How to (Not Really at All) Find Your Passion


May 9, 2013 by drandmrso

Extra-special Thursday update here, folks. I just read this article on 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:

  1. How much are you willing to suffer in the short run to get a better future?
  2. Have you ever considered working in Asia?
  3. How important will it be to spend X number of hours with your kids? And what is that X?
  4. How well do you understand your own defects?
  5. What does 50-year-old Max want?
  6. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?

5 thoughts on “How to (Not Really at All) Find Your Passion

  1. EG-Writing says:

    Passion is tricky to explain. For a while, I was passionate about finding my passion. Then, I thought I found my passion, but it turned out I didn’t. I think passion is tricky because it defies all logic. For example, I would rather earn $30,000 a year writing than I would $80,000 a year being a mathematician. I enjoy math. I find it interesting. But I need to do something I’m passionate about in order to be truly fulfilled.

    • drandmrso says:

      Great points. I totally agree with needing to feel fulfilled; recently I’ve considered, though, that while I don’t feel fulfilled by my day job, perhaps delving more deeply into a hobby will give me what I’m looking for on the satisfaction front.

      • EG-Writing says:

        I have known people to full the satisfaction void with that, and it have it work out great for them. Personally, I become a bit mush of depression if I don’t feel fulfilled in what I’m doing. That’s not to say I need to write for my day job in order to be happy in life, but I need something I’m fulfilled in doing, while I work on my writing simultaneously. I am high-maintenance when it comes to being happy in life.

  2. Bailey says:

    Is this the curse of the project manager? I feel the same way. I want to move on to something more fulfilling, but what that thing is, I don’t know. I have athletic hobbies and write sporadically… but I still feel meh. We should start a club. Ha.

    • drandmrso says:

      Maybe it’s also partially a result of being totally overworked in our first post-college jobs. I think our club should be called “People Who Are Awesome and Could Totally Have Awesomer Jobs.” It’s not a great acronym or anything, but it gets the point across!

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