“If you love what you do, you don’t have to work a day in your life”
I don’t recall where I read these words, yet I do remember that I was deeply impacted by the power of it. Just imagine for a moment that you can’t wait to get up in the morning full of excitement and enthusiasm in order to do what you love to do. Have you seen a toddler waking up ready to play? It is a wonderful feeling for those who have experienced it.
For me, growing up, I was not aware of such a concept as “passion” in life. I got many directives from my parents about what to study that would lead to a financially secure career. I do not believe they were aware of the meaning of passion at all. In my perception, when it came to choosing a career, it was about the job market, financial security and prestige of the job.
I felt very fortunate being able to choose a path that I truly loved, as I had a calling in life. I had seen so many people who did not enjoy their career and I could feel the unhappiness in working long hours and working like a “slave” to pay the bills. I observed the impact on them and others. I felt that one expressed oneself through the daily work. In this time and era, most workers spend 8 to 12 hours at work, daily. It is perhaps the most essential part of our daily life.
I felt the passion in what I was doing was a must. As Kahlil Gibran has beautifully said, “When you work you are the flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music……work is love made visible….and if you can not work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy…..for if you bake bread with indifference , you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half of man’s hunger…and if you sing though as angel, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.” His words awakened my soul and I could no longer stay in “denial” of my cultural norms.
As a parent, I was determined to provide every possibility I could for our children to give them the exposure of finding their passion in life. We provided opportunities in sports, music, martial arts, languages and whatever was available in our community. We were committed as parents to support our children in manifesting their passions.
Our oldest son was a fun loving guy from his childhood. His passion in life seemed to be having fun. He was playful, athletic, had high energy and loved to play soccer, basketball and was involved in active sports. He loved playing video games for hours and loved the mental stimulation. He was bright, a fast learner, observant and sharp. He was the kind of a child who was loved by most people around him. He got along with other kids in school and had good friends. I do not recall him getting into fights with other boys or being in trouble at school.
As he grew up, there were two noticeable characteristics that resulted in disharmony in our household. One, he did not seem to be interested in academia, especially the hard sciences. He said he did not know where or how he would be using such knowledge. He was getting good grades, while I did not see him study. He went to a high school that was distinguished academically and competitive. Students generally seemed to be academically focused and dedicated to their goal of attending top universities. In that setting, one day, he shared with me that he went to his class and learned that they had an important test that he was not aware of at all. He looked over his notes for a few minutes before the teacher got there. He got a B+ on that test. I wondered to myself what he was capable of doing if he chose to put some effort into his school work. As a student, grades were important to me and I remember spending hours and hours studying hoping to get a good grade. Our son was blessed with a high IQ, yet school did not seem to be of primary interest for him. I wondered what his passion was besides having fun in life.
The other issue was that he had almost no interest in shared responsibilities at home. He did not like having anything to do with cleaning. He said, “What is the point of cleaning when it gets dirty again tomorrow? It is a waste of time. Why should I make my bed in the morning, when I am out all day and will use it again at night?” He said he is comfortable with it and suggested that I would not look into his room if it bothered me. He shared a room with his younger brother whose personality was almost the complete opposite of him. They were kind of like the odd couple. It was amazing how different the two brothers were. Our oldest son’s closet was full of all kinds of clothes. It was difficult to distinguish between the clean clothes and the laundry. Generally speaking, he threw his clothes in the direction of the closet. At times, it was difficult to see the carpet in his room.
As the oldest of the three, we gave him the choice of choosing any chores he wanted from a list of things to be done on daily or weekly basis. He reluctantly chose the easiest possible ones such as taking the trash out on a weekly basis rather than washing dishes which was done daily. Then, at times he would forget to do the task on the designated day. Honestly, he had trained us well not to ask him to help. It seemed that given the responsibilities and the stress of our daily life, it was easier and less time consuming to do the job ourselves than the time and effort it took to have him do the chores. Frequently, we had to redo the task. At times, under stress, or simply being tired, having too much to do at work and at home, we insisted to share the household responsibilities and it resulted in intense interactions leaving all of us frustrated and exhausted. I asked myself “How can we inspire our son? What is his passion in life? What if he really would like to live life in a playful style? How would he be able to support himself?” He had already made it clear that he is not the kind of person to work 8-5 in an office. He had passion for sports and at one point was considering a career as a professional soccer player. Then the universe had another plan for him. When he was a freshman in high school, he had a severe trauma to his leg in a game. His orthopedic surgeon told him that he would never be able to play again. His dream was shattered. I wondered if he was aware of his passion? I asked myself as a parent if I have failed to recognize it. Everyone must love to do something! We were concerned.
In my awareness, I was observing him to see if I can pinpoint any interest in him and reflect if there was a window of opportunity. My husband and I both valued knowledge and graduate training. We spent about 30 years of our lives pursuing PhD degrees. We sure were hoping that our children would consider and share this value. Many individuals may be aware of their passion early in life such as music, dance, poetry, yet choose a career that is more realistic and provides financial security. We were hoping that our children would be able to choose a dependable career with passion. Would that be a possibility?
As a senior in high school, he needed one unit to graduate. It was between psychology and drama. He thought psychology demanded much reading and took the drama course assuming that it would be more fun. After a few weeks, I noticed a positive change in him. He was staying after school for different drama projects. He did not show much interest in numerous clubs or activities offered at school before. He seemed happier and a new persona was emerging. He was always the center of attention in our gatherings. I remember the son of a dear friend called him “the life of the party.” He said there was much fun and laughter at any gathering when he was present. He naturally created an atmosphere of joy, humor, and laughter. His presence was felt and made a difference.
He had his own circle of friends before, usually guys who were involved with sports. Now he was becoming a popular person. He was given the nickname of “Persian Stallion.” The number of phone calls had increased significantly. The traffic of friends visiting our home had increased, many interesting new faces, a different flavor of friends, more playful, creative and fun loving. I specially recall a Halloween, when he came home with a bright orange suit, white hat and shoes, extravagant jewelry that I had never seen before, and a fancy cane. Can you guess what the costume was? Yes, a pimp! His partner, a beautiful young lady, also in drama, was wearing a matching orange dress with high heels and matching jewelry. They were both creative. When I heard our son talking in his “role,” he seemed quite authentic, flashy with the “lingo” like the characters I had seen on TV. I was asking myself, are these part of his personality that I had never seen before? Or is he a talented actor and can become whatever character he chooses. I was hoping for the latter.
Soon we were informed that he was cast in the school play. We usually attended the plays. The director of the drama department was a gifted man and the performances were professional. The high school students usually seemed to be going through their “acting out” phase, possibility with an attitude that frequently drove the parents and teachers to frustration. Now, the same students under this director seemed to be disciplined, professional, passionate, artistic, and talented performers on and off the stage. It was almost like the army discipline with joy and enthusiasm. The director seemed to have a natural talent to inspire and nurture the students’ creative talents and help them see the value of discipline. His presence was felt in every performance. He was loved and respected by the students.
Generally speaking, the experienced students who had been in several drama classes, and were in previous plays were cast for the main roles first. The new students, at times had no lines or a few to adjust being on the stage and overcome the fear of performing in front of a crowd. All I knew was that our son was going to be in the next play. I was excited and joyful and had a hundred questions about this new era in his life. As usual, he said little and asked me to wait for the performance. The daily rehearsals started. They were to stay for hours after school and on weekends. He seemed like a different person. I could feel the joy of life in his eyes. He came alive. I kept asking about the play and his role. He kept saying “you will see.” I thought to myself, perhaps he has only a few lines, not much to share. Am I getting over excited? And putting pressure on him by my questions? Let it go and be patient, I decided.
On opening night, my heart was filled with excitement. We had invited some of our close friends to share the joy of this special evening. I felt like a child going to Disneyland for the first time. This was a mark in his life, the first time being on the stage. I remembered how much I loved the theater growing up. We had a few relatives, and friends who produced, directed and performed in the most prestigious theaters. For me, going to the theater was some of the most memorable and interesting part of my adolescent years. The memories of the plays such as “Montserrat,” “ the Cat on the Hot Thin Roof,” and “ The Eventail of Lady Windermer” are clearly cemented in my memory and I remember the plays vividly as I had seen them yesterday. I enjoyed going back stage to visit the actors and actresses in person.
We went to the theater. The student ushers looked professional. One could feel the great energy of the students doing what they loved to do. They were welcoming the crowd, offering the well designed brochure. I noticed my heartbeat. Why am I so excited? It is only a school play, I told myself. I felt as I was going to see the most exciting performance of all. I noticed they had “telegrams” for one dollar, for the actors. What a wonderful idea! I don’t remember how many we bought. We were a large group and each made our own design separately for him. I wondered how he was feeling? Was he excited? Anxious? Both?
The theater was packed. As the lights were turned off, a pleasant, respectful silence with joy and excitement filled the air. Our eyes were on the stage, waiting impatiently. Suddenly, we noticed an old man walking towards the stage with a cane, speaking to himself. Who was this old man? Was he part of the audience, being late and looking for a seat? Or was he part of the play? When he got on the stage, we realized the play had started. What an interesting start!! I was already hooked!
When our son entered the stage, I was filled with joy, a feeling difficult to describe in words, a natural high. Part of me wanted to stand up and scream, “This one is our son.” I felt an such an extraordinary joy that I was paying no attention to the play. My eyes were fixed on him. He seemed comfortable, authentic and funny. He was the character. I could not take my eyes off him, even when he had no lines. He gave a remarkable performance.
This was a spiritual awakening for me. I realized that our fun loving son had found his passion. Who could have guessed that acting would be his passion? I sure did not recognize it. I remembered that when he was 3 years old, the whole family would gather around and he would get in the middle of the circle and entertain everyone. I thought all children are cute, self centered, love attention, are funny by nature, playful and love to get the adults’ attention. He was a born entertainer.
As I am writing, he is on location in New Mexico, performing in a television show. I am thinking of this brave soul, daring to live his life with passion. He has been a source of inspiration for me, nurturing my passion of writing.
I like to dedicate this story to the gifted director of the drama department, who discovered, touched, moved, inspired, and nurtured our son’s soul and his passion. We are eternally grateful to him and thank him from the bottom of our hearts.