To follow your passion or not
Recently I read a piece from a young man who claimed that rather than try to find yourself through your endeavours, your ambition should be to create yourself. He said the major takeaway from his time at school was the opportunity to develop balance in his life and create passions that have shaped who he has become, as opposed to fitting into a predetermined mould.
Passion can be somewhat of a false prophet. It isn’t a feeling. It is not a sensation or an emotion. It is the dedicated pursuit of a purpose. We often talk about passions as if they exist deep within us but is it really lying dormant deep inside waiting to be realised? My sense is that passion develops as the result of contributing to or being involved in something meaningful. You create it.
The talented Maths educator Eddie Woo warns not to follow your passion, but to let it find you. At school, he says he lacked talent and interest in Maths yet it was only through a desire to teach that he found an interest in numeracy that helped him become the passionate educator he is today.
Many misconstrue the purpose of their education or school as either a place or time to find your passion with the expectation that the world will later accommodate it, or that it is some sort of training ground for later life. Call me out for wearing rose coloured glasses, but I would like to still believe that the point of my education was to explore and learn as opposed to simply engage in a utilitarian training program for my adult life.
We need to do a better job of telling young people to meekly follow their passion, particularly in an age of such uncertainty. The 21st century millennial has already rewritten or tossed out many of the rules previous generations laid out for them. For a young person the message can easily become “pick what you like early and do not waiver from it; put your head down and work doggedly to achieve it.” Fair to say we have already worked out there is more to life than accepting the status quo.
Creating your passion is about searching for the things that bring your soul to life and pursue that diligently. Rather than trying to find the best, you can become the best, but before you do, you have to understand something of your legacy – what it is that you care about, what you are driven by and what lasting change you want to create in the world. So the true proof of passion is actually perseverance in seeking out a sense of purpose that does not revolve around you.
For your passion to take shape, you also have to dig deep into your skill set. You need to have a sense of mastery learning – aligning the skills that you have with those that are universally valued and sought.
Making your mark in this way will invariably require taking a risk or two. In that sense you need to exercise a sense of freedom – to be open to facing hurdles, challenging yourself and being free from preconceived notions of your destiny. The joy of liberating yourself can generate great fulfillment, energise creativity and maximise impact. It is ultimately up to you to decide who or what you want to be, as opposed to following the dreams of others.
Without getting caught up in a play on words, it is important to distinguish between a passion that develops from doing something well, as opposed to doing something well because one has a passion for it.
Back to the young man I commenced with who claimed that rather than try to find yourself, your ambition should be to create yourself. He continues that if you focus on creating your passion, you will inevitably find ways to serve others and be better connected to them, as opposed to finding yourself, which may be more an insular journey.
One uniting theme with careers or jobs that fail to inspire, is that they don’t make an important difference to the lives of others. Job satisfaction comes from a range of factors, but believing you are contributing to something special creates true meaning. Even the doyen of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, suggests that the greatest satisfaction we can derive in our pursuit of happiness is the sense of helping others.
The key is to view the other as an equal, not someone beneath you and in need of your help, but someone from whom you can equally learn. Through no fault of our own, we can sometimes embark on helping others with a ‘top down’ mentality, (here we are to save you from your poverty). This may not be the intention but is sometimes an uncomfortable subconscious by-product.
Self-discovery can be daunting but made easier if we forget about measuring up to what others or a younger version of ourselves expect from us, and instead, create a new you.
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