La La Land is one of my favorite movies. From its masterful 20th century Hollywood tribute to the heart–wrenching goodbye between soulmates, La La Land stuck with me for months after I first saw it. It stuck with me not only because of its dreamy soundtrack, but it caused the deep and unsettling realization that I do not have a passion.
Mia and Sebastian are the film’s protagonists in fierce pursuit of their respective passions for acting and jazz. They meet serendipitously and naturally fall in love, but ultimately split at the end of the movie to follow divergent paths. These visceral desires to achieve something meaningful encapsulate Mia and Sebastian’s raisons d’etre.
These fiery passions, persistent through challenges and hardship, were so attractive to me. I wanted a passion of my own—to cultivate and care for, to take me to greater heights, and to help me achieve personal growth. But when I tried to identify my own passion, I simply could not. I felt directionless, at a standstill amidst friends and peers racing towards banking and consulting jobs, graduate degrees, or careers in the arts. Grounded in their missions, my peers' steps were calculated towards some distant goal.
Passion seemed to be missing from my life. The last time I could identify such intense drive in myself was in high school, when I was desperate to go to a great college: a place to learn, grow, be challenged, and meet people from all corners of the world. I put my head down and I worked for it. Each decision I made was guided by a vision of myself graduating from a highly lauded university, with boundless knowledge and opportunities ahead of me. This 13–year marathon through the American public school system ended at the finish line of Locust Walk, soon to become my new starting line.
I had vague ideas of what I wanted to do. I had a long–term goal of working in foreign service. I contemplated pursuing computer science, and I thought about careers in international business. There was even a brief moment where I wanted to be an astrophysicist. On a campus buzzing with ideas and innovation, I struggled to commit to just one. The drive I always had towards an end goal was no longer there. I found myself with a blank canvas and was unable to choose which interest captivated me most.
I ended up declaring a major in International Relations, a major perfect for people like me—interdisciplinary and broad. I excitedly learned the nuances and patterns of the field, but I still didn’t have much direction. And it didn’t help that the post–graduation opportunities were endless.
I also worked as a political science research assistant, thinking perhaps I’d pursue grad school. I taught German in Greece, explored archaeological sites, learned to code at a tech company, and took online courses in financial modeling. I spent each summer at a different financial service company in a different city. Through all of these experiences, the world became more colorful, vibrant, lucid. But I realized over time that I cared less about which exact path I would take, and more about whether I was experiencing all that I could.
But out of fear of future debt, I ran to finance and consulting: a place to go when you don’t know where to go. I spent hours practicing cases and reading the Vault Guide. It was comfortable and predictable, yet I felt unsettled and restless. It was here that I realized how I had more in common with the La La Land characters than I had initially thought.
While I couldn’t find indestructible passion for a specific activity, I felt the joy that comes from branching away from what I thought was safe. I can find joy in freedom from a culture that calls big dreams impractical, and encourages us to find a job that makes money. Like Mia and Sebastian, confronted by these voices, I decided not to listen. I dismissed the fear of student loans, and even fear of not receiving validation from peers and parents.
It took a lot of energy to proudly admit to my peers that I didn't know what I wanted to do to with my life. It took courage and passion to overstep the embarrassment and confusion I felt. Freed from these fears, I removed the blinders and allowed myself to see clearly. I learned how to say yes to an opportunity even if it didn’t seem to lead me to a distinct goal. I accepted that my resume is not a paper personification of who I am, but merely what I have done.
I concede, that as of now, my passion is not having a passion. It is searching in lieu of settling. It is adaptability and vulnerability. It is pushing past the crippling fear of the unknown.
I am a second semester senior with absolutely no idea of what I am going to do when I graduate in a few months. I am like Mia and Sebastian in that I am perhaps chasing impracticality and dismissing normalcy. But i find passion when I am faced with the unknown. I feel it when I am tethered to nothing but the present moment. So I keep moving forward, letting the ground underneath my feet disappear behind me as I saunter towards my yet unidentified finish line.