How to Find Your Passion

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If you google ‘follow your passion,’ you will find over 400 million results telling you to find your passion to pursue a career. 

I’m here to tell you – IGNORE THAT ADVICE  

How many times have you heard self-help gurus tell you to follow your passion and you will never work a day in your life? 

There is a new study coming out of Stanford (read the article here) that suggests the opposite is true. 

“Mantras like “find your passion” carry hidden implications, the researchers say. They imply that once an interest resonates, pursuing it will be easy. But, the research found that when people encounter inevitable challenges, that mindset makes it more likely people will surrender their newfound interest.”  

The research started, based on the fixed versus growth mindsets, to intelligence. Which asks the question, is everyone’s intelligence static or can intelligence be cultivated and grown? The answer is the latter. The ‘fixed’ mindset is what holds people back because they don’t think they’re smart enough to do something. The truth is, you can get better at anything through study, practice, and repetition. While it’s true that people have more raw talent in some areas than others, what separates the successful and unsuccessful are those that consistently work at it. 

In this new study, they focused on mindsets about interests. Is the same true about interests as intelligence? Are interests ‘fixed’ or can interests be cultivated and developed over time? 

To study this, the researchers at Stanford conducted five experiments on 470 participants. One set of participants were more interested in science and technology while the other set was more passionate about the humanities. 

The researchers had all the participants read two articles, one related to science and technology and the other about the humanities. They found that those participants who had a fixed mindset about their interests and passions were less open to the article that was outside their interest. 

“A fixed view may be problematic, said Walton, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences and the Michael Forman University Fellow in Undergraduate Education. Being narrowly focused on one area could prevent individuals from developing knowledge in other areas that could be important to their field at a later time, he said.”

Progress happens when diverse ideas intersect and people are able to use different perspectives to find solutions. 

Additionally, the research found that a fixed mindset can get people discouraged from developing in their own interest area when things get challenging. 

“In another experiment, the researchers piqued students’ interest by showing them an engaging video about black holes and the origin of the universe. Most students were fascinated.

But, then, after reading a challenging scientific article on the same topic, students’ excitement dissipated within minutes. The researchers found that the drop was greatest for students with a fixed mindset about interests.

This can lead people to discount an interest when it becomes too challenging.

“Difficulty may have signaled that it was not their interest after all,” the researchers wrote. “Taken together, those endorsing a growth theory may have more realistic beliefs about the pursuit of interests, which may help them sustain engagement as material becomes more complex and challenging.””

The authors of the article recommend that you develop your passion instead. 

Billionaire Mark Cuban once stated, “One of the great lies of life is ‘follow your passions,'” said Cuban.  “Everybody tells you, ‘Follow your passion, follow your passion.’”

“I used to be passionate to be a baseball player. Then I realized I had a 70-mile-per-hour fastball,” jokes Cuban. Competitive major league pitchers throw fastballs in the range of 90-plus miles per hour.”

“When you look at where you put in your time, where you put in your effort, that tends to be the things that you are good at. And if you put in enough time, you tend to get really good at it,” he says. “If you put in enough time, and you get really good, I will give you a little secret: Nobody quits anything they are good at because it is fun to be good. It is fun to be one of the best.”

I look at my own life and realize that I became passionate about sales because I was able to develop the skill at work over time. When finishing college, I had no idea what I was going to do in my career. By chance, I started as a sales assistant at a growing International company. My job was to support three sales reps by doing their administrative work so they could focus more time on sales. This was my main source of income so I took it seriously. A little added motivation was wanting to move out of my dad’s house. 

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I started by earning $50k per year at 23, which, was pretty good in 2005 for someone with little experience. As happy as I was with my paycheck and newfound independence, I began to realize how much money our sales reps made off commission. I wanted to make more money and knew I had to show initiative to get the opportunity in sales. I was fortunate to get a shot and I never looked back. Fourteen years later, I’m the top sales rep at the company and have been for the last three out of four years. 

So my advice is: don’t fret about finding what your passion is to determine your career path. Instead, immerse yourself into a skill that matches your strengths. Be open about it, and continually develop your skills. It’s fun being good at something. 

My dad started his career at 13 in a shoe factory because my grandmother knew someone there who could get him a job (this was post-WWII Germany). It became a passion of his because it helped support his family and felt good to be great at something. He became a lifelong shoemaker, which, afforded him a very comfortable life. 

He had no idea that this would become his passion until he actually started doing it. 

What will you develop into your next passion? 

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