In Which “Following Your Passion” is a Terrible Idea

Or rather, “One of many ways I embarrassed myself as a teenager.”

In the year 2001, the movie Moulin Rouge came out. I was 15 years old. It was a little edgy, people sang and danced, and Ewan McGregor was the male lead. Obviously it was my favorite movie.

The massively popular hit “Lady Marmalade” (Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink and Lil’ Kim) was released in conjunction with the movie. You’ll remember it as the song with this lyric:

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?

“Will you sleep with me tonight” in a lyric was a big deal at the time (though by modern standards it seems rather tame). It was a suggestive song performed by female superstars of the early 2000s. I idolized these women with their booming vocals and their take-charge attitude.

I also idolized, of course, their sexiness. I was an awkward 15-year old (what 15-year old isn’t awkward?), and wanted to absorb their feminine confidence via osmosis.

The takeaway thus far: You could say that I was passionate about Moulin Rouge and the associated hit song.

Let’s cue forward several weeks to a drama class assignment. My friends and I loved drama class – I even got the highest marks in drama for my grade one year (but not this year).

Our assignment? To make a coordinated dance number to a song. We split into groups of four, were given general instructions, and left to our devices.

It started well. My group agreed on an Aretha Franklin song (“R-E-S-P-E-C-T”). We were making moves at a friend’s house one afternoon, but it was a little boring. You could say I wasn’t passionate about this particular project.

So I thought – why don’t we make a dance to Lady Marmalade instead?

My group was divided on the merits of this idea. Rightly, one girl from the group pointed out how it was an inappropriate song choice. Too suggestive for school. She was the voice of reason.

I proceeded to steamroll her. (Sorry, Kim!)

We each chose a “character” – I got to be Christina Aguilera, the lead, of course. How much more fun it was to play a character in this dance assignment! How much more appropriate for a drama presentation this way! One thing’s for certain: I was passionate about directing this new number.

Presentation day came. I’m not sure what we expected, but it probably wasn’t an audience full of our female classmates. Since this experience was over half my life ago, I can’t remember why there weren’t any guys in the audience, but for some inexplicable reason they were absent.

In our heads, this is how the dance went: We pumped the tunes, acted sexy and strong while lip-syncing our parts, and the guys would say, “How sexy and cool.”

In reality, this is how the dance went: We pumped the tunes, acted sexy but looked awkward because we were awkward, while lip-syncing our parts. And the girls probably said, “Why are they gyrating at us?”

The moral of the story is this: When choosing to follow your passion, reality is your friend. Stay in touch with reality or forever cringe in retrospect.

If you dream of leading the bohemian life of a traveling painter, but you’re not a painter, then you probably shouldn’t pursue that dream. At the very least, you should become a good painter first.

I dreamed of impressing everyone with sexy dancing, but I was neither sexy nor a dancer. I had this idea in my head of what I wanted to be, but there was a large canyon between that and reality. So, cringing forever.

Secondary moral of the story: Sometimes the first choice is the best choice, even if it isn’t as exciting. (I love you Aretha!)

But if you do decide to drop everything and pursue a passion that isn’t remotely connected to your actual reality, your embarrassment will be a source of education and inspiration for many years to come.