Rethinking Passion

You’ve almost certainly heard this before: Studying something you’re passionate about is the best way to ensure your success!

As an academic mentor for university students, I’ve proclaimed the merits of passion often.

It’s true that a passionate interest in your field of study makes university life, and then your career, a lot easier. The happiest people I know are the ones who find their work most meaningful. Advocating passion is also a way academic mentors encourage students to listen to themselves first when deciding on a program. You can welcome input from family, professors, and academic counselors, but the choice of what and where to study should ultimately be your own.

Passion is important, but living out your true passion is not always easy. First, you need to possess some natural ability to excel in your studies (and your work), no matter how much you love your university endeavours. And it’s not always popular to say this, but not everyone can do everything. Take me, for instance. What if I became passionate about a life as a ballet dancer? No matter how hard I might work on my leaps, my body is still more Belushi than Baryshnikov, so I’d be out of luck.

It can also be difficult to figure out what you’re passionate about. We’re pushed and pulled by countless forces as students, and that makes decisions tricky. For a while I thought I was passionate about becoming a psychiatrist. I had top grades in high school, and it just seemed like the thing to do to attend med school and then specialize. Next I set my mind on a professorship in Southeast Asian politics. I had two great MA supervisors who believed in me and the lure of opportunity blinded me to my general lack of interest in comparative politics. Part of me always knew I wanted to be a writer, but it took ages before the fog cleared and I could see my goal sharply. Until then, visions of status, wealth and opportunity drowned out my true dream. But opportunities are only truly opportunities if you actually want what they offer.

You should also keep in mind that passions change. Just because something captivated you for a year or two, doesn’t mean it won’t bore you later. After all, you’re not still wearing your Hootie and the Blowfish concert t-shirt, are you?

And remember that passions can develop over time. Even though right now studying psychology may be a distant second place compared to becoming an astronaut, don’t despair if you can’t shake that nasty case of motion sickness; psych could grow on you. (And who doesn’t like a multiple choice final?)

None of this necessarily means you shouldn’t pursue your passion when choosing what to study. It just means life is complex and a lot of factors contribute to your success and happiness.

If you find yourself trapped in a seemingly endless decision about what to study, sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and pick a program and go for it. And one of the things you should take into account is your passion for a field of study. Just remember that passion isn’t everything. It’s a great start, but even passion must be examined carefully when you’re making important decisions about your future.