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October 23, 2006 | 4 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I'm a 4th year college student, I studied in Missoula last spring (great show by the way!) however, I'm back in Wisconsin and nowhere near graduating...I'm trying to make a decision as to what is most important- in the grand scheme of things, is it more important to go somewhere you love, majoring in something you love even if it means risking unemployment or an unsteady job after graduation and an uncertain future? Or staying somewhere you dislike, majoring in something you like but don't love, but knowing that you're financially secure afterwards?

Mike H.

You're looking for passion in your life and that's good. You know it when you locate it and evidently you've found something in academia that you love and that you hesitate to take up because it may lead to an uncertain future. I'd push you to head in that direction if you feel confident about it. (Unless you're aiming at a major in creative writing, which I don't recommend.) It is so good for you to go with your passion in school -- for people who love history to take that up and not go into accounting or elementary education just because the employment statistics are good. This may be one of the few times in your life when you'll get to do that. To be completely free and make free choices. (I'm assuming you're single and have no children, Mike.) Later on, your passion may be overshadowed by a passion for a place, such as Missoula, and in order to live there, you'll make compromises, or a passion for a woman who has her own passions, and you'll have to negotiate those. But if you see clearly an exciting path right now, I'd recommend you head in that direction. When I was in college, I wanted to write fiction. I knew that. Employment prospects were poor. But I knew what I wanted to do and I took some risks in that direction and am awfully glad I did.


Definitely follow your passions. Take me for instance. I attended St Olaf College in Northfield, MN. I had never seen or knew where it was (I chose it because of the St Olaf Paracollege. A college equally accredited as St Olaf, except it was based on the English tutorial approach to learning whereby a student would design his or her own major--referred to as a "Concentration".) When the Airport limo rolled out of Minneapolis proper and into the country, I asked the driver if he knew where he was going because we were headed into the country. He responded that he did--as we entered Northfield where the sign reads Welcome to Northfield Home of Collges and Cows--and I thought, "Oh no, what did I get myself into?" It turned into a great experience as I designed a concentration in "Existential Philosophy, Literature and Theology", became a Vegitarian, made friends with some cool people--one friend built a real (4) person Ferris Wheel in his dorm room in Ytterboe Hall where he would give rides on Friday and Saturday nights as he played carnival music on his organ--and pursued my Kerouacian passions. After graduating, my friend Skal Paradise and I were frolicing along the Mississipi River south of La Crosse in the Driftless Area and "found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, $600,000, pure gold, more than a body knew what do do with." We bought a farm in narrow valley with a crick meandering through, which we use as our home base as we race across the country with beautiful women, wine and song because "we know time." Follow your possions...

No, a child will not be left behind because he has been given time and opportunity to be a child. My boy is 7, the progeny of two old parents who lived at a much slower pace. He was not afforded the opportunity of going to preschool, though we did employ some gentle teaching and lots of time for "doin' nothin'". When he went to first grade (skipping kindergarten) the powers that be wanted to force him into kindergarten. I had gained some insight into expert advice with his sister who was 16 years his senior and went with my gut. Within a few months of first-grade he had caught up to and surpassed his classmates. The teacher thought his socialization skills were lacking because he didn't go for the gusto at recess, but it turned out he was just appalled by the rudeness of the other students and eventually found some like-minded friends. Kids need to be kids, and from my experience most of them don't get enough unstructured down-time.

Following your passion always pays off. I was a Liberal Arts major, and I befriended Fine Arts majors, Classical Studies majors, Creative Writing majors and other less than practical folks, and we've all found ways over the years of spinning our skills into paychecks. There's a book on the market now called, "I'm an English Major -- Now What?" which basically tells you how to evaluate the skills you develop in college -- the ability to add analysis and discipline to your creativity -- into something that someone will pay you to do. Have at it!

I have long been an advocate of pursuing one's passions and interests. I hate the notion, held by many, that college is all about "job training." There are many ways higher education can and should enrich a person's life, and they may or may not have to do with the way one eventually earns one's living. They may have to do with the way one interacts with other people and enriches THEIR lives, or with the way one serves God, or the way one simply enjoys life.

That being said, I also believe a person needs to have a plan to earn a living and, if need be, support a family. It's not fair to pursue advanced studies in what you love and then expect the public to support you financially because you can't support yourself. But your gainful employment doesn't have to be related to your college major. If you can major in philosophy or music or Icelandic History and then earn a decent living selling shoes or providing tree service or working as an instructional aide in a school, I say go for it!

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