It’s not infrequent to hear people say they still haven’t found their passion as if their passion is fully formed and hidden under a rock somewhere. Every rule has it’s exceptions, but, by and large, folks don’t simply stumble upon their vocation without developing interest. Uncovering a passion for something requires endless hours of work. Thus, the old adage “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” is misleading. A corollary to that adage is that if work is being done, then it must not be a passion after all.
The conception that people are innately interested in particular areas is often referenced in psychology as fixed mindset theory. There is a competing theory that I find more compelling — the growth mindset theory — which is the idea that one’s vocations are mutable. For example, an artist that claims math and science isn’t their forte may come to conclude, upon the “right” exposure, that there are a number of theories capable of evoking excitement.
Greg Walton of Stanford university had this to say about the competing theories, “If passions are things found fully formed, and your job is to look around the world for your passion—it’s a crazy thought. It doesn’t reflect the way I or my students experience school, where you go to a class and have a lecture or a conversation, and you think, That’s interesting. It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”
The weight of the growth mindset theory is evidenced by the following study performed by Walton and others: “First, students answered a survey that would categorize them as either “techy”—slang for interested in math and science—or “fuzzy,” meaning interested in the arts or humanities. They also filled out a survey determining how much they agreed with the idea that people’s core interests don’t change over time. They then read an article that didn’t match their interests—a piece on the future of algorithms for the fuzzies, and a piece on Derrida for the techies. The more the participants endorsed a “fixed” theory of interests, the less interested they were in the article that mismatched their aforementioned identity as a techy or fuzzy.” A similar study was examined where students were educated about one of the two theories prior to reading an article that did not align with their interest. As expected, the students who were exposed to the fixed theory tended to be less captivated by the unaligned interest.
The key takeaway is this: Interests seem to be malleable, so don’t become closed off to new ideas and experiences because they don’t come naturally; don’t give up on pursuits when hard work is required because difficulty is an inevitability. It stands to reason that, in order to discover a passion, one should harbor a passion for discovery. Virtually any subject can become interesting over time, albeit that time will undoubtedly involve patience and hard work. It’s best to remain curious, to continue digging, and to never forget the beauty in exploration. A new passion could be right around the corner.