I always think of him as “the football player.” He was a former student who lived, breathed, ate and drank football - to the exclusion of everything else. He played on the university team, and dreamed of being picked up by the NFL, eventually playing in the Super Bowl. There was only one problem: he was on an athletic scholarship, and he was failing his classes.
He didn’t like his classes, because they weren’t about football. He tried to explain his obsession: football was everything, and the only thing, to him - it was all that he cared about. He could remember every play from every game he’d ever been in - and every game he’d ever watched, too. He could name the roster of every college and pro team, and tell you their standings.
His coach explained that he was on the verge of losing his scholarship, and if that happened, none of his other dreams would likely come to pass. I talked to him about careers that would allow him to utilize his knowledge and passion for football, such as coaching high school, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He was destined for greatness. Except he failed out of college.
I imagine we’ve all been there, in one sense or another: we have a passion, and it consumes us. It’s all we want to do. We want to write music, play an instrument, be an actor, and it frustrates us when people tell us our dreams aren’t practical, because we can’t imagine doing anything else. Some of us give up the dreams. Some spend their lives in bitterness, because the work they end up with - the kind that pays the bills - becomes drudgery.
The happiest people I know are those who have found ways to integrate their bliss into their lives, whether or not they’re able to pursue it as a career. Some of my grad school colleagues have a band, and play at the local bars. Another is involved in community theatre, some are writing novels, others sew or do crafts or train to run races. These activities enrich their lives, even if they’re not the primary way they make a living.
Don’t get me wrong - goals are important. Goals are great. But is the goal to create a life in which football is an important focus, or to play in the NFL? Is the goal to indulge a love of writing, or to be on the bestseller list? Is the goal to enjoy the art of performance, or to win an Oscar? Achievable goals are fun to pursue. Pie-in-the-sky dreams often leave people frustrated and bitter. We don’t have to give up the things we love, but in order to be happy, I think we need to discover how to integrate them into a life that’s full of other obligations.
I often think about my football player, and I hope he’s found a way to be happy. And I hope we all find a way to make our passion part of a balanced, and joyful, life.