Why you need to stop “finding your passion,” according to psychologists

In our neverending quest to find meaning, we’ve always believed that “finding our passion” is the key to fulfillment.

Sure, society may push to us such a one-way path to success – get a good education, find a nice-paying job, buy a house, etc.

But recently, you’ll find modern culture semi-forcing us with yet another “fool-proof” path to happiness: find something you are passionate about.

The idea is to find what you love doing, pursue it, and somehow you’ll find what you are meant to do your whole life.

That’s well and good for people whose passions naturally came to them. But what about those who haven’t?

Let’s face it. Did you know what you wanted to do for the rest of your life when you graduated high school? Is it still what you want right now?

The truth is, not everyone discovers their passion. And yet we are relentlessly told to pursue them.

But according to research, this advice could actually backfire.

A study conducted by Stanford and Yale-NUS psychologists suggests that “finding your passion” can actually harm your chances of success.

Not only could it be distracting, but it can inhibit your desire to learn. It can also stop you from developing resilience.

This research shows 3 reasons why being set on the idea of “finding your passion” can stop you from personal development.

1. It stops you from being open to new interests.

Notice that when they tell you to find your passion, there is a certain lack of plurality. You need to find the “one” thing that makes you feel alive.

As a result, we become so laser-focused on exploring only one thing, and we close ourselves off to others.

“This belief may imply that the number of interests one can have is limited and, thus, that once people have found their interest(s) there is little reason to explore other areas.”

In this study, psychologists categorized students by their interests towards either Liberal Arts or STEM. They then assigned both groups to read materials that are opposite to their inclined subject.

They found that those who had a “fixed mindset” failed to find anything interesting. And those who had a “growth mindset” had their interests peaked.

Bottom line?

You become less curious and more averse to growth.

In your effort to find your “one thing,” you tend to easily dismiss whatever doesn’t spark a certain level of passion in you.

But what if these things can actually be positive in your life? What if there are valuable lessons they can teach you?

Dismissing something just because it feels lackluster doesn’t help you in any way. It only hinders your growth.

2. It makes you lazy.

Just because you’ve found your passion, doesn’t mean it’s all going to be sunshine and rainbows from now on. You might think that finding your passion is the key to everything. But you’re wrong.

Dr. Paul O’Keefe, the study’s lead researcher and psychologist says,

“Telling people to find their passion could suggest that it’s within you just waiting to be revealed. It suggests that the passion will do the lion’s share of the work for you.”

Basically, your fixed mindset makes you lazy. And instead of pursuing development, you end up getting stuck and unhappy.

3. It sets you up for failure.

In another experiment, the psychologists piqued students’ interest by letting them watch an engaging video about black holes and the origin of the universe. Naturally, the students were fascinated.

But then they made them read a boring and more detailed scientific material regarding the same thing. And suddenly, their excitement vanished.

“Difficulty may have signaled that it was not their interest after all.Taken together, those endorsing a growth theory may have more realistic beliefs about the pursuit of interests, which may help them sustain engagement as material becomes more complex and challenging.”

In short, you make excuses. If it is not something you are passionate about, you simply refuse to give any interest.

It alternately makes things more challenging. And the more challenging it is, the less you try. The less you try, the more you set yourself up for failure.

Don’t find your passion, develop it.

You don’t follow your passion – your passion follows you.

There’s a quote in Terri Trespicio’s 2015 TED Talk that I find fitting in this article.

“Passion is not a job, a sport or a hobby. It is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you. And if you’re so busy looking for this passion, you could miss opportunities that change your life.”

Don’t allow yourself to fall into the same tunnel vision. Don’t go around looking to stumble upon your passion. Instead, look at what’s in front of you. Give it a chance. Explore. Be open. Be useful. Give yourself to your tasks generously.

And just start living your life.

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Notable replies

  1. Thanks for sharing this fascinating perspective, @genefe.

    I think that living a life full of passion is incredibly important. But passion shouldn’t be the guiding focus.

    Rather, the emotion of passion is best to emerge spontaneously, as a result of the environment we create, our daily habits and routines, and the expertise we build up.

    The quote you cited is fantastic:

    “Passion is not a job, a sport or a hobby. It is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you. And if you’re so busy looking for this passion, you could miss opportunities that change your life.”

    This article is similar to the one I wrote on finding your purpose:

  2. Finding your passion can be done on many levels and it is important to understand that you will have many. However, there are some passions that are primal to you as a total person and some that are simply important in lower levels.

    “If you keep asking the wrong questions, the probability of finding the Right answers goes way, way down.”

    So, one of your primal passions might be “Who am I and why am I here?”

    Another one might be “Is this universe supportive of me or just random and indifferent to me?”

    If you don’t even ask such questions, which no psychologists seem to address anymore, then you may just have a good life, but never an outstanding one!

    Outstanding is better! LoL

  3. Thanks @jesuislaplume for contributing to this discussion. The question of “who am I” is a question we explore quite regularly on Ideapod. In this new discussions area, there’s even a category for it called #whoswho. Would you be interested in contributing to it?

Want to comment? Continue the discussion at Ideapod Discussions

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Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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