I’ve helped many students explore potential careers over the years, and it surprises me to be reminded that “finding your passion” is kind of a controversial concept.
You’ve heard it before, and your child probably has too:
”Find your passion!”
“Follow your passion!”
“Find work you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life!”
The message behind these statements implies you must absolutely love your work 24/7 or you’re in the wrong career. That puts a lot of pressure on a person, especially a young person who, along with this one, also hears messages from media and people around them about how difficult it is to get a job—any job—today.
One of the articles I read on this topic is by Sylvia Plath, author of a blog called Leaning Out with Sylvia Plath (“Because every night, something has to go in the oven.”) It's called, “Helping My Child Find His Passion. But First We Need to Find His Shoes.”.
In the article she states, “Honors biology is hard enough”, and we should “stop expecting our work time, play time and family time to orbit around a single profound interest.” She says students are inundated with messages from Ted talks to guidance counsellors that they must find or develop an “all- encompassing fervor” to something. She says sending this message to teenagers is wrong (actually, she uses the word “dangerous”).
Her article is a funny one and I agree with her, but only up to a point.
I think not trying to find your passion is wrong (and perhaps even dangerous).
Because many teens do have a passion: a passion to find work that’s meaningful.
To be clear, I don't expect every teenager to have (and to know) their life's passion. Who would expect that? Let's be real -- some people never find their "passion", and perhaps some people never really have one.
However, I believe with proper guidance teens can find a path to a career doing work they really enjoy, and feel at least somewhat passionately about. Work that sustains their interest over the years, and makes them feel like they are contributing to something.
I’m talking about finding a career they are proud of, one that will help give their life meaning. They probably won’t feel the love every moment of every workday, but they should feel it most of the time.
As parents, we want our children to find a career they enjoy, to be fulfilled by their life work, and to be successful (in whatever way we define success). We hope they find joy and satisfaction in their work.
But here’s the thing – our children want that too!
They also want to be successful, and they want their work to have passion.
In fact, many young people struggle to find a way to put their talents, skills and interests to work to make a real difference – in their community, in their country, and in the world. Just as we have dreams for our children, they have dreams for themselves.
They just don’t know how to find it, harness it, and put it into action.
I think it’s worth it to try to help them realise their dream, or at least some version of it. We should be doing everything we can to capitalize on their passion to find meaningful work.
So, when I encourage students to “find your passion”, I’m not suggesting all young people find one deep-held, long-term conviction, or a higher love of something. I’m not talking about what Plath calls a “single profound interest” or a “driving devotion”.
I'm simply talking about finding work suited to your interests, abilities, personality and values, and allows you to make a contribution to something that's important to you.
Work you love, or at least really, really like.
But instead of all that I’m just going to say “passion”.