Monday, September 13, 2010

The Passion Debate

The widely accepted formula for monetary success is: find what you're passionate about (but make sure it's aligned with the education options available to you and leads to a concrete job) and pursue it wholeheartedly until you become really good at it.  I see a few holes in that approach. It rarely works as intended in the messy real world.

If you need to ask what you're passionate about - as opposed to having been obsessed with programming for 10 years prior - it's unlikely that you will truly find what you're passionate about through the introspection process, which is in itself inherently flawed. Finding what one is passionate about doesn't take well to the direct approach - asking "what am I passionate about?" is a poor way to get to a concrete answer. Better to ask "what do I like doing on a Saturday afternoon?" Better still, don't make it your aim to answer the question. People are very bad at predicting what will make them happy. Finding passion and happiness take better to a "know-it-when-you-see-it" approach. Instead of pursuing a specific answer to the question and then working on getting really good at the answer, pursue intense personal development. Work on non-domain-specific skills, be curious, find randomness, try as many different things as possible while still keeping the eternal question in the very back of your mind.

Still, I don't believe that you truly "find" what you're passionate about. You never stop asking the question. Passions constantly change and evolve. They might be better termed obsessions. It's ridiculous to ask a 17-18 year old with little experience to find something that they will stick with for 5-10 years. How does a young person know when they've found the be-all end-all of "what they're passionate about"? What a young person is obsessed with changes yearly or quicker for people in their twenties.

I am instinctively skeptical of people who say that they've found what they're passionate about. I believe that few people find something that they really truly love and stick with it for their life. That's perfectly okay - it just requires a different approach.

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