Whatever Happened to Passion  

It is obvious that we can no more explain a passion to a person who has never experienced it then we explain light to the blind. T.S. Eliot

Passion. This simple word spawns so many images for me: the nurse holding the hand of a dying patient, the social worker combing the streets on a cold night to offer shelter or a blanket to a homeless man cubby-holed in an alley, the teacher who comes in early to assist a student who can’t quite get the new math assignment, a mother who sits with her child night after night helping him with his essay. When I think about passion, I think about scientists and doctors spending their lives studying one aspect of a disease in the hopes of eradicating it. I see a fireman helping an elderly man escape a fire, a policeman talking to a grade one class about how to stay safe. And yes, when I think of the word passion, I do think of athletes enduring pain and exhaustion for the love and commitment to their sport. Passion to me is a boundless focus and enthusiasm for what you do.

 I’ve been so fortunate to experience this type of zeal in every job I’ve ever had. My parents encouraged me to pursue the things I was interested in. They taught me to work hard. And I have, but it never felt like it. Oh, oh, I feel another quote coming on. “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius  

Passion (the word, the feeling) was not discussed in a recent report issued by CIBC dealing with the return on investment someone might expect from a university education. Instead, the Report outlined how Canadian students were falling behind in their income potential because they continued to choose education and careers in social sciences, humanities and health.

"Across subjects, the biggest bang for buck comes from specialized and professional fields such as medicine, law and engineering," says Mr. Tal. "A look at the dispersion of earnings across fields of study shows that there is a much greater risk of falling into a lower-income category for graduates of humanities and social sciences, with a limited risk for students of health, engineering or business.

"Those underperforming sectors comprise just under half of all recent graduates. In other words, Canadian students are continuing to pursue fields where, upon graduation, they aren't getting a relative edge in terms of income prospects."

When I decided to pursue a university education (about 1000 years ago), I didn’t think about how much money I would make or what the return on my tuition investment would be. I knew I wanted to help others. That’s it. That’s all.

I looked at the options that would best allow me to work with people and went for it. That’s what you do when you know what you’re passionate about.

My degrees in the humanities have taken me from working with the homeless to running prisons, from developing and implementing prevention programs to curb impaired driving to mounting business and strategic plans for large corporations, and from executing large change projects in government to helping employees after corporate downsizing. Even now my education brings me new opportunities (mentoring MBA students, directing my community’s writers festival). My degrees didn’t limit me, but rather opened the doors to the kind of work I wanted to do.

Whether it’s my son, my stepchildren, my niece or the students I mentor, I tell them to pursue what they love first and foremost and everything else (opportunities, friendships, camaraderie, and yes, money too) will fall into place. It always does.

The CIBC report didn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. Sure lawyers and engineers make more money. Who cares? Unlike what Tom Cruise spouted in that old movie, it is not about the money. In fact, if people only focus on the money, they get into trouble. Case in point, the subprime mortgage rates fiasco. CIBC was one of the only Canadian banks to lose money on these so-called investments (this tells you a lot about them and where their values lie).

If the CIBC report was meant to tell us there are fewer jobs available in the helping profession, they haven’t been paying attention to the reports of shortages in these fields, particularly given an aging population. Nice, the National Initiative for the care of the elderly indicates: “the education that health practitioners receive in the care of the elderly is largely inadequate, and we are facing a present and a looming shortage of professionals to care for our aging populations.” 

If CIBC meant to tell us individuals in the helping profession are underpaid, there is nothing new there either. So rather than write a report, I suggest CIBC do something about this inequity. If anyone can, it might be an economist. Aren’t they the ones who make the big bucks?

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