Everywhere we look, it seems the advice du jour is: “find your passion.” Self-help gurus write about it. Life coaches counsel it. Friends encourage it. Parents might even recommend it.
Well, you know what?
I call bullshit on this feel-good advice.
In fact, I’d even be so bold as to say it’s terrible advice.
First of all, it’s confusing AF. What exactly does that even mean? I feel pretty passionate about chocolate chip cookies. Does that mean I should spend all my time baking and eating my kick ass chocolate chip cookies? I doubt it. (Though they are pretty damn good, if I do say so myself.) I feel passionate about healing the world. But does that mean I should strive to live the life of Mother Theresa? Somehow I don’t think I could manage that. I feel passionate about being a good mother, but sadly that alone doesn’t pay the bills.
So when “find your passion” is said to teens seeking education and career advice — or even said to adults who are looking for professional fulfillment — it’s a bitter pill to swallow. We’ve all heard the advice “do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life.” And at its core, this rings true. Except what about student loan debt and mortgage payments and childcare expenses? I’m not sure the bank and credit card companies care much about my passions.
As it turns out, experts also think that this is pretty bad advice too. In a study by researchers from Stanford and Yale-NUS college in Singapore, researchers looked at the differences between people who have a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Folks with a fixed mindset have “the almost mystical belief that passions are revealed to us magically,” whereas those who have a growth mindset understand that interests change and develop over time.
Building on a previous study with similar results, the researchers concluded that a growth mindset generally leads to greater happiness, fulfillment, and success.
“We need to carefully consider what we communicate to people about interests and passions,” Yale-NUS college psychologist Paul O’Keefe, the lead researcher, told Quartz. “Parents, teachers, and employers might get the most out of people if they suggest that interests are developed, not simply found. Telling people to find their passion could suggest that it’s within you just waiting to be revealed. Telling people to follow their passion suggests that the passion will do the lion’s share of the work for you.”
O’Keefe went on to say that the advice to “find your passion” suggests a passive process to fulfillment and success. Instead of searching for that one thing that will be the answer to it all, experts stress the importance of flexibility. After all, what we’re passionate about today might not be what we’re passionate about in two years.
And contrary to what some people might think, a growth mindset doesn’t lead to lack of direction or focus. Rather, it acknowledges that we’re ever-evolving creatures, and empowers us to use the prior knowledge to develop new interests.
“One can have a growth theory and still be highly focused,” according to O’Keefe. “A growth mindset makes people more open to new and different interests and sustains those interests when pursuing them becomes difficult.”
Twenty years ago, I was passionate about the law. So I went to law school, and went on to work as a lawyer for a large, national firm for a couple years. Then I became passionate about writing, so I worked as a legal writer for several years. Later, my passion shifted to writing about life, motherhood, and spirituality. Now, I’m more focused on lifting up the voices of other writers. See? Flexibility.
I’m sure some people think I lack direction and that my inability to stick with something is a sign of ambivalence, but after reading this study, I think I’ll just tell them I’m passionate about honing my “growth mindset.”