Finding your passion

Conventional wisdom holds the idea that pursuing your dreams leads to a fulfilled life—that, by following a single, vested interest, you can achieve genuine happiness. Now, while the inspirational mainstay “Follow Your Dreams” may lead to an enjoyable career, its simplicity is often misleading: Passion isn’t easy to come by.

When a neighbor, peer or colleague demonstrates an overriding sense of enjoyment in a certain topic, you may feel guilty that you don’t possess your own unique, driving passion for something.

Is it, then, necessary to rid yourself of guilt and find that one thing that gives purpose to your life? Must you discover the single topic of inquiry worth spending hours, days, years of your life working on because it’s a legitimate passion to follow?

Probably not, because narrowing your focus doesn’t necessarily cause an increase in sense of fulfillment in your life. In fact, it might inhibit possibilities for the future.

Often, high school students try frantically to discover their passion. With college approaching, it seems ideal to have a major picked to dissipate much of the college-search uncertainty.

In attempting to find a potential major, though, students might find a certain area of study and, without understanding whether or not it’s a good fit, dive right into it.

The potential harm of focusing intensely on one area of study is that other opportunities—other areas that might better suit a student’s interests—are missed.

Then, one day, a student realizes that he or she doesn’t truly enjoy his or her chosen area of study at all and is forced back to square one.

“It’s much better to have an accurate awareness that you don’t know your passion than to have an erroneous confidence in a false passion,” Stanford professor Dave Evans told The Wall Street Journal, “which is a common result of people trying too hard to concoct one in order to be okay. The day a false passion is unmasked can be a pretty difficult one.”

Rather than rushing to find a passion and progressing in it for the sake of impressing peers or wooing college admissions counselors, Evans suggests taking a step back: don’t get caught up in a false passion; try to objectively view your interests to reach the point of self-honesty—if necessary, admit to yourself that you haven’t yet discovered a passion.

But there are issues when it comes to self-evaluation. If, after taking a good look at yourself, you discover that you have a love for a specific task—creating gadgets, say—you might begin to feel discouraged, because the chance of becoming a successful gadget-maker is extremely low (Forbes reports that 90 percent of startups fail).

With that in mind, instead of falling into despondency, it’s important to think about all that could stem from your enjoyment for entrepreneurship: you likely enjoy problem solving, being creative and building things.

When you consider the applications of the fundamentals behind unique interests, the market of possible areas of passion becomes extensive. You might love engineering and could contentedly pursue it.

While studying, challenges are inevitable, yet your level of happiness with your major or career choice will be at a high level because you’ll enjoy the material—challenging or not.

Attempting to avoid challenges altogether, however, won’t heed positive results. In 1908, psychologists M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a level of anxiety (a sort of stimuli that results from challenge) is needed to achieve optimal performance.

The two established the Yerkes-Dodson Law: As the level of mental arousal increases, so does level of performance. But only to a certain point.

To achieve peak productivity, you must find an activity, study material, or profession that will result in the right amount of anxiety. Too easy of a task, and you will be not only less productive, but also less content with your achievements. Too challenging of a task, and you will drive yourself crazy: No productivity and no sense of achievement.

So, to find the passion that’s right for you, just live life with an open mind. Be aware of your likes and dislikes, so when something comes along that you truly enjoy, you can jump on it. Don’t worry about finding your passion today, or tomorrow, or this week, or this year. It will surely come; just be ready for it.

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About Kenny Kiratli

Kenny Kiratli ('17) attends Northwestern University.

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