This post was inspired by something that I noticed in my professional life as an academic adviser in a school for designers. We see students who start their careers in design thinking they are following their passion, only to have their zest sizzle out by the middle or even just weeks before the end of their chosen program. When asked why they chose a career in design it is usually followed by a saying like “Follow your dreams or you will spend the rest of your life working for someone who did”, or “Do what you love”, or even simply saying “Art is my passion”. And the reason for ending their education half way through is often due to a “loss of passion” in the field, or finding a different “passion”. I see the same effect on people around me, who dabble in so many different projects because they were so passionate about all of them when they started, but do not have enough motivation to keep going to the finish line.
So we are left asking ourselves why are they so miserable after they started following their passion. Should it not be exciting enough to keep them going?
I think Cal Newport, the author of So Good they Can’t Ignore you, described this phenomena the best when he explained that there is no such thing as a pre-existing passion that you identify and follow. In actuality, it is the systematic build-up towards something which would be considered a passion. In other words, the more you work towards something and the better you get, the more skills you develop, the more interest you accumulate to keep going. This snowballing effect is what would be considered as having found your passion.
In fact, this is what study after study had discovered about people who are so passionate about what they do. They do not have a pre-existing talent or a special calling. Rather, something along the way caught their interest, like a really great teacher or a group of like-minded peers, causing them to practice more – which boosted their confidence – and motivated them to continue their project. As they got more skilled their passion grew as well. This is how people ended up loving what they do.
When you make a commitment to something, like a new project or a relationship, promise yourself to endure it to the very end. Some would suggest even being willing to suffer for it, because the benefits of completing is so fulfilling and worth it. This is also where goal setting comes in handy. Instead of being dismissive of that initial desire ask yourself if this is worth pursuing over a long period of time. Does this help you achieve your goals in the end? Or is it just a passing fancy?
When I am not an academic adviser by day I follow my passion in women empowerment by volunteering my time for a cause that I strongly believe in, giving a voice to women who have been assaulted. In the past decade there have been major cuts in funding for women’s services in Canada. And in all honestly, with the ridiculous cost of living in Vancouver it would be easy to just give up as I am not being compensated for my time and the efforts seem overwhelming at times. Rather than getting worn out I find that it has the opposite effect on me. The more I learn, my interests and skills are enhanced. I am also fueled by other women who help me as well as my own anger about social injustice. Even with massive strides in feminism and human rights women are still asked to do free labor. So here we are. In solidarity. Following our passion of ending all types of violence against women.