I have decided to earn a professional certificate in nonprofit management. It feels like there is a fairly obvious path laid out before me. I lost my career in newspapers, and now I have started on a new one in nonprofits. This certificate is fairly simple to earn, will give me lots of good training and a wonderful resume boost as I look to move up in this field. But yesterday I took the first class, and nothing felt as simple as that. I guess it never does.
For some reason, classes like this tend to inspire in me a sense of failure and hopelessness. I look around at all the people who are more experienced or more motivated than I am, and I feel like I just can't (or maybe don't want to) measure up to them. There was a woman in my class who is returned from serving with the Peace Corps in Africa, is now working on a masters and a nonprofit certificate at once, volunteers for a multitude of nonprofits, blogs about nonprofit management and, naturally, keeps on top of all the news in the nonprofit world. I am left feeling like I just don't have what it takes to succeed in this world. A blog on nonprofit management? I want to read blogs about people's kids and recipes and vacations. I cannot imagine spending my spare time reading nonprofit management blogs.
Many people in these classes tend to be very self-promotional. They want to talk on and on about their own experiences and successes. And classes like this are networking opportunities, so it's probably not a bad idea to make yourself look good. You never know where it could lead. A new job. Funding for your non-profit. But my natural tendency is to talk about all the challenges and stresses I face, in hopes that I can find solutions. But this often leads to me becoming the sort of sad case, and everyone else in the class then feels the need to give me advice and constructive criticism (despite their extremely limited knowledge of my situation). Yesterday it got so bad that I had to fight the urge to run from the room screaming. Even just the regular classroom instruction feels overwhelming. There's so much to remember, and when will I ever have the time/resources/motivation to do it all? My brain goes into overload and shuts down. I don't know why I feel this way. Why can't I look at it as useful information, but not feel that if I don't do everything suggested in the class, I am a failure? Why can't I pick out a few ideas that I can use now, and store others to be used down the road when I have a different job or more resources?
And then, as in any discussion having anything to do with careers or nonprofits, people started talking about passion. That you should be passionate about what you do. That you should follow your passion. This word passion makes me a little bit ill. It feels so extreme. The idea that we should all wake up and go after our jobs with passion every day seems like a myth, a cruel fantasy designed to make us all feel like we're doing it wrong. The fact is we choose jobs for all kinds of reasons: because we need a paycheck, because the job is available at the time when we're looking, because the work is pleasant (or at least not miserable) to us, because it will add to our resume, because it offers good pay, because it has the right schedule or location for us, because it works with our family life. To say that you have to find a job that fits all those criteria and is also your "passion" seems unrealistic.
The truth is, I don't know what my passion is. The word feels hollow and meaningless to me. I want to get up every day and try to live my life in the kindest and most meaningful way possible. I want to take care of and have fun with my child. I want to nurture my marriage. I want to have a job doing something I believe adds good to the world. I want to have friends, eat good food, exercise, go on vacation occasionally. I want to read books. I want to practice meditation. I want to be a good citizen of my community and of the world. But there is no one thing that feels like my burning passion, no desire or interest that eclipses all others. And I'm constantly made to feel that that's wrong.
Maybe it's that I had a career I was "passionate" about, at least in the abstract, and lost it. And now it's not so easy to find a new passion. Or maybe it's that I'm lazy and lifeless and lack passion. I don't know. But I'm going to go into the next class with a cheerful face and the conviction that I only have to use one good idea. That the rest are just extras to save for later. I also promise to smile vacantly every time the word passion is mentioned, and just let it float on past. We'll see how it goes.