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A long time ago, I taught essay writing at the University of Illinois in Chicago, my alma mater. Like other instructors, I held office hours for individual student consultations. One day I was meeting with a young man who was the worst student in my class. He had trouble stringing two coherent sentences together. I tried my best to give him some pointers, but he just didn’t get it and I could tell his mind was wandering. So, I changed the subject and asked him what he wanted to do after college.

“I don’t know.”

Well, what is it you like to do? I asked.

“I like to work on cars.”

We talked some more and his story came out that he never wanted to be in school. He wanted to be an auto mechanic. He found all of his courses boring. It’s just that his parents insisted he go to college.

I suspect that some of you reading this can identify with that young man. So many young people today are compelled to attend college not because they want to, but because parents, peer pressure and school counselors hard sell them on the idea that’s the only way to get ahead in life.

Except, if you don’t have a passion for your work, you won’t succeed in life, no matter how many college degrees you earn. Conversely, the world is full of entrepreneurs who never graduated from college but got rich thanks to a passion for their business.

My career was spent as an editor with magazines covering the plumbing and HVAC trades. Thanks to a blue-collar background, I had always respected skilled craft workers. My admiration grew even further over three-and-a-half decades writing about the men (and a few women) of the trades, witnessing time after time the dedication to their craft exhibited by so many of them.

I remember being taken on tours of complicated installations, my tour guides beaming with pride in describing the difficulties entailed in their projects. I recall seeing mechanics polishing new furnaces and buffing brazed copper joints for no good reason performance-wise, only because they wanted their work to look nice for their customers. I heard endless rags-to-riches tales of tradesmen born to humble circumstances who lived in fancy homes, drove expensive vehicles and traveled the world because they loved their work and made themselves among the best at it.

Passion, along with pride, is the key to success. What is it that gives you joy and motivates you to produce your best work?

Do you love to work with tools to build and fix things? If so be sure to explore the trades.