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6 April 2010

Dear Mr. Macdonald,

There were two things that you brought up in the discussion that really stuck with me. The first is something that I always have had trouble with and people would think that there is always an easy answer, but that is not always the case. You talked about receiving advice and that you shouldn't shut out other people's advice but it's your own experiences that make up your mind for you. But how do you know the right choice? How do you choose? It's not always straightforward. It's not always good versus bad, right versus wrong, etc. Sometimes both choices are good or sometimes both choices are bad, but you can only choose one. How do you decide?

I am dealing with a situation where I have to choose between majoring in communications and majoring in economics. They are both good majors. They both will help me succeed in getting a job and doing something useful with my life. The problem, however, is deciding which major would help me succeed with my passion. But what is the major problem that I have to solve first before I can choose my major? I have to decide what my passion is.

It should be an easy answer. What do you enjoy? What do you like to do? What do you want a career in? However, that is not the case for me. In high school, and even before high school, you have ideas of what you want to do but you don't have to decide. Everyone says that is what college is for, to explore and find your passion. Even though I am only a freshman and I don't have to decide my major until the end of sophomore year, I feel like I am behind. Most people who are undecided at least have some sort of idea of what they want to do or at least what they enjoy doing. Me? I am clueless. This is the other topic that you brought up that stuck with me. You said if you don't have a passion, then you have to go out and find it. You also brought up a story about someone you knew that had a different job every week to try and find something that he loved to do. I have gone out and got jobs and internships in areas I thought I would enjoy. I first got an internship at an animal hospital because I loved animals and thought that I would want to help them. I was way off track. It was great the first two weeks. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot. But then, there was this one-day. This one day when I had to put this puppy to sleep because he had cancer and couldn't walk anymore. That day I knew I could never be a veterinarian. After that, I thought that I wanted to work in a hotel. I soon realized after all the runs to get more coffee in the lobby and doing all the dirty work, that I would much rather be a guest then work for them.

I had many other small jobs but still could not find my passion. However, I am very motivated to find it. Some people don't have faith in me. Some people tell me that I don't need to find a career and that I can live off my father and then I will find a rich husband and don't have to work at all. But I don't want to live like that. I don't want to get a job just because my dad is a CEO of a company. I don't want to be a Stepford wife. I want to find my passion and make the right choices. Even if I make some wrong choices until I find my passion, those are the choices that sometimes point you in the right direction. But you have helped me realize that I have to make the right choices for myself and for no one else. I have to go out and find my passion even if I make some wrong turns in that journey. Life is like trial and error, but you can't give up.

April 14, 2010

Dear Jessica,

For starters, let me say that I have total faith in you. What comes through very clearly from your letter is that you very much want to find your personal passion — some life activity that excites you and feels right intellectually and intuitively. Not only that, you have already been running what I call "life experiments" to find it. You are passionate about finding a passion, and have been taking concrete steps to find it. Wonderful! So many people don't have the vital concern that you have to find an engagement with life that has real juice and a feeling of just-rightness. You've got it.

You point out that you are now a freshman and have some time before you must decide on a major. So how might you use that time to help in selecting this beginning path for your adult life? One thought I have - and I'm sure you've already been doing this to some extent — is to move in your imagination beyond choosing between the communication or the economics course of study to the potentially engaging activity beyond it. If it's communication, communication about what, and to whom? If it's economics, economics to prepare me to function well at what? As you know, your passion will reside in the ultimate activity, and it is continuing your exploration in this area that will help you make that course-of-study decision.

Many times I have faced the sort of dilemma you describe. Two courses of action seem about equal, but there is a lot of fuzziness and uncertainty about where each would lead and which would be the best to follow. My preferred option in situations like this is much like the one you have already been following - gather more infomation. Direct experience is one way, and as you found out with your various experiments, it can lead to crystal clarity. But you are now heavily into your studies, and that approach may no longer be feasibile. Perhaps through offering to volunteer your time in interesting situations this summer you could carry on that approach. But there are other ways, too. Reading biograpies and autobiographies of people in a field that interests you can be revealing. So can contacting people currently engaged in what you would like to know more about. Be bold. Write to people you admire. Call them. And if they are close by, invite them to lunch. (Everyone has to eat.) Most people involved in a career respond favorably to overtures from an eager young person. Some may not have the time, but don't let that put you off. Keep being bold.

One more suggestion. Our subconscious mind is often much better at working out solutions to complex problems than our intellect. I'm sure that yours has been churning away on your problem. So how can we tune into its analysis? One way that I have found very effective is to quiet the mind through meditation. This thins out the barrier between the subconscious and conscious minds, and raises the probability of the message getting through. Occasionally what comes through is insight into a fairly detailed plan. An Aha! experience. At other times it is simply a YES or NO feeling. Another check-the-subconscious trick I have used a few times in my life is to flip a coin. Heads I'll do this. Tails I'll do that. You flip the coin. The coin provides its answer. Then comes the important thing: your answer to the coin flip. How do you feel about the coin's decision?

In closing, I have no doubt that you will find your starter passion, either before you choose a major or if the answer is not yet there, sometime later. I say starter passion, because in the course of my own life I have moved from passion to passion several times. When I was a kid and on into my 20s it was radio and electronics. Then it was a 13-month backpack trip around the world, entered into because I wanted the world to become real to me. A deep interest in personal growth and social change followed that. Then it became writing about personal growth and social change. And now my current passion — spreading understanding about the nature and development of wisdom.

I have total confidence that you are going to have an exciting and passionate life. And if you have "some wrong turns," as we all do, you will write them off as learning experiences and move on.

All the best,