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How Do I Find My Passion?

I have had the great honor of sitting on panels about college admissions. One that has stuck with me was a panel to share with students the true value of a college education and how to best prepare for it. It was an opportunity to see life not as one big race to the finish with college being the first major marker, but rather as a journey that is unique and very personal. One student asked a profound question:

“Everyone talks about passion, but I don’t know what mine is. How do I find it?”

Right then, I realized that we use the word “passion” too loosely. We ask teens to define their life’s calling, pushing and pushing them until they can say at least one thing they like. Then we label that a passion and use it to box them into a category. We tell teens to write about their passions on their college applications or to explain them in the college interview. We don’t give them a choice. Or worse, we look down upon those who cannot relay their passions in life quickly and deeply.

Let’s step away from the word passion. Even the most accomplished adult might have a hard time explaining her passion. And one’s passion does not have to become one’s career, and one’s career does not have to be a passion.

When I was younger, I loved swimming and did it competitively. I also acted in several community plays. As I got older I joined about a million activities and loved each one for different reasons. But I would have been hard-pressed to call any one of those my passions when I was a teen. I love my job and I love writing, but are they my passions? Maybe. But giving my interests a title doesn’t benefit anyone, least of all me.

So rather than trying to simply define passion, people — especially teens — should simply look for new and varied opportunities and experiences. You will never know if you like something until you try it for yourself. Use high school as a playground to try new subjects, explore activities and look to your community for different ways to get involved. You may not always be successful, but failure and disappointment are the building blocks of life. Embrace them and you will more quickly find what you love.

Too many high school students feel the need to simply check off the necessary items for the college admissions process. And I get it, these teens are under enormous pressure to succeed within a specific definition. But if we as a society could give them more space to make mistakes, to take risks and to broaden their perspectives, we will actually engage an entire generation.

Rather than forcing them to memorize facts, we can create problem solvers. Rather than forcing math and science, English or a foreign language on those who simply do not have the interest or skill for it, let’s encourage students to explore and push their boundaries for the sake of learning.

My answer to that teen is, your passion in life is going to evolve throughout your existence. Rather than focusing on finding it, focus on what you love to do, what you are curious about, and where your strengths are. Then step back and look at careers that might allow you to integrate as many of your interests as possible. And don’t think that your career is the ultimate show of what your passion is. College is another great time to see more and experience more. You will get greater exposure to what life has to offer, and your interests will evolve.

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