Develop A Passion Instead Of Following One- A Recent Stanford Research

The subject for this week is passion and it’s discontents.
If you are new to my blog, you can find the previous two articles on this topic over here and here.
For those who have been following me might have understood that, “follow your passion” in most of the cases is a bad advice. With many of the case studies we can prove that not everyone who followed their passion ended up in doing that passion.

The first question that I like to ask is “why you are following your passion?”
The only answer is, when you are doing something that you are passionate about, helps you to do that indefinitely for a long time without reaching any plateau of lack of motivation, unhappiness or struggle. You believe, doing what you think “it’s for me” enables you to do that without any boredom along the road and leads to eternal satisfaction. The road would seem smooth and just made for you only!
Anyway all those arguments are absolute nonsense when you dig into many case studies.
You don’t have to believe my words but I ask you drive your attention towards a recent paper published by Stanford Psychologists Paul O’Keefe, Carol Dweck (of growth mindset fame) and Gregory Walton.
The paper is titled “Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It?”
The Stanford press release announcing the article is titled, “Instead of ‘finding your passion,’ try developing it.”

Talking about “following your passion” adage, my previous discontents were the following

  • Not everyone have a pre-defined passion when they start out.
  • Some people may have interests rather than a “passion”. So they often confuse with interest and passion, believing both are same, which is not.
  • The lack evidence that finding a work that matches your passion would always produce a satisfying work life.

But what interest me about the new Stanford study is, what they mainly argue about the popular adage.
The article argues that,

The belief that interests arrive fully formed and must simply be “found” can lead people to limit their pursuit of new fields and give up when they encounter challenges

The idea that following a particular niche would limit your fields of making connection and producing a more meaningful work is somewhat new to me.

The psychologists began their research with a prior study on the topic fixed versus growth mindsets about intelligence
Those who believe they have fixed intelligence are limiting themselves. Such a belief make kids less resilient to challenges in schools.
(I had this argument even before I read the article.
I remember a Jim Carrey quote “You can and you can’t- both are true”.)
But those having a growth mindset would thrive the challenges and become more valuable to the economy.
One of the psychologists elaborates that,

In an increasingly interdisciplinary world, a growth mindset can potentially lead to this type of innovation, such as seeing how the arts and sciences can be fused

This is the part that interests me much more.
As I have said in my previous posts, when you become the unconventional and starting out to make a difference by producing a valuable product or service, you need to see that bridging part between different sectors.
For example, in engineering we had the traditional divisions of mechanical department and electronics department, now we have the mechatronics department which is a multidisciplinary field of science that includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, computer engineering, telecommunications engineering, systems engineering and control engineering and so on…

This is a good example of a future interdisciplinary knowledge work.
Following the passion that is limited to one area would stop you from gaining expertise about different areas and seeing a bridge across them.
I won’t say everyone has to know both art and science or any similar multi-disciplines. But if you can, you are creating something that not everyone can replicate.
That’s how you produce a unique product or service for that particular tribe in the new connection economy.

The psychologists also suggest an alternative adage which is developing your passion.
So in my opinion I would suggest you to follow an interest, something that you had a bit of interest or something that caught your attention and curiosity. Let that be a violin, wild-life photography, a new business, learning computer programming, a web development course like I did, a new software, a book you never thought possible or a glamorous one as making a self driving car which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning.
It would take some time to do it, you will encounter challenges, over time you build that commitment to develop a passion.
I’m very curious to know more about your interests and how you are planning to approach them and tackle the challenges you may encounter with.

(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez)