“What is your passion?” my 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Batt, asked the class, before handing out our new assignment.
We all looked around the room at each other with confused wrinkles on our foreheads. What does passion really mean, we thought. Mr. Batt read our expressions correctly and decided to explain.
“The next book you will be reading is called, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull,’ and it touches on the concept of passion. Passion is something that you feel drawn to in some way. It is something you were meant to do, because you are really good at it or you love it. It makes your life more fulfilled when you pursue it. My passion is teaching. I could have gone into my father’s business and made tons of money, but I love to teach. So I chose to be a teacher for the last 40 years and even though I am 65 and passed my time to retire, I just don’t want to stop. This is my passion. What is yours?” He passed out pieces of paper with our assignment on them.
Read Jonathan Livingston Seagull and write a 3-page paper about what Jonathan’s passion was and why and how he pursued it. Then write about what your passion is and how you will pursue it.
After reading the assignment, I immediately jotted down acting on my paper, because I felt very passionate about it. When I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I soon began to realize what passion means. Here was a seagull, no different looking than the other seagulls, but at heart he was very different. Every day all the seagulls would flock to the fishing dock to gather and dive for fish. Jonathan had no interest in joining the crowd. He was passionate about flying. Instead of joining the other seagulls, he would practice, with the help of his mentor, to reach higher and higher heights. He practiced until he was so exhausted, but he never gave up. He kept trying and eventually he reached an entirely new level of being high above the other seagulls. He could fly to extraordinary heights and he was fulfilled by his passion to do so.
When we returned to class the next Monday, I was excited to discuss this book. Mr. Batt asked us what we learned, and my hand shot up. Everyone else just looked around in boredom. Mr. Batt called on me and I explained that the book was a metaphor for life. We shouldn’t follow the flock, but rather we should find our true passions and pursue them even if it is tough. It is easy to do what everyone else is doing, but it is better to follow your passion and find true happiness.
Mr. Batt smiled at me and nodded his head, “good job, Melissa.”
“Anyone else?” He asked.
No one raised their hand.
That night, I started writing my paper. I wrote about how ever since I was 5 years old, I wanted to be an actress. I would make up plays with my friends and have my little sister film them. I starred in all the plays in my elementary school. They were mostly Shakespeare. I played a witch in Macbeth, Romeo and Juliette in a video project I made of the balcony scene, and Lysander in A Midsummer’s Nights Dream. I wanted to go to Stanford and study acting in California (of course I didn’t realize that wasn’t the best school for acting).
When I turned in my paper, I was excited for Mr. Batt to read it. I really loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull and read it over and over again. I was surprised to read Mr. Batt’s response in ink on my paper, when he returned it to me. He wrote: “Great paper, have you ever thought of pursuing writing as your passion. I understand that you are passionate about acting, but you are a very good writer.” I stayed after class to talk to him.
He told me that he enjoyed my writing style and that interestingly enough, while I was writing about my passion for acting, I was revealing my talent in writing. He encouraged me to start keeping a journal and maybe even enter some writing contests. I left his class with a lot of thoughts on my mind that day. This was not the first time someone had complimented my writing.
In the summer after 6th grade, I went on People to People International to the U.K. and Ireland for one month. We were required to keep a thorough journal of our observations and details of our activities throughout the trip. I really enjoyed writing in my journal. At the end of the trip, the chaperons graded our journals. I spent a lot of time on my journal, not just recounting the day to day activities like a list of groceries. I actually described the sights and sounds and experiences I was having. The chaperons, who were teachers, told me they enjoyed my journal and its many details.
Thus began my shift in passions. I slowly started to pursue writing more and more and acting less and less. I’m not sure if it was simply their encouragement that shifted my passions or recognizing that I really loved writing, but I spent the next few years of my life pursuing a future in writing. I started my own column in the High School newspaper, called, Through the Melissa Lens. I used to write lots of poetry in elementary school, and decided to pick it up again. I submitted a poem to a contest and won. It was published in a anthology of poems. I applied to Emerson College for their Print Journalism program and in my essay to get in, I talked about Mr. Batt and Jonathan Livingston Seagull as my motivating factors for being a writer.
I was accepted to Emerson and switched majors to Writing, Literature, and Publishing. I am not a famous writer. Writing isn’t my day job. I self-published a book two years ago and then I didn’t write anything for almost two years. It wasn’t until I realized that I was feeling sort of unhappy and bored with work, that I decided to start this blog. Just being able to put my writing and thoughts out there twice a week has made me so happy. I missed writing. This taught me to never give up on my passion, even if it becomes something you do on the side for fun.
What is your passion? Do you pursue it in your day to day life? Let’s not follow the flock of seagulls on the dock and be more like Jonathan. Passions may not pay the bills, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them on the side. Play that instrument. Dance. Swim. Run. Write. Travel… Life is pretty dull if we just work and sleep. Hobbies and passions are important for making us feel more alive. Honestly, I’m happy when people read my blog entries, but I take more joy in writing them than anything else. Sometimes turning your passion into a career, can make the thing you love most into a chore. Not always though. If you can truly make enough money doing what you love, then by all means do it. If its stressful trying to get by each month pursuing your passion, consider pursuing it on the side just for fun to take the pressure off.
Most importantly, find your passion and never abandon it. Passions are meant to be practiced, enjoyed, and pursued. You may notice when you aren’t involving your passion in your life, your life starts to feel sad. So never neglect it. Never stick it in the back of the closet with that sad pair of shoes you wore out. It is okay if your passions evolve or shift, just always make sure you are aware of your passions and actively including them in your life. Be a Jonathan, not a plain old seagull!!