This past week, a column appeared in the Business section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, encouraging students to find a vocation that they would find themselves useful in, instead of following their passion.
The observations of columnist Lee Schafer, intertwined with a conversation with a career counselor at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, argues that finding a job that one will be useful in should be prioritized over doing something that will make one happy.
“Vocation may sound a little like a life of toil for little pay, but it is a very useful idea when approaching a decision on any kind of work,” Schafer wrote. “All it really means is work that is worthy of respect and with a reward that is bigger than just a paycheck. Passion for your work sounds great, but by now it is pretty clear people have a tough time figuring out what will make them happy. It is a lot easier to figure out what will make them feel useful.”
While Schafer’s piece raises some interesting points, including the need for conversations about what it means to work, I disagree with its core thesis – finding a vocation for a vocation’s sake, instead of following your passion and finding something that makes one happy.
My disagreement derives from the story that led me to pursue work in what are uneasy times for the industry. If I hadn’t stumbled upon to the BBC World Service through public radio one night in March 2009 as I suffered from insomnia, it is likely that I would be doing something else – though I suspect I would have no idea what it was. I was encouraged to follow this passion I had for journalism despite the uncertainty.
We all have stories that led us to decide to pursue work in this industry. Journalism is a calling, and the need to inform, engage and educate people about the events of the time, as well as holding those in power to account still is a necessity.
However, I’m not naive to suggest that things are perfect in this industry. Yes, times are hard for journalism, and yes, prospects, especially for early career journalists like myself, are uncertain – as we debate future business models as well as how to maintain trust with audiences, especially in the digital age. At the end of the year, the questions are still present, as well as the uneasiness that comes with not knowing what is next.
When my mom on one occasion saw that the thought of these uncertainties was a bit much for me, and I was ready to give up, she asked what I would do if I did. I didn’t know, as I found what I had wanted to do in the first place. Perhaps the pros of finding your passion can outweigh the cons.
Fred Rogers famously said that life is for service, and as life is for service, then certainly one of the best professions to have in life is a role in journalism.
Last week, I resolved for journalism to keep itself honest in 2018. I’ll resolve for one more thing – if you have a desire to work in journalism, pursue it. Have conversations with people, be it in your local media, across the country or around the world, and, to quote my mom once more – keep going.
It may not be easy, but it’s better to pursue what you’re passionate about and what makes you happy, instead of finding something for the sake of it. Besides, we’ll be a better industry because of your work in helping us do what we set out to do – seek truth and report it.
Happy New Year.
Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.
The views expressed unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.