Back in July there was an interesting piece in The Atlantic examining the value of the claim “find your passion and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
As I was reading the article, I saw that this concept had a lot in common with the idea that artistic achievement is the result of inspiration or genius rather than the result of a long period of practice, experimentation and experience. I have written about this idea often in the distant and recent past. The study reported on in The Atlantic piece continues to extend and add evidence to my thinking on this topic by suggesting you develop your passion rather than being struck by it in a momentary flash.
Another reason not to buy into the fixed theory is that it can cause people to give up too easily. If something becomes difficult, it’s easy to assume that it simply must not have been your passion, after all. In one portion of this study, the students who thought interests were fixed were also less likely to think that pursuing a passion would be difficult at times. Instead, they thought it would provide “endless motivation.”
People who have a growth mind-set about their own intelligence tend to be less afraid of failure, according to her research, because they believe smarts are cultivated, not inherent. Interests are related to, but distinct from, abilities, the study authors told me: You can be interested in something but not very good at it. “I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years, but I can’t say that my abilities have gotten that much better in the past 10 years,” O’Keefe said.
Dweck told me that “find your passion” has a laudable history. “Before that, people were saying, ‘Find your genius,’ and that was so intimidating. It implied that only people who were really brilliant at something could succeed,” she said. “‘Find your passion’ felt more democratic. Everybody can have an interest.” But this study suggests that even the idea of finding your “true” interest can intimidate people and keep them from digging further into a field.
I was particularly interested by this idea that “find your passion” developed out of a desire remove the intimidation factor inherent in “find your genius.” It seems like something of an admonition to pay attention to the inherent implications of any new phrases that crop up to replace “find your passion.”