The Myth Of Needing to Have A Passion

For some students, personal interests are entrenched enough that they come to college with what people call a "passion" or a "thing." In some cases, a student will take that passion and turn it into something more. If a student has been dancing for seven years and loves it, there's an opportunity to deepen their involvement and ultimately take more initiative and have impact.

American culture is obsessed with the idea that we need to “find our passion” in order to be happy and successful. But there’s a problem: “It’s astonishingly bad piece of advice,” says best-selling author Cal Newport. We have no pre-existing passion. Instead, passion is found by first building a rare and valuable talent and using it to take control of your career path. In other words, be so good and work so hard that no one can ignore you.

Here’s a deeper dive into what Newport terms the “myth of passion”:

For example, a student might decide to continue dancing competitively but also start to teach some dance classes. They've now taken their passion and are extending it. Another student who has danced for seven years might say "I'm so tired of dance, I never want to dance again." This can feel like a crisis for both the parent and the student because dance has been at the center of their lives for so many years. But remember: It isn't that the student hated dance all those years and was wasting their time: They're just stepping into who they are and how they wants to express themselves. This shift is common, and rather than see it as a problem, view it as an opportunity. That student will always carry with them the incredible skills they learned in dance: discipline, working with people, creativity within bounds, and learning to take direction. But now they get to explore and bring those skills into other areas.

Still other students entering college don't have that "passion." Instead, they've dabbled in a variety of activities: sports, camps, and other activities. Unfortunately, in our society, that feels like a red flag to parents—and sometimes even to students. But we would argue that you don't have to have a one "thing"—at least not when you're 14 years old. We want to encourage (not push!) students to experiment and try new things. Leaving career launch aside, it's crucial for them as human beings because they get to try things out, explore what they like and don't like, and engage with a variety of activities, topics, and people.

College provides a wonderful opportunity for students to engage in new experiences and activities both inside and outside the classroom. Yes, college students are still developing their identities, but the activities they enjoy are no longer only a reflection of their family's interests. Instead, their personal interests are starting to define who they are as people. And it's no surprise that engaged students are happier, more successful in school, and more likely to thrive and grow as individuals.

Bob Carlton