Don’t Follow Your Passions

We misguide young people when we say, "Do what you love"

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Don’t Follow Your Passions

photo by Nisha Rao

photo by Nisha Rao

photo by Nisha Rao

Nisha Rao, News Editor

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Passion. The word erupts from the mouth of every teacher, counselor, and parent, followed by cliched phrases of ‘If you can dream it, you can do it!’ or ‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer!’ If you’ve ever watched a commencement address, authors, movie stars, and leaders don decadent robes and spout platitudes about dreams and hopes, proclaiming that passion is the key to success.

I’m here to tell you that it’s probably not. And, in an attempt to find it, you may just lose out.

See, the whole idea of ‘passion’ constitutes, in itself, a rather arbitrary idea. Merriam-Webster defines it as a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept, with examples of a passion for chess or a passion for opera. These are, of course, excellent examples of passion, but, undoubtedly, bad examples of careers. But why is that?

Psychology Today tells us about the self-determination theory, which proposes that mastery is one of the biggest human motivators. Seeing progress within a chosen field offers a far greater sense of fulfillment to a person, as opposed to following a job with little hope of advancement. We like to see ourselves succeed, and, in any career, that success comes from taking the next step up, whether that be a promotion or another degree.

The self-determination theory also explains the feeling of hitting a wall. When you engage with something you have a passion for, but little actual experience, you fail to advance or gain any mastery at all, thus rendering you hateful of the career you’ve chosen.

Benjamin Todd, co-founder and Executive Director of 80,000 Hours, an Oxford-based charity dedicated to helping people find fulfilling careers, spoke of his own issues in attempting to find a career. “I was really interested in investing and finance,” he explained in his TED Talk. “I knew that following the finance route would be a really well-paid career, but I was wondering, like, maybe I wouldn’t make as much difference doing that, it wouldn’t help society.”

Perhaps this is exactly what we need to hear: seek fulfillment.

For Todd, passion came from investment and finance, but fulfillment came in the form of helping other people. His website cites that just over a third of young graduates want to make a difference in their careers but fail to understand how to get there, and so they eventually sell out.

But your own fulfillment doesn’t necessarily have to align with a strong sense of social justice or a need to solve all the world’s problems. In itself, fulfillment is something different for everybody. For some, the attainment of money in a job they don’t necessarily love might actually enable opportunities outside of work to follow their true passions. Others would rather have a job they want to do, and would do just that, at a lower salary. Yet others have a balance of the two, allowing them to gain monetarily and enjoy the tasks they do daily.

Maybe, as we find fulfillment, passion follows.

Now, it all seems depressing. Don’t follow your dreams? Don’t engage in your passions? At its surface, yes, it sounds awful to say that your passions should stay separate from career. But, in the long run, people find themselves happier. It keeps their passions exciting, allowing them to pursue those activities as hobbies, rather than a career as a whole.

In the spirit of graduation and college, think about your hopes, your dreams, your passions. But, most importantly, think about what you want out of life.

Then, go out there and make the most of it.