Finding Your Passion: An Alternative View

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 authorMonica 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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  1. Amazing post Monica!
    It is so amazing that I had the opportunity to come across your post because as being an undergraduate Pre-Medical student it is hard to find your true passion and distinguish yourself from others. I know that I want the be a physician and I know why I want to become a physician. Throughout my years here at Georgia State I always questioned what was my passion. It would come up very frequently when I went to different medical colleges and different conferences. As I thought about it I used the same method as mentioned in your article I took the time to actually look at what I was doing in that moment. I examined these things and noticed that my passion was right in front of me, I just did not know how to put it words. I eventually discovered that my passion is to bring Lupus Awareness across the globe and to allow Lupus patients have a connection with their provider. This came to be my ultimate passion and it pushes me to work very hard, because I know that one day I will be that physician that I have dreamed of for so many years. I hope this helps you on your mission to finding your passion. Do you believe that you are close to finding your passion, if you so I would be interested to know more about it.

    • Thank you Janya!

      It is great that you have found your passion and pursuing it with all your heart. I admire those who love what they do because they tend to become very good at it. I do believe that my passion could be right in front of me too, and like you did, I am taking the time to examine and self evaluate.

  2. Passion as stated in the article, is something I truly believe to be the best way to arouse motivation. A leader and a boss are different in this way. A boss will tell an employee to work on a project, or to come up with something because they have to. A leader inspires his co-workers and those around them. He asks them for their input on ideas and what they would do to make it better. Giving the employees a sense of autonomy gives them the motivation to be passionate and in turn work at a more efficient and genuine cause.

    Addo’s insight on Bohanes’ study is something I agree with as well. The study simply put talks about passion, but in a broader sense is about mindset. a Fixed Passion (Mindset) may prevent someone to think outside of their comfort zone. A Growth Passion (Mindset) elicits one to critically think and want to pitch in to their system.

    • Thank you for your ‘mindset perspective’ on the O’keefe et al., 2018 study which Bohanes referenced. I agree that a growth mindset is more beneficial to anyone whether they are executing something they are passionate about or otherwise. We live in a world in which circumstances are fluid and constantly changing and one’s ability to adapt is key to their success.

  3. Being that I started college at a younger age, what I thought to be my passion for many years shifted the more I got into college. I believe that is a lot of people’s problem when you start to work towards your passion and find it to be something that you were as passionate about when it is placed in front of you than when it is just an idea in your head. One of the things that I struggled the most within my life is trying to find my passion because, on the one hand, I love learning new things and exploring new possibilities, but I never stick to one thing long enough to actually consider it my passion. I don’t know if finding that one thing that I believe will solve all my life problems, maybe something I can do. I mean, maybe my passion is being able to discover new things and being able to always gain a sense of excitement over and over again for them.

    • I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious – Albert Einstein

      The statement above came from a man we all acknowledge now to be highly talented. Nnenna you have got talent in there somewhere plus you have a curious mind too! And that is a great combination! I wish you the best as you discover life!

  4. This has got to be one of my favorite articles yet. I say this because I also sometimes find myself questioning if the goal I am currently working towards is really my passion or what I was set to do. I don’t question this because I am unhappy, however because I have strengths that also lie in other fields for instance mathematics which brings me back to questioning if whether or not my true passion lies in my skillsets. I was also intrigued when you used the example of the guest speaker because when she made the point of sometimes needing to put your passion on hold so you can earn a living and be able to one day invest in your passion and fully take part in it. This was different from the typical “follow your passion or dreams because there is wealth in happiness” line that speakers usually deliver. However, after some thought just like you ended with, I realized that everyone truly is different especially when it comes to this topic because some are able to actually follow their passion and be able to benefit in all aspects while some come to learn that putting that passion on hold and handling other ‘priorities’ might be the best course of action for them.

    • I am glad the article resonated with you Chelsea. I think that every individual will need to figure out for themselves what works best and not necessarily go along with the opinion in vogue. However it is important that both sides of the issue are discussed so that young people especially, do not question themselves when they have chosen the path that works best for them.

  5. Amazing post! Having many passions or many interests is more common than not and too often its frowned upon. People may see it is a lack of passion towards one thing, a lack of success in one field, or confusion about life. Personally, i find passion in multiple subjects specifically biology and psychology. At times i see it as a lack of confidence in one subject but now I’m thinking about it in a way that I may just have a more open mind. My life doesn’t have to be singular, I can have and pursue multiple passions, and those passions can coincide and support each other.

    • Back where I come from, being a ‘jack of all trades’ is highly appreciated. However it is different here in the United States where specialization seems more valued. This is a cultural difference that I have had to adjust to in the time that I have been here.

      I agree with you that having multiple passions is a good thing especially if those passions go well together. I think that Biology melds perfectly with psychology. All over the world, Interdisciplinary capability is beginning to gain credence and those with multiple passions may well be poised to benefit from this trend.

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