their relationship with reality.
What are your thoughts about the passion or pragmatism balance in the world of work?
What choices have you made?
Feel free to leave comments below.
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Diane Spear, LCSW-R, owns a private practice in the Union Square/East Village area of Manhattan (New York City). She specializes in anxiety, depression, couples, and parenting treatment, and has been helping people find the joy in everyday life since 1995. She is accepting new patients. To learn more about Diane’s approach to treatment, click here.