Much of the advice we see on being happy in our lives and careers is centered around finding our passion. If you can find your passion, you then work will no longer seem like work. It makes sense, but in reality, it’s a really hard thing to accomplish. So does that mean the great majority of us are passionless individuals? Not necessarily. Many of the individuals I’ve spoken too in this situation either believe that what they enjoy doing is not something that is viable as a career, or believe they have no skills to passionately pursue. Others, including myself, don’t even know where to start to find a passion.
I think there are two issues in play here. First, we’re asked to choose what we want to be when we grow up with no frame of reference as to what options are available to us and what those careers feel like in real life. The more the world shifts and changes, the more unique job opportunities present themselves. Today you can be an emoji designer, a parkour athlete, or a drone operator. These are all positions that didn’t exist a decade ago (at least not in the mainstream). How are we supposed to consider our options and find a passion when we feel our choices are limited beyond what they are in reality? Much of this could be addressed in our education system. If we expect students to take on massive amounts of debt to complete college degrees, shouldn’t we at least present them with some options and real-life experience so they have some background before they enter college and potentially travel down a road that won’t satisfy them? Many schools including Princeton are now encouraging a “gap year” in which its entering freshmen will take a year off between high school graduation and college to travel or pursue any interests they may have. European colleges have historically been champions of this effort to connect students with their possibilities, and I can only hope that this practice catches on wherever it’s feasible.
An even bigger issue, is that we expect people to choose one passion to focus on indefinitely. Our culture values specialization, but for many of us it’s more natural to have multiple interests. Emilie Wapnick did a great job addressing this issue in her thoughtful and engaging TED Talk. She names this group of people Multipotentialites, which I think is a perfect way to look at things. These individuals will throw themselves into learning about something, but they ultimately get bored with that topic and want to move on to the next challenge. I recognize that I fall squarely into this category, and I can’t help but feel a sense of relief knowing others feel this way. Wapnick also lays out some of the benefits that come with being a Multipotentialite including an ability to use their knowledge of multiple topics to innovate. They are also rapid learners and can be incredibly adaptable; skills that are in high demand today.
Unfortunately, our culture typically sees having various interests as an issue more than an asset and until that changes, we will continue to search for that one true passion. While I know that I will always be a Multipotentialite at heart, and that I may need to change my career trajectory again at a certain point, I’m finding some encouraging progress in this pursuit by reading and listening to podcasts. There are many interesting people out there with unique points of view and I find myself being drawn to some more than others. So while I continue to search for my passion, I will strive to pursue what makes me passionate today and hope it leads to bigger and better things in the future.