Especially popular with millennials, buzz phrases like “do what you love” and "follow your dream" have become synonymous in recent years with living life on your terms instead of settling for a job just to pay the bills. But what does finding your passion actually mean? It sounds like it implies that each one of us has an inner passion we were born with which we are meant to pursue whether it be in the arts or mathematics and that we will never be truly happy unless we are pursuing our passion in some way, shape or form. Our real job, so to speak, according to innate passion-believers, is to discover what our passion truly is and then find a way to live out our passion while hopefully making a living out of it. What it all comes down to for passion-believers, is that if we are in pursuit of our true passion, the road will be easy and opportunities will abound because we are simply following the law of nature doing what we were born to do – in a sense, fulfilling our destiny.
As wonderful as it sounds, is having, what researchers, term, a "fixed theory" about passions not only a good idea, but true? Or, could going in search of our supposed one, true passion actually be making life more difficult for us? Would allowing ourselves to be open to different interests and growing and developing them into many passions over time be a better path to follow?
According to a new study to be published soon in Psychological Science, people who believe that their passion is inherent or innate tend to believe that pursuing their passion will be an effortless endeavor and that they will be supplied with endless motivation in its pursuit. On the flip side, those who believe their passion is something to be developed have no problems exploring a wide variety of interests, knowing that the pursuit of some if not all interests might be challenging at times and should not be a reason to throw in the towel.
The study is titled, Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It? It is authored by Paul A. O’Keefe, from the National University of Singapore Business School and Carol S. Dweck and Gregory M. Walton from Stanford University. Researchers approached their study with the theory that those who believe interests are inherent and not developed, will not only limit their chances of pursuing other interests, but that they believe that their passion will provide them with limitless motivation in its pursuit and that the chase will be frustration-free.
Researchers akin finding your passion to believing that only one true love exists for us in the world. Why would you stay and work on any relationship that causes challenges and difficulties when you believe that there is someone out there who exists, who will fulfill your every desire? Researchers believe the same analogy holds true to those who believe they are meant to pursue their passion that they were essentially born with. If, in pursuit of what they believed to be their passion, they encounter difficulties, innate passion believers are more likely to leave a difficult road to growth believing they are not in the right place and not in fact, pursuing their real passion.
To test their theories, researchers first had 126 university students (64 “techies” and 62 “fuzzies”) read two articles, one about an existing interest of theirs and another on a topic area that was not currently an existing interest. They then had to share their opinions on it. The participants first had to fill out a survey in which their personalities were divided into “techy”, those who found subject areas such as technology and math interesting, and “fuzzy”, those who were more interested in the arts and humanities. One of the articles related to techy interests and was about the future of the Internet while the other article was related to fuzzy interests and was about the future of literary criticism. Researchers decided to use university students in their study because university and college is usually a time in one’s life when we are discovering what interests us and when we are apt to hear the phrase, “follow your passion”. The students who’s main interest was techy, had to read the fuzzy article first and vice versa.
In addition to the article exercise, students also had to rate whether they strongly disagreed or strongly agreed with the following four statements:
1) To be honest, your core interests will remain your core interests. They won’t really change.
2) No matter how central your interests are to you, they can change substantially.
3) You can be exposed to new things, but your core interests won’t really change.
4) Even if you have very strong interests, they can change dramatically.
Researchers found that those students with a fixed theory concerning their passion, whereby they believed their passion was innate, showed less interest in the article that didn’t correlate to their innate interests.
Following this exercise, new participants were recruited and the articles were presented in the reverse order of interest and researchers obtained the same results. A few more exercises determined that the more the participants believed in innate passion, the more they believed to be provided with limitless motivation in order to pursue that passion.
What researchers would like to know going forward is what does this all mean when it comes to real life? Is having a fixed theory a liability as you might be unwilling to face challenges that arise in pursing your passion? Does believing in the growth theory provide you with more opportunities and allow you to face more challenges head-on instead of abandoning them in pursuit of a perceived innate passion? They would also like to explore different cultural beliefs concerning the pursuit of one's passion.
“The message to find your passion is generally offered with good intentions,” note the study’s authors, “unfortunately, the belief system this message may engender can undermine the very development of people’s interests.”
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com