May 9, 2013 by drandmrso
Extra-special Thursday update here, folks. I just read this article on NPR.org called “I Know I’m Supposed to Follow My Passion. But What if I Don’t Have a Passion?” A dude named Max recently wrote this to an economist blogger named Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution:
1) As a fairly recent graduate of an Ivy League institution (with a bachelor’s degree), most of my classmates seemed to have some idea that career and life path choice should be driven by a “passion” such that the right choice is self-evident to the chooser. What does this belief mean to you as a social scientist?
For question two, then, you may sense where this is going …
2) Assume I have no such passion. Furthermore, I am a fairly well-qualified young generalist. What paths should most appeal to me if my goal is to maximize doing “interesting” work? Doing meaningful work? Achieving social status? (Which of these goals should be primary?) Need I try to develop a passion before selecting a life path/career, and if so, how do I do it?
I was bouncing in my chair as I was reading his questions. This is me!! Replace ivy league with reputable state school and this is me!! I, too, enjoy a generalist educational background combined with a few years of project management experience that really could be applied to a whole host of pursuits. What insights did the NPR article provide?!
The fact that Max and other young college graduates can even entertain this question — “What is my passion?” — is a new conundrum, and still a luxury not everybody enjoys. Yet, Tyler recently told me, it is “a central question of our time.”
At first when I read this I was flustered by the word luxury. It certainly does not feel “luxurious” from this side of the fence. I don’t have a strong compass pointing me toward <saving lives; building bridges; going to Mars; playing the cello> and I honestly think life decisions would be easier if I did. Then I thought about what the author probably intended with the word luxury: not all that long ago, one’s professional fate was dictated by what one’s father did; and a woman’s professional fate was motherhood. Period. So, after a deep breath and realizing that, yes, this really is a pretty fortunate state to find oneself in, I continued on.
It turns out Cowen couldn’t come to a conclusion for Max on his own. So he brought in a some consultants. The group didn’t reach a conclusion, either, but suggested that Max address the following questions, and let the answers guide him:
- How much are you willing to suffer in the short run to get a better future?
- Have you ever considered working in Asia?
- How important will it be to spend X number of hours with your kids? And what is that X?
- How well do you understand your own defects?
- What does 50-year-old Max want?
- Can your community be a cyber community, or do you need to have a face-to-face community?
Certainly a good place to start. So what did I come up with?
- A decent amount. I would be willing to suffer financially to go back to school, for example, but I’m not going to go back to school without any direction of what I want to study.
- Nope. This is one decision I’m happy to not have on my plate! Wherever Dr. O goes, I go; which really is only fair since he actually does have a passion and has been working his butt off pursuing it.
- It will be very important to me to spend a lot of time with my future kids. But (as of right now) I do not think I’ll be a full-time mama. I truly admire the women and men that have the patience to stay home full time with their little ones.
- Defects? What defects? I kid, I kid. I think I have a fairly good handle on what I’m not good at. One thing, in particular, is that I’m a terrible follower. I always try to get my hands into things and take control.
- 50-year-old me wants…to spend a lot of time at a cabin on/near a lake with my family and friends around me. That’s all I know right now. Clearly I need to analyze this point further.
- This one’s intriguing. I think yes, my professional community could be completely online. I obviously need social experiences in the non-virtual world, but there is an appeal to cyber-commuting.
Answering these questions obviously did not lead me to a conclusion about a new direction for my professional life. But the conclusion to the NPR article really took the inconclusive cake.
In the end, the three economists did not advise Max to pursue some particular career path. They didn’t even give very specific advice.
Well, great. After all of that, I feel like I’m just about at the same place where I started. Except now I’ve identified that I want a cabin when I’m 50!
Help me out here, readers: do you have a passion? How did you find it? Are you like me, living a life with many interests but no singular dream? How would you answer the economists’ questions?