This post is the joint effort of Declan Wicks and Neil Browne.
1. Who is giving such advice, and what evidence do they offer?
2. Do passions come in different forms and intensities, and does that question matter?
3. Does a person’s assessment of his passion have durability?
Steve Jobs famously told Stanford graduates to seek and follow their passion. http://www.strategy-keys.com/steve-jobs---find-your-passion.html Advice like this promises a simple litmus test for making key life decisions. But it creates as much uncertainty as it pretends to eliminate.
While we are not the first to raise questions about the advice to find and pursue your passion http://www.businessinsider.com/follow-your-passion-is-bad-advice-2015-2 our decades of watching college students wrestle with this meme may provide us with a different form of reluctance to embrace this advice.
First, the advice seems entirely egotistical in its typical form. There are multiple passions any of could have that would wreak havoc on other people. Surely, any advice about something as large in our lives as “our life’s work” should acknowledge that we live in a community, and that other people’s lives matter to that community.
An additional hesitation we have about the advice is its testimonial quality. We doubt that those whose passions become blind alleys write many articles or give many commencement addresses discussing the downsides of their now-abandoned passions. In other words, a passion can easily be an illusion, a chimera. Our point is that these testimonials are probably a very poor sample of those who have followed passions. Something a little more persuasive than correlational testimonials from someone like Steve Jobs should be a prerequisite for life-shaping advice.
But perhaps our biggest complaint about the advice is its ambiguity. How would we know when we have encountered a passion strong enough to make us stop searching for alternative passions? Surely each of us has multiple potential courses of devotion that would result in our living a fulfilling life. We know of no evidence for the proposition that each of us has one and only one hole in which we can comfortably and then ecstatically fit.
And while we are not personally likely to urge the preeminence of monetary variables in making heavy decisions, there are many passions that quite simply will not provide shelter and food for the one with the passion nor for those about whom he cares.
Sticking with practicality issues, we wonder whether a foundational issue should be: But can we realistically achieve the passion we seek? What if I wanted to be the next LeBron James but measure only 5’4”? To understand when and where we should pursue our passions, we must also tackle the idea that some of our passions are untenable.
Finally, the advice seems to assume that we are today who we will be like tomorrow and then tomorrow. Few of us who have lived for a couple of decades are transfixed by the same passions we possessed in our first decade of consciousness. And even if many of us had only one passion since elementary school, should we not blanch at the idea that a choice of passions had been made before one had lived enough to encounter any more than a few options? Even the most stable of us often have fluid passions. If our point here is correct, then at what age does the advice urge us to pull the trigger on THE passion? And what of the lost opportunities we will miss because we did not wait until we could choose a passion based on a longer period of experimentation and reflection?
1. Are people dysfunctional when their life’s work is not pleasing?
2. Does the search for a passion have valuable consequences even when the search itself is never satisfied?
3. Is the illusion of having chosen the one and only passion for us a huge step in the direction of achieving excellence?