Young people, heed my advice. Find what you love and pursue it with a passion. And then offer it back to the world. Make sure its worthy—meaning not only that you love it, but that it will refresh the world with something needed— beauty, justice, humor, caring, comfort. (If your passion is guns, think hard about it before mindlessly pursuing it.)
Of course, you will have to pay the rent. Maybe I was lucky, coming into adulthood in a time when simply following my bliss step by step somehow built a sustainable (i.e., rent- and later, mortgage-paying) life. I fear it’s not quite so easy these days, when a San Francisco monthly rent cost about as much as my year’s salary my first year working at school and PhD’s from Harvard go into the workforce and say, “Would you like fries with that order?”
But if you can manage it, maybe you’ll find yourself someday in a situation similar to mine this morning. I was visiting my mother-in-law at a Elderly Care Center in Ann Arbor. We went out to the common room, shut off the TV and I started playing the piano. There were three residents when I started and when I looked around 10 minutes later, some 25 more had come, attracted to the music like a bee to honey. I noticed a six-year old girl dancing behind the folks on the couch and invited her to come in front of them, where she spontaneously choreographed dance after dance for the next 45 minutes. Playing the way I do these days, one old jazz tune effortlessly leading to another with no paper in front of me, I joyfully carried on, watching who was singing or mouthing the words, asking for requests (got one!) and then forging ahead as the young girl danced to her heart's content.
And then at the end, a lovely man asked me how I remembered all those songs without printed music. I told him about playing for my Mom for six years and making it my project to learn some 300 jazz standards by heart. He then said;
“I couldn’t remember all those songs because I was too busy crying.”
And that’s the moment you know that your passion was worthy and your life has not been in vain.