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Exploring the Unique Relationship of Passion vs. Pressure

Photo of Sue Edwards, outdoors without a face mask

Sue Edwards | Photo by Diana Jaber | The Wright State Guardian

Alissa McNeilis had to face the music.

Since she was 6 years old, she practiced and played her violin for up to 50 hours a week because her parents wanted her to be a professional musician and she wanted to please mom and dad. By the time she turned 18, she realized music was no longer her passion.  

“When not only you, but other people like teachers, counselors and even your family are telling you that you’re only good at one thing, so you need to focus on it, that is what forced me to push myself to stay in this field,” McNeilis, a junior at Wright State University said. “Especially being young, not even 18 yet, and having your whole life set up for you in that way, it was not fair.” 

Her story is all too common these days as students, employees and people of all ages try to resolve the conflict between passion and pressure and how it manifests into their life choices. 

The average person will spend over 90,000 hours at work in a lifetime. However, surveys show only 20 percent of U.S employees are passionate about their job.  

That dynamic currently plays out in the job market all across the country, as younger workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers, in part, because they’re not passionate about what they do.

Student reporters at Wright State University spent the fall 2021 semester examining the pressure versus passion dynamic. The four-month project will tell tales of college students, families and businesses all struggling with whether they should do what they want in life or what others feel they should do to be successful. The stories appeared in The Wright State Guardian in the form of articles, and talk shows, podcasts and an ebook.

“I feel like pressure, a lot of time takes over and gets in the way of people’s passion,” reporter Lainey Stephenson said. “Pressure can overpower one’s passion and I think It’s important to hear other people’s stories.” 

Pressure is unavoidable and relatable, but worth the struggle, according to reporter Shea Neal.

WWSU studio | Photo by Maxwell Patton | The Wright State Guardian

“Everyone, no matter what scale you are on… deals with pressure in different ways, but in the end, the passion is worth the pressure. If it’s something you really care about and something you really want to do with your life, you should find ways to combat that pressure.”

Shea Neal

Wright State University President Sue Edwards believes chasing a passion was never meant to be easy. 

“If you want something badly enough, you have to work for it. Nothing comes for free,” she said. 

Edwards never saw herself as a university president, but eventually found herself in the role after serving as provost for two years. In a position of leadership, she faces many pressures that ultimately distract her from her passion — students. 

“When I was here as provost and I was sick, who got me through it? The students. When they spoke to me about the president role, the students had been through so much, and I couldn’t bear to have them go through another upheaval. That is the only reason I took the job. They carried me, and I can never repay that. I’m here for the students, but they were here for me,” she said. 

Oftentimes, intense passion coincides with intense pressure. For Edwards, that pressure is not letting her students down. 

Photo of Sue Edwards, outdoors without a face mask

“I think that is the biggest pressure, If I fail, then I fail my students.”

President Sue Edwards

Aside from the internal pressure that Edwards puts on herself, the president also faces several external pressures. 

She is the second female president at Wright State, only after her immediate predecessor Cheryl Schrader. That put them both in an exclusive club. Just 33 percent of public four-year colleges and universities had women presidents according to a 2106 analysis, the last year statistics were available.

Edwards also tries to please several different constituent groups such as students, faculty, staff, alumni, community partners, etc. all with strong and differing opinions. 

“The greatest pressure I feel is the pressure I put upon myself,” she said. “I know that there is no perfect but I try to do the best I can. I just stay true to who I am and true to my core values. I can only do my best.”

Everyone’s relationship with passion and pressure is different. 

Student reporters will focus on sharing stories of how different people experience pressure and find their passion. 

Professor Ray Marcano teaches the class along with adjunct professor Ken Paxson. Marcano’s goal is for the stories to impact each student as well as the community. 

“I’m hoping that some of these reach a wide audience,” he said. “They can then become introspective about what they do and whether or not choices that they’ve made [are] because they really want to do it or felt pressured to do it, and if they need to make changes as a result of that.” 

Wright State student Sarah Patterson struggles to find what she is passionate about and to understand that’s okay.

“I think it’s important because finding a passion is something that every person stresses that you need to find and it’s super hard to find,” said Patterson, the project’s ebook editor. “There are many different obstacles and pressures to finding it [your passion].”

Nick Wood noted the theme’s relevance, especially mid-pandemic and post-shutdown. The pandemic caused roughly one in five people to reevaluate their lives, according to a Ipsos poll.

“The way I viewed my life before COVID is, I was just running running running and then we just hit a wall,” said Wood, a reporter on the project. “I was forced to slow down and look around me. What was I doing before and how do I want to move forward?” 

Early on, reporters found a common theme — confidence plays a big role in determining whether you can step out of your comfort zone and pursue a passion that may be financially risky but more rewarding. 

Failure can often be a barrier to building that confidence, Edwards said.

“Sometimes you are going to try something and sometimes you are going to fail, and that’s okay, because you learn from that failure. Failure is a normal part of life,” Edwards said. “However, that first time you fail in anything hurts, and it shatters your self-confidence.” 

However one experiences passion and pressure in their life, they should challenge themselves to pursue their passion despite the pressures they may face. 

“Pressure can give you purpose,” Edwards said. “Sometimes it is invigorating, and sometimes it is debilitating.” 

Makenzie Hoeferlin served as project editor.

Makenzie Hoeferlin