"Find your passion," the guidance counselor urged the high schoolers and their parents one night in early fall a couple of years ago. "Follow that. Let that guide you."

Inwardly, I groaned. Passion? These guys are freshman. They can't decide what to eat for breakfast. What "passion" can they possibly have for doing anything for the rest of their lives at this point?

She continued confidently in her speech. "You have an idea of what you like to do. See where that takes you."

"Whatever," I thought, rather perfunctorily dismissing her as "one-of-those-types." We'll see what happens. We've got a few years before we have to decide on much of anything.

Well, funny how that old adage of "time flies when you're having fun" plays out. Fast forward two years: we are approaching the mid-point of the junior year for that same son. Really, it seems that it was just yesterday morning when he was this fresh-faced, new-kid-on-the-block freshman ... and then it was just last night we looked at his new driver's permit ... and it must have been just this morning when he started talking about colleges ... at this rate, by the Saturday, we'll be sitting at college graduation.

I'm no longer sneering inwardly at the (now sage and wise-beyond-my-years) guidance counselor's advice of "find your passion."


Every night, at our daily ritual of "two good things of the day", we get a glimpse into each person's happy moments. Some things never fail to surprise me: how many times can food make a teenage boy's list anyway? A constant theme is sports for the two older boys; they always name the practice for the sport of the moment, currently the weight room and pick-up lacrosse practices, whenever and wherever they can find them. Recess hits the list for the youngest, while morning walks with the dogs often make my own.

But as our second child has stated, the "two good things" must include something "academical." Since preschool, our daughter has latched onto any social studies units about "olden days." While those can be anything as early as when her parents were children, she is most fascinated by the descriptions of early America. Our oldest son happily talks about architecture and engineering classes, and the middle child usually speaks of social studies.

This guidance counselor's exhortation to "find your passion" rings through my parental ears. I've come around to her way of thinking: passion makes your life much more complete. It's infinitely more fun–and fulfilling, to adults at least — to spend your days doing something you believe in, engaged in something that you enjoy.

The older two boys already choose to live that way. They believe it is normal to organize everything around the weight room (summer and winter), football practice (fall), snowboarding (winter), and lacrosse (all year round, but especially spring and summer). Any extra minutes mean bonus time for more video games.

But I don't think "finding your passion" is such a straight-forward, one-time thing, either. We all evolve, and different things grab our interest. (Or perhaps I am just hopeful that teenage boys outgrow their interest in X-box's and remember how to read again?)

This summer we unexpectedly stopped at a couple of universities on our American odyssey across the plains while driving to Yellowstone. Our fall lacrosse travels have continued the visits to colleges of all sizes in the Northeast. These bastions of higher education called to us all, their stately majesty and manicured lawns impressing young minds, their sports stadiums no doubt conjuring scenes of playing and cheering, their college stores and infinite varieties of T-shirts and sweatshirts inspiring thoughts of collections to be worn proudly.

As we strolled through one, my oldest asked, "What do you think of this one, Mom?" I stopped before speaking, as I realized that I did, actually, have many more thoughts and opinions than I had anticipated.

I answered carefully. "Mostly, I think that what I think really doesn't matter anymore." He looked at me rather curiously. "My only valid point now is that it is good to choose a larger school. Maybe your plans will change. Bigger schools make that option easier."

"It's your life, buddy. Your choices about what you want to do."

Or, I suppose I could have just used the words the guidance counselor uses so freely and naturally: "Follow your passion."

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com.