Q: People keep telling me to find my passion. Help!
While well-intended, the advice to “find your passion” isn’t doing anyone any favors. It implies that there is one thing—one major area of focus—that you need to devote all your energy to and that once you find it, it will be smooth sailing. Studies show that thinking this way can make setbacks hard to handle. As the authors of the research paper “Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It?” concluded, “Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.”
Developing passion, rather than finding it, is a healthier way to think about it. Through this lens, passion can be seen as an ongoing, flexible process that requires perseverance and hard work. The study “I Put in Effort, Therefore I Am Passionate: Investigating the Path From Effort to Passion in Entrepreneurship” found that those who said they put a great deal of effort into their work reported feeling more excited about it. The harder they worked, the more passionate they became. This runs counter to the idea that passion is a necessary ingredient for hard work. More often than not, it is the other way around. The more effort you put into something, the more committed you become. As a patient recently observed, “The moment I started trying at school, my classes became so much more interesting. It makes a difference when I actually do my homework and do the reading. Some of this stuff is fascinating. Who knew?”
Passion doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. It takes genuine effort and a great deal of hard work. In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” It can also be argued that loving what you do entails doing great work.
Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York and the the founder of positivepercription.com.
This story originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Marie Claire.