Ending the Stigma Against Career Over Passion


Leo Rassieur

“Take senior year easy, and just focus on the things that you are truly passionate about,” is probably the phrase most likely to cause juniors at CHS to tune out the rest of the conversation. But it isn’t our fault; many students at our school have grown tired of the same-old-same-old adages advising against doing things solely intended to advance their academic careers. We hear our teachers promise that only those who genuinely enjoy a class will succeed in it, then more than half the class signs up for the most rigorous course available on that subject.

That is not to say that our teachers are wrong and that we ought to only scan the course selection form for “AP,” because they often end up being right. Many students have lost motivation in their AP and Honors courses because they were half-hearted in registering to begin with and chose to dismiss the advice of teachers and counselors. We all know this — they all know this. So why do CHS students continue to make the same unsustainable decisions? The answer is that the way we frame our dialogues on passion versus padding one’s resume is defunct. For those students who force themselves through rigorous classes that they do not yet enjoy, the argument that they will be overworked or that they will slack off does not hold any weight; otherwise, they would not make the decisions they do.

It can be very frustrating to see your peers engage in activities and pursuits that are, in all likelihood, inauthentic to what they truly enjoy. Consequently, we have created a schoolwide stigma against valuing ambition over passion and neglected the root causes of our college-oriented mentalities. It will not be easy to begin accepting those who we identify as conforming to the toxic culture of competition in the Bay Area, but it would certainly be more fruitful than continuing with finger pointing and bitterness.

For one, pursuing economic certainty over a more enjoyable career should not be looked down upon. Advocates of passion-centric academic decisionmaking seem to simultaneously believe that each is entitled to their own path in life and that prioritizing material security constitutes “selling out” one’s values. This clear contradiction exposes the fact that, while we can all hope for a less cutthroat academic and economic environment in years to come, pretending it does not currently exist is merely wishful thinking. Moreover, many students see the grueling process of strengthening their resumes and attaining wealth as stepping toward future self-fulfillment. The age-old saying that “money doesn’t buy happiness” does not hold true in 21st century America.

A cushion of wealth allows us to experiment various life paths — painting, filmmaking or writing, perhaps — that are far less likely to create a steady income. And just as the dull elementary and middle school years of our childhoods prepared us for the relative freedom of high school, taking hard classes outside our comfort zones can create a similar level of preparedness when we eventually enroll in courses that significantly challenge our skill sets. There is merit in immersing yourself in that which terrifies you most. For someone planning on majoring in computer science, that may mean taking a rigorous history or literature course. Regardless of their initial motivations for doing so, those who enroll in these challenging classes may discover that their academic passions differ from their initial expectations.

Padding our resumes and college applications seems to be the principal vice of students at Cupertino High School, but like all sins, they disappear and reappear as we adjust our societal norms. All CHS students should feel comfortable choosing their dreams. In the past, most advice toward students has been to avoid ambitions that might not earn enough money in the future. In our quest to dispel these limitations on students’ freedom, we have created new burdens by attacking their pursuit of monetary success. Freedom does not mean the ability to choose what society deems as most free; it is a measure of an individual’s ability to make a decision regardless of whether society agrees with them.  I will certainly continue to disagree with those who I believe hold the wrong academic values, but I will never let my preconceptions make others feel ashamed of their dreams.