Don’t ‘Find Your Passion,’ Make It Yourself!

Don’t ‘Find Your Passion,’ Make It Yourself!

Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, the pioneer of mindset theory, has long argued that people’s belief in inherent, unchangeable abilities and traits holds them back from personal growth and professional development. If you don’t believe you can become good at something unless you have a natural aptitude for it, her research finds, you’re unlikely to try it, much less succeed at it. In her influential book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, first published in 2006, Dweck calls this belief the “fixed mindset,” in contrast to a “growth mindset,” which believes that abilities can be developed over time through diligent work.

Recently, Dweck teamed up with her Stanford colleague Greg Walton and Yale University psychologist Paul O’Keefe on a paper that applies the same theoretical framework to passions and interests—things we are often told to find and follow, but which Dweck and her colleagues argue are developed, not discovered. In fact, Dweck and her co-authors told the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan in an article published earlier this month, the suggestion often heard by young people to find what they love to do and then do it for a living may actually be bad advice, as it discourages them from pursuing careers that don’t elicit love at first sight. In other words, it promotes the fixed mindset:

“If passions are things found fully formed, and your job is to look around the world for your passion—it’s a crazy thought,” Walton told me. “It doesn’t reflect the way I or my students experience school, where you go to a class and have a lecture or a conversation, and you think, That’s interesting. It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”

Another reason not to endorse the fixed theory is that it can cause people to give up too easily. If something becomes difficult, it’s easy to assume that it simply must not have been your passion, after all. In one portion of this study, the students who thought interests were fixed were also less likely to think that pursuing a passion would be difficult at times. Instead, they thought it would provide “endless motivation.” …

A different study done on adults’ views toward passions suggests that people who think passions are found tend to pick jobs that fit them well from the outset. They prioritize enjoyment over good pay. People who think passions are developed, meanwhile, prioritize other goals over immediate enjoyment at work, and they “grow to fit their vocations better over time,” the authors of that study write. “In conclusion,” they add, “people who have not found their perfect fit in a career can take heart—there is more than one way to attain passion for work.”