I once got into a semi-heated (lukewarm?) debate with a guy I was dating, whom I shall call Bird Brain for his love of the ornithological, over the relative importance of passion vs. dedication in a relationship. He was on Team Passion while I knew, even then (when I understood *very* few other things about love), that dedication is necessary for the many moments when passion feels less than passionate or even when loved ones feel less than totally lovable. The first year of our marriage and the first six months of Fire Monkey’s life have shown me, without a doubt, that I was right about the need for not just dedication but commitment. (Spoiler alert: Bird Brain and I didn’t last very long since he turned out to harbor a continuing passion for some girl in France that he had dated and would never see again and about whom he commenced to cry to me in his car one evening. It…was really awkward.)

I had a revelation last week, however, while listening to Sseko founder Liz Bohannon speak at Ohio State: I have probably been treating my perennial search for career significance as an issue of passion. And that is very likely a bit of a mistake.

For starters, passion is a nebulous term that I seem to have operationally defined as, “Something I like a lot.” The problem is, there are many things I like a lot that may or may not qualify as a passion worth pursuing as a career. I really like tuna salad, but I probably shouldn’t be a chef. I really like sewing, but I’m limited to semi-straight lines and thus making a fortune on Etsy is probably rather out of reach. I really liked the idea of wedding planning (or at least being part of the Association of Bridal Consultants and going on trips to tropical resorts very inexpensively) but I probably am not prepared for the reality of the job. I really like photography, but when I tried to make a full-time business out of it, the business part (which I didn’t like as much) made the whole thing far less enjoyable.

On the flip side, using “Something I like a lot,” as a benchmark for career satisfaction has meant that I’ve found myself questioning my job any time I find something I don’t like about it. I admit that I bought a few shares of stock in the myth that, “Finding your passion means you’ll never work a day in your life!” and assumed that when my job did feel like work that something wasn’t right.

But after six years in the workforce and as many jobs, I’ve finally realized that, just as there’s no Mr. Right, there is no Perfect Job. (The irony of my understanding this about relationships, which I thought was my biggest weakness for most of my 20s, before I understood it about jobs, which I thought I had figured out, is not lost on me, I assure you.) Looking back over the many job changes I’ve made (and contemplated making) over the years, I realized that I was chasing the perfect passion unicorn, when perhaps I needed to ask myself, “What question or problem interests me most?” Because as Liz pointed out last week, interesting questions and problems are much easier to find than perfect opportunities to pursue your passion and earn a living doing so.

Liz also managed to enunciate the frustration that characterized most of my early to mid to mid-late 20s. I have been looking for career fulfillment the way one looks for the oft-misplaced Waldo. In order to find Waldo, I have to know exactly what he looks like and how to distinguish the real Waldo from numerous facsimiles. (I’ve always wanted to use facsimile in a written work. #goals) But how was I supposed to know what Waldo looks like fresh out of college? For that matter, how do I know what Waldo looks like now? In a Matrixy turn of thought, what if I told you there is no Waldo, or maybe there are multiple Waldos for different seasons of life?

Lately I’ve been pondering/gnashing my teeth a bit over if and when to return to the classroom. I know that our decision for me to stay home this year was the right one, especially in light of Science Guy’s recent health issues and the great yawning unknown of the next step in his career. I love being home with Fire Monkey and having the opportunity to pursue some interests (passions?) that have been dormant for awhile: writing, design, and laundry, for example. If asked whether I miss the classroom, my knee-jerk reaction is No, I don’t miss the endless slog of grading, the constant low-to-mid-level on-ness even when I’m not at work, the 7+ hours a day of extroverting. Teaching is work. (And if anyone coos about having summers off, I will fight them.)

But if you dig a little deeper past the bookkeeping and ringmastering, I do miss the actual teaching. I miss my students, I miss my classroom, I miss my colleagues, I miss my school supplies. (I had a dream about smelly markers last night, people.) When Monkey and I go to the YMCA after school hours, I have to stop myself from bouncing over to the students hanging out there and asking if they need help with their homework, because that would be slightly crazy and they might call the police and that would ruin everyone’s day. Teaching was my world and I miss it, but I have a new world now and like so many teacher-moms, I’m not convinced those worlds can coexist, and that makes me profoundly sad.

An article about not balancing teaching and momming has been circulating my social media feed for a few months, and every time it comes up, shared by a new mom who went back to the classroom before I did, I feel overwhelmingly grateful for the time I have with my little man, and also massively discouraged. I already fear that I cannot be both the mom and the teacher that I want to be. (And before anyone asks, no, I do not think teaching can be “just a job” in the sense of something one can coast through. It is too emotionally demanding and too important to consign to indifference.) Perhaps this is selfish of me, but I’m just not sure that my passion for and dedication to teaching other people’s children are enough to justify taking vast quantities of time and energy away from my own.

But. The question of how to educate well is still one that fascinates me. And answering that question can take many forms, in my own home with my own boy and in my place of work, wherever that is, which is somewhat reassuring. So here’s to not chasing one elusive unicorn any more, but finding all the answers I can along the way.