The Tragic Mistake
Not long into their interview with public radio host Ira Glass, one of the three college-aged interviewers, a young girl, asks, with a desperate smile etched on her face, how to decide “which of her passions” to pursue.
“Like how do you determine, how…”, she begins.
“How do you figure out what you want?”, Glass interrupts.
“How do you not only figure out what you want, but know that you’ll be good at it?”, she finishes.
There’s a pause. In this moment, when Glass prepares his answer, the young girl’s earlier admission that she’s a pre-med, and doubting her decision to attend med school, hangs in the air. Glass can relate: he too had been considering med school when he stumbled into his first radio internship, after his freshman year of college.
He proceeds cautiously, softly: “Honestly, even the stuff you want you’re not necessarily good at right away…I started working at 19 at the network level, and from that point it took me years. The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come. That’s the hardest phase.”
One of the other interviewers, a young man in a baseball cap, interjects: “Do you think hard work can make you talented?”
“Yes. I do.”
The students let this sink in.
“In the movies there’s this idea that you should just go for your dream,” Glass continues. “But I don’t believe that.”
By the students’ reactions, this is not what they expected to hear.
“Things happen in stages. I was a terrible reporter, but I was perfectly good at other parts of working in radio: I am a good editor…I feel like your problem is that you’re trying to judge all things in the abstract before you do them.”
“That’s your tragic mistake.”
The Roadtrip Nation Revelation
This interview is one of many conducted by the non-profit organization Roadtrip Nation, which sends students across the country to interview “eclectic individuals who have resisted pressures to conform.” They seek advice for building an interesting path through life.
If you explore the full Roadtrip Nation video archive, as I did one recent weekend, you begin to appreciate the nuance and serendipity behind these compelling people and their compelling careers. Amidst this nuance, however, one conclusion is stark: the canonical advice to follow your passion is way too simplistic. As with Glass’s story of toiling for years before finally discovering a niche in radio editing, many of the interviews echo this same theme that passion is not something you discover in a career center.
Its source is more complicated…