Letters: ‘Find Your Passion’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

Readers react to a report on a new study suggesting that students should ignore the oft-repeated advice.

Alvaro Barrientos / AP

‘Find Your Passion’ Is Awful Advice

Last week, Olga Khazan unpacked a recent study that questions the common wisdom on how we should choose our careers. Passions aren’t “found,” the study’s authors argued; they’re developed.

Young people routinely mistake “find your passion” to mean “pick your interest early and do not waver from it,” rather than “constantly search for the things that make your soul alive and pursue them diligently.” Many older people fail to add useful explanation when pushing this otherwise ambiguous and worthless catchphrase. Thus misled, young people find themselves pigeon-holed into interests they may no longer have, and cut themselves off from opportunities that don’t match up with their onetime “passion.” Everyone needs to do better at communicating the real message behind “find your passion” to young people.

Josh Ready
Detroit, Mich.

I feel sorry for the students who think school is either a place to “find their passion” with the expectation that the world will then accommodate them, or that it’s a training center to learn how to be a drone in their chosen field. I think the point of university (and all schools really) is to explore and learn, not just to be trained in something (though that’s a part of its purpose).

Alison Coad
Montreal, Canada

Passion develops from doing something well—from gaining expertise. This is usually confused with doing something well because one has a passion for it. In my own experience as a career consultant, most people I met who had a passion for what they did had no idea when they began—their joy developed by staying with something long enough to gain satisfaction from their expertise. Many young people today are led to believe that with passion, work is unnecessary!

Joan Campbell
Concord, Mass.

I am a graduating college student, and all my life, I have already been doing the growth mindset without even knowing what it was—I’m an engineering major who has several years of ballet experience, and recently decided to join marketing competitions. Before, I was really passionate about health, but working for an environmental firm made me love the environment too.

Now, I am just months away from my graduation, and I still don’t know where I should be going. Should I go to an engineering firm? Or try my hand at a marketing stint? Or do I help the environment? The truth is, by going through different experiences, I have developed many things that I am passionate about, and now, I do not know which to prioritize. It is like being torn between two lovers. My second problem is this: as the saying goes, Jack of All Trades, Master of None. Let’s say I do pick a track that I want to pursue. My problem would be that many people applying for that job would be more specialized than me since they have devoted much of their time to developing the skills needed for that track.

Maria T.
Manila, Phillippines

I appreciate and agree with the conclusion of this study. When I graduated from high school I had no idea what my “passion” was. I followed my heart and majored in American Studies. I developed a love for documentary photography but didn’t like the idea of working on my own, so I tried documentary filmmaking. Once working in this field, I realized that finding a family life in that type of environment would be difficult and I wanted a skill that gave no control over my work. I tried teaching, massage therapy, and then physical therapy. I now work with people using the Feldenkrais Method, which incorporates many of my interests. I realize that it draws on what I loved about street photography—learning about people and figuring out what needs doing so that they can feel better. The people I work with give me their trust and we learn from each other. I could never have known that type of “passion” when I was 20 years old.

Carole Blueweiss
New York, N.Y.

The “find your passion” advice also applies to those looking for a life partner!

Maggie Fernandez
Dallas, Tex.

Khazan writes that “between the ages of 8 and 12, [kids] start to compare themselves with others and become insecure if they’re not as good as their peers at something.”

Hopefully at that age, kids are finding out that competency and passion are not the same thing.  They will not learn that lesson if the message that everything a child does is wonderful and deserving of praise—whether they are good at it or not—is something they hear all the time. Without competency, being passionate about something is pretty worthless as a way of making a living. And if the activity the child is passionate about is highly competitive, not telling them the real truth about their abilities versus those of their similarly inclined and more competent peers is feeding them a lie that could have some serious consequences later on, namely a lot of failure.

John P. McMahon
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Several readers responded on Twitter:

Ross Brown wrote: My advice to my son will be find something at which you’re reasonably good, and which you can tolerate doing for 40 hours a week. Save your passions for outside the office; the second you rely on it to eat, it will become a chore.

Jessica Lynn wrote: Find something that you can tolerate well enough for the amount of money you need. Work is called work for a reason. It’s not for fun. It’s for living.

Nancy Solla wrote: Some people don’t have the luxury of waiting for “their passion” to reveal itself; they have bills to pay and children to raise. Because this concept of “Do what you love blah blah blah” gets offered up as an option of which anyone and everyone can/should partake, those who must take the pragmatic approach start to feel like children with their noses pressed up to the toy store window. All the while it’s all an illusion. I know any number of people who find, once they’ve found their “dream job,” that they’re disillusioned with it because they discover that it didn’t live up to the hype that this stupid sentiment has embedded in their psyche. So hallelujah! Someone is finally admitting that the Emperor has no clothes!