September 12, 2021

DO | The Myth of Passion

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These days, it seems like the resume obsession is real. Everyone is scrambling for jobs, internships, shadowing, clubs, research positions and whatever else the pre-corporate world has to offer. It seems like any use of our time is only as valuable as the number of professional buzzwords we can squeeze out of it. The landscape has become so competitive that it’s less about what you’ve actually done and more about how slyly you can over-exaggerate your experiences. 

If you’ve ever stumbled upon a classmate’s LinkedIn profile, then you’re probably familiar with the resume-driven mindset. It’s so easy to fall into the rabbit hole, hopping from profile to profile just to pretentiously scope out the competition.  Suddenly, you find yourself stalking half the sophomore class with a newfound resentment towards yourself and your more accomplished peers. Not saying I’ve ever done that, but just in case any readers can relate. 

All this stress and worry raises a valuable question: why? Why do we toil so much over our resumes, to the point of unhealthy self-comparisons? Why do we pursue shiny executive board positions in professionally-oriented clubs when there are so many other interesting uses of our time? Why does everyone seem to have their professional futures figured out, while I can’t go a week without contemplating dropping out and becoming an “influencer”?

Your peers’ LinkedIn profiles would have you believe that the answer is passion.  A “passion” for building artificial neural networks, a “passion” for global health inequities, a “passion” for pediatric neuroscience. Everyone’s so passionate about the careers that they’ve chosen. Right?

Well yes, but actually no. The majority of those people, including me, feel little “passion” towards whatever they’ve chosen to pursue (unless there happen to be any members of medical school admissions boards reading this, in which case I lie awake at night for hours dreaming of practicing medicine, you can stop reading here). Most of them are just intelligent and driven students who have been told that life is about “pursuing your passion” and discovering the career that will resonate deep within your heart. As if the human soul is somehow discontent if it isn’t working 24/7. 

I don’t know about you all, but I love to spend time with my friends. I love to play tennis, I love to listen to my favorite music, I love The Office. I don’t “love” my major. I chose my major because I’m good at it and am interested enough in the subject material that I don’t want to pull my hair out whenever I’m in a lecture. I’m currently pre-med, but I’m not looking for self-actualization in the medical field. Since all the medical school admissions officers stopped reading a paragraph ago, I can reveal to you all that I actually don’t lie awake at night dreaming of practicing medicine. 

So many of us are preoccupied with this idea of a “passion” that we constantly doubt whether we’re on the right path. We’re told that somewhere out there lies a dream career that will not only earn us a living, but will  be custom tailored to fit our “passions”. For a select few, this will absolutely be the case. But for most of us, a job is a means to survival and independence; it doesn’t have to be anything more.

The depiction of passion as the most important factor in my career choice has led to a lot of self-doubt as I try to reconcile the fact that I don’t have any apparent passions. I consider myself an academically-minded and motivated person, but I don’t study because I’m passionate about what I’m learning; I study because it’s just what I’m supposed to do.

For a long time I told myself that I would discover my academic passions in a dramatic, coming of age story-esque fashion. My eyes would be opened to the wonders of neurobiology or sociolinguistics, or whatever it may be. All my work would come easily to me because I’d be doing something that I loved. That’s certainly the end goal of pursuing your passions, isn’t it?

Well, according to a series of studies conducted by O’Keefe, Dweck, and Walton (2018), a fixed view of passion “leads people to anticipate that a passion will provide limitless motivation and that pursuing it will not be difficult. When this expectation is violated … the person comes to think that the topic was not his or her interest after all.” So … yeah, maybe passion isn’t the cure-all for lack of motivation that everyone seems to think it is. 

Just because you don’t feel passionate about what you’re studying, doesn’t mean that you’re headed down a path toward academic misery. Don’t let the LinkedIn profiles fool you – not everyone is head over heels for their major.  Besides, there are already so many things in this world to be passionate about; your career doesn’t have to be one of them.

Noah Do ‘24  is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]. Noah’s Arc runs every other Monday this semester.