Our Illegitimate Interests

When people share what they’re interested in, a sad and subtle thing tends to happen.

They dismiss interests they don’t see as “legitimate.”

Oh, and I write some song lyrics, too. But, you know, that’s…whatever.

I’ve been D.J.ing a bit, but my work work is consulting.

I sketch a lot, which you can’t do anything with. So, my 9-5 grind is in insurance.

Where did we learn to be so sheepish and apologetic about these “illegitimate” interests? And where did we learn what’s legitimate and what’s not in the first place?

My answer is the same for both: convention, the old man status quo that is forced on us, reinforced to us by family, friends, mass media - so many messengers.

Convention puts engineers, surgeons, corporate lawyers on magazine covers, not acrobats, illustrators, cabaret singers. Convention shapes how we acknowledge each other: You’re a surgeon - WOW! You’re an illustrator? Huh. You pay the bills doing that? Convention makes it unsurprising that a pianist could train for twice as many years as an investment banker and earn an eighteenth as much.

It all adds up to what convention says are legitimate interests, which we’re taught are hard, essential, make money, add value, and what convention says are illegitimate ones, which we’re taught are soft, indulgent, inessential, ways to starve.

But convention does not always a meaningful life make. For convention does little to account for the passions of the human spirit. And sometimes convention needs a swift kick in the rear.

If we hear people dismissing their interests, if we hear ourselves dismissing our interests, we can take a step outside convention’s barriers and ask, Can you tell me more about your screenwriting?

The question restores legitimacy to the interest by creating space for it, and space for the very human spirit that is ignited by it. The more we ask the question, the more we nudge convention’s uptight boundaries to allow more room for more ways of making a life.

Our world needs engineers, surgeons, corporate lawyers. If those set your spirit afire, sally forth! If they don’t, know that the world can’t turn on those roles alone. It needs more. And one of its greatest needs is people who are interested in what they’re doing, be they neurosurgeons or trapeze artists, civil engineers or spoken word poets.

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