“Follow your passion” was an unofficial theme at the 50th anniversary of the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh Journalism Department. (I am an ’86 grad.)

Jim VandeHei (’95), co-founder of Politico and Axios, was one of the UW-Oshkosh journalism graduates who made this point in his Friday morning keynote at the Student/Young Alumni Breakfast. Jim said it is especially important for young adults to pursue their passions because they essentially have “nothing to lose” as opposed to later in life when they have homes, kids, which can make career moves much more difficult.

In other words, the longer you wait to pursue your passions, the harder it becomes….. Students in attendance that were young, vibrant, bright-eyed….Young adults that I hope all felt, GO FOR IT!

I can think of several instances in my own career in which I felt I had to take a leap of faith because I was very unhappy in my current position. Some of these moves worked out better than others, but I’d say, in the long run, they were worth it.

As an example, tired of the long hours and relentless pace of daily newspapers, I took a job as an associate editor with Krause Publications (now F&W Media), a large collectible book and magazine company in central Wisconsin. It was a good move, and not so good.

Great place to work, better hours, but I never understood how someone could be that passionate about collecting, a feeling I didn’t share with many of my co-workers. I have always found it difficult to write about topics I am not passionate about. Now not every writer feels that way, and I can do it, sure, but it feels like you’re just going through the motions; there’s no real feeling behind what you’re writing.

I had long thought, in the back of my mind, that writing about various social justice topics would be extremely rewarding. It was an offshoot of the education beat I had at several papers – one part of the job I DID like. A LOT.

And so, a few tough, wayward years after I left KP, my prayers for newfound direction were answered, and I began writing and editing various publications for a small publishing company in nearby Waupaca, Wis., that catered to various social service professionals. Instead of writing about collectible toys for toy collectors, something I didn’t care two hoots about (although KP was a great place to work), I was writing for child welfare workers, foster parents, caregivers, and eventually, employee assistance professionals, a group I remain passionate about to this day.

I loved my job and my work, and I like to think I still do. THAT is the difference. As the saying goes, do what you love to do and you’ll never work another day in your life. Now everyone has a bad day now and then, but I’d say there is a lot of truth to that statement. Or as a good friend of mine put it, “If you’re only working for a paycheck, you’re happy a few days out of the month. But if it’s something you love to do, you feel happy and fulfilled most of the time.”

Other great advice I heard at the reunion included:

Find a good mentor….

Have courage and faith in yourself.    (which ties back to following your passions)

Many people today are skeptical of journalists, so be GENUINE. Be HUMAN. Be REAL.

Always keep experimenting.    

Know what your customers (or readers) want.    

Stories change. Co-workers change. Jobs change. But passion is one thing that remains. Regardless of whether it was student, recent grad, or a seasoned sage like myself and others, passion for journalism was a recurring message that came through loud and clear.

Passion, I might add, that needs to focus on accurate reporting and writing with reliable, fact-based sources. A message that was GREAT to hear the way journalists have come under fire in recent years (and deservedly so in some cases, I’m sorry to say).

Moral of the story: Whatever it is, follow YOUR passion. Life is too short not to.