The most popular theme of commencement speeches in high schools and colleges is Follow Your Passion. But how do you figure out what that is? And what if everyone wanted to follow their passion?
Are the sanitation workers on the garbage trucks following their passion? What about school custodians, lunch ladies, and school crossing guards?
I’ve had the opportunity to counsel more than a few school crossing guards, since this is a surprisingly high stress job. How did these people, mostly women or retired men in my county, decide to become a crossing guard?
Many crossing guards apply for the job because it’s part-time, local, fits in with their young children’s schedule, and provides excellent medical insurance benefits for their entire family. They’re not in it for the low pay, and there is no possibility of career advancement.
Yet this job is risky. I’ve listened to harrowing stories of drivers being completely blind to the crossing guard standing in the middle of the street holding a stop sign aloft. Some guards have had to dive out of the car’s path to narrowly avoid being run down. Some have pushed children to safety. Still others have had the traumatic experience of seeing a child hit, or being hit themselves. They’ve suffered from PTSD.
So what is in it for these quiet heroes who stand outside in below freezing temperatures, sweltering hot days, during thunderstorms, windstorms, and hail, protecting our children?
“I love the daily contact with the children and parents every morning and afternoon,” one guard said. “All the kids recognize me, and run to me smiling. I’m keeping them safe. I feel like I’m doing something that matters.”
These women didn’t follow their passion. Maybe they don’t even remember if they ever had a passion besides raising their own family. But for some of them, their job becomes their passion.
It reminds me of the lyrics to an old favorite song. When you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
I know a man in his 50’s who has intellectual disability. I see the special bus drive down my street to pick him up every morning at 7 am and drop him off after 3 pm. I asked him about the job the bus takes him to.
“I deliver the mail in the company to all the offices,” he told me proudly. “I’m very important. No one would get their mail if I wasn’t there.”
His father said, “Remember that blizzard last winter when over 2 feet of snow were dumped on the island in one night? Joey woke up bright and early and got ready for work. I told him everything is buried. No one’s going out today. He was frantic. He begged me to take him to work.” Then his father laughed and patted Joey on the back. “He’s quite dedicated.”
Joey nodded vigorously. “They all count on me. No one can do the work if I don’t deliver their mail.” Then he shook his head sadly. “But Dad was right. They were closed. I still wanted to go.”
Clearly, Joey had followed his passion. I admired him.
What if you think your passion is one thing, and it turns out to be quite a different thing entirely?