A guest post by Monica Asante Addo
“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you will not stick it out.” — Steve Jobs
“Passion is the genesis of genius.” — Tony Robbins
“Chase your passion, not your pension.” — Dennis Waitley
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” — Oprah Winfrey
These quotes, and many similar ones from other charismatic leaders, suggest that passion is the main factor required for life fullfilment. They imply that everyone is endowed with a pre-existing and intrinsic passion waiting to be unearthed in order to ensure success. Stories of accomplished scientists and business innovators who “made it” only because they followed their passion against reason or the status quo abound, and are often used as talking points to encourage and motivate young people to become successful leaders.
I have always pondered about the need to find my passion—a passion that I have never really been able to identify. I find that my interests are quite spread out, spanning a few unrelated areas, and when I closely examine them, they seem unglamorous in comparison to those in the great stories I hear all around me. Yet for years I have clung to the hope that one day I would find the one and only thing that would energize me so much I would chase it sky-high, believing that this would bring me true fullfilment. I have felt that holding on to a job which pays the bills or makes life comfortable for the family, when the hidden passion has not been identified, spells out an underutilized life. After leaving my family in my home country and moving to the USA to pursue an interdisciplinary program spanning the biomedical science, law and entrepreneurship—all in the effort to find my elusive passion—I am beginning to question if unearthing it will really provide me with the answer I’m seeking.
My graduate program director once said that people may not necessarily excel or be good enough in what they perceive to be their passion, but they could have unique skills that would make them highly sought after. He had come to the conclusion that even though it was great to have a passion, for him building his skillset was the most critical factor for the attainment of his goals. For me, this was food for thought—I mulled over his ideas for a few days, but then I went back to finding my ever-elusive passion.
Now, I’m back to questioning the “find your singular passion” rhetoric. I was invited to attend a leadership class, and one of the speakers—a patent attorney—credited her success to her ability to build on her unique strengths and take advantage of opportunities that became available to her over the years. She went on to explain that—now that she is successful in her field—she can make time for her other areas of interest.
The article by Michael Bohanes “’Following your passion’ is dead—here’s what to replace it with” reflects what I discussed above. The author candidly argues that by chasing a fixed passion we often ignore the market/needs/niches that we could otherwise successfully exploit. Moreover, passion—even if found—needs to be adjusted according to the ever-changing circumstances that surround us, or else we could end up in a tedious job that leaves us disillusioned. Bohanes proposes that rather than chasing a passion, one needs to identify the needs in the market, develop personal and unique strengths, and match needs and strengths in a continuously iterative process. He draws attention to the fact that being able to sustain yourself is key, underpinning his point with the example of a person who chases his dreams of becoming a musician, leaving his family in financial straits. He goes on to conclude that passion can be followed when one has found the niche in which to operate.
Bohanes bases some of his arguments on a recent study which examines implicit theories of interest. The study compares college students who believe that passion is fixed (fixed theory) to students who believe that passion needs to be grown/developed (growth theory). The study results show that students supporting the fixed theory have reduced interest in anything outside their preexisting interests, which the researchers propose could enhance focus, leading to specialization/mastery in the area of interest. On the other hand, anticipating that a fixed passion could make things easier, and provide endless motivation, could lead to disillusionment if the area of interest became more difficult to pursue with time. In some cases, when faced with difficulty, students would give up on their passion completely, concluding that it was not really their passion after all. In contrast, students who identified with the growth theory were more interested in new areas and were less deterred and more open-minded when they encountered difficulties.
Chasing a fixed passion may work for some individuals, but not for others. Perhaps if I pay more attention to my current career instead of taking it for granted as I have done for so long, I can find my passion therein. I am beginning to think that, by focusing on the skills I currently possess and building upon them, I can find my passion right in there somewhere. Even as I continue to ponder on the future of my career and life, and my still elusive passion, I defer to the quote below:
“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reigns.” — Benjamin Franklin
About the author — Monica Asante Addo: I graduated from the University of Ghana with a B.Sc. in Biochemistry in 2004. I have worked as a Biomedical Scientist with the 37 Military Hospital of Ghana in Accra for 11 years during which I have gained Clinical Laboratory, Client Management and, Leadership experience. A recent graduate of the Georgia State Institute for Biomedical Sciences Interdisciplinary Master Program, I have explored Laboratory Research, Research Ethics, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation in the Life and Health Sciences. I plan to go back to Ghana to contribute my knowledge to health delivery in my country.
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