I remember this time in my life in vivid detail. Rewind five years, and you would find little, anxious Annie, facing her last few weeks of high school. In many ways, I had it easy. I had been accepted early decision to Bryn Mawr, a school I knew I would love. So, my college of choice had already been clear for months. But I still had my concerns. If the college application process had taught me anything, it was that, by that point in my life, I was expected to know what my passion was. This was the thing we were supposed to highlight in our college applications. Passion, after all, is what sets students apart in the sea of applications thrown in front of admissions committees. "What are you about?", these applications ask. "What do you love to do, more than anything else in your life?" In all honesty, I don't remember how I answered those sorts of questions in my Bryn Mawr admissions essay. I was accepted, so I suppose it must have been satisfactory. But truthfully? I had no idea what I was passionate about then.
I mean, I knew what I liked to do. I sang a lot (see photo). I certainly liked books a lot more than parties. But passion? I had nothing that "set my heart on fire", or any of the other metaphors you hear about the ideal life pursuit. I didn't feel most "myself" doing one particular thing. In fact, I had once prided myself on my ability to be content with most activities. Make me try something new, I'll find something to like about it. That was my philosophy. But once I started the college search, it quickly became clear that I had the wrong attitude. I had to show dedication, motivation, heck, even an obsession with something. "Focused" and "passionate" had replaced "well-rounded" as the big college buzzwords. And the fact that I didn't have a passion, let alone a passion with a clear path to a specific career and lifestyle, stressed me out. Did this mean that there was something wrong with me? Was I destined to a meaningless life, with a mere career, instead of a vocation? For an already neurotic 18-year-old facing some big life changes, these were scary thoughts.
What is my point in all this? Basically, we put far too much pressure on young people to find their passion right away. Passions are supposed to be difficult to figure out. It can, and should, be a lifelong process. And when we emphasize passion like this, we do our youth a disservice. Not only do we cause anxiety levels to spike even higher than usual, we make true passion next to impossible to find. Such things cannot be forced. And it's okay if you haven't found your true passion by the tender age of eighteen.
Ideally, you should strive to find a career path that fits into your values and makes you excited to go to work each day. But is it also okay to work a job that simply helps provide basic comfort and necessities for awhile (even a long while)? Yes! There is no need to feel like a failure if you haven't found your "vocation" yet. There's no time limit. It's never "too late".
So, as you help guide the youth in your life on their journey to adulthood, encourage them to follow their interests. But don't try to pigeon-hole them into one thing too fast for the sake of making them look "passionate" to a future admissions committee (or anyone else, for that matter). Many young people like to explore. It's natural. It's okay. Their "vocation" will come for them in due time.
God may have a plan, but maybe we're not meant to know all the details just yet.