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The Problem Without Passion

When we fake interest in a subject, we ultimately fool ourselves

We+can+often+feel+overwhelmed+by+well-meant+expectations%2C+even+from+those+who+love+us+most.
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The Problem Without Passion

We can often feel overwhelmed by well-meant expectations, even from those who love us most.

We can often feel overwhelmed by well-meant expectations, even from those who love us most.

photo by Katie Golden

We can often feel overwhelmed by well-meant expectations, even from those who love us most.

photo by Katie Golden

photo by Katie Golden

We can often feel overwhelmed by well-meant expectations, even from those who love us most.

By Amanda Lu, North Allegheny Senior High School

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When I was a kid, I loved to read and write. My favorite day of the week was Monday, because on Mondays, my father would take me to Northland Library. I’d browse the familiar aisles of the first floor and walk back to our car staggering with a stack of books piled higher than my head.

My father always loved my curious spirit, but he never loved the subjects I was curious about. I was never reading the “right” stuff; I never checked out any books about rocks or rockets or medicine, only fictitious, semi-accurate historical stories or Judy Blume novels. They were, in my opinion, emotionally rewarding books, but my father wanted me to read about science and math. He wanted to engineer me into some eight year old pre-med robot. Thus, he began using the books I enjoyed reading as a reward system: if I finished a certain amount of math homework problems, he’d allow me to read my books.

My parents were coming from a genuine place of concern: they wanted me to live a fulfilling life, and to them, that meant a stable income and a “respectable” job, such as being a physician or a physicist.”

When I told my parents in eighth grade that I wanted to major in English in college, they taunted and then criticized me, claiming adamantly that humanities majors make no money in the real world. When I defeatedly told them that money was not a priority for me, they repeatedly drilled the idea that science was the forefront of all human progress, and that the humanities were meaningless. My parents were coming from a genuine place of concern: they wanted me to live a fulfilling life, and to them, that meant a stable income and a “respectable” job, such as being a physician or a physicist. At the time, everything my parents said was accepted as the holy truth, so I listened and pursued a STEM-heavy track. 

Since I had so much experience with doing things I didn’t want to do in my elementary years, I had no qualms in taking as many advanced science and math courses as I could take (with the exception of physics). I could handle the course load pretty well, but everything went to hell my senior year. In short, the first half of senior year was absolutely miserable. The irony of it all is that, the summer prior to senior year, I had truly convinced myself that I would love the classes I chose to take.

I recently had a college interview down at the McKnight Starbucks. If you haven’t started the exhaustive, tedious college admissions process, think of it as kind of a marketing strategy for yourself. Your plan is to craft yourself as the most desirable and promising investment. You take the product (you) with all of your test scores and grades in all of their glory, and then you craft yourself more with your extracurriculars and add some glittering generalities, and voila!–you have a product, ready to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

And so I cast myself as the brain-lover with a heart for humanities but a head for STEM. I paraded myself as this character, subtly adding in all my experience researching in labs and my parents’ expertise in biology in any place deemed appropriate. I specifically picked classes I had believed would interest me–or at least this version of myself I had been feigning for most of high school–hoping to further refine my identity as the girl who loved science and the humanities equally. It was a grave mistake. On top of the 1001 essays I had to write and edit and rewrite, my own familial responsibilities, and my job, I began to sink under the merciless pressure of endless homework and incomprehensible concepts, and my grades really showed for it.

But back to the college interview. I’ve always been good at socializing with people (if that can even be counted as something one can be “good” at), so I found it rather unnecessary to prepare for something I can do so naturally. Most of my interviews mimicked a conversation I would have with a friend; they were all very organic and spontaneous. Thus, I found myself talking excessively about the things I loved, and barely mentioning the staples of my application, such as how I had researched for two summers straight and how I had taken a good number of advanced math and science courses. It wasn’t until one of the alumni interviewers had actually called me out on my obvious attraction to the more creative disciplines when I realized that I had been chasing after the wrong things for my whole entire high school career.

I had spent summers enslaving myself for 40 hours a week, doing scientific research at the expense of attending writing camps or even just simply reading in my backyard. I took AP Calc in junior year, the busiest year of my life, despite knowing that I wouldn’t want to do the homework. I took AP Chemistry this year instead of taking creative writing classes. But I don’t regret any of it. I learned a lot about science and math, I learned a lot about people, and I learned a lot about myself. Without those experiences, I wouldn’t have realized that some people truly have this indescribable zeal for science and math that I will never understand nor possess. Those people almost acted as a foil to me; the more passionate STEM nerds I saw, the more I desired to feel that sort of passion for something.

Those people almost acted as a foil to me; the more passionate STEM nerds I saw, the more I desired to feel that sort of passion for something.”

So I started to feel less guilty about my inherent love for the humanities, because I knew in my heart that there was some other person in the world–a math whiz who loved doing physics problems and was genuinely fascinated by the natural world or a chem god who loved lab experiments–who would compensate for my lackluster STEM capabilities.

Still, it’s important to factor reality into your decisions. You should still try to get a well-rounded education rather than specialize too quickly. There’s a reason why every teenager in America is taught some sort of science, social studies, math, and language arts course. Different disciplines teach us to not only think in different ways but also help us to become more open-minded in general. But just because you should or have to take these courses, it doesn’t mean you should push yourself to the very brink of your abilities, because you will crash and burn. Take it from someone who has learned that the hard way.

So maybe if you hate spending an hour a day doing math problems, you should take Honors or Academic Calculus rather than AP, or if you find yourself resorting to SparkNotes the day before a reading assessment, you should take an Honors or Academic English instead of AP.

And remember that, at the end of the day, it is yourself that you are trying to please. Your teachers, friends, and even parents have their own lives that they are living for. You should be and are in control of your own life. Do the things that make YOU happy, because if we live in a world filled with apathetic people performing poorly in the careers they hate, what kind of world would that be? 

This story was originally published on The Uproar on March 14, 2019.

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