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Day 18/05/2015

Rethink { Passion }: Elusive, Idealized, & Obsessed

Having a Passion

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “have a passion,” and why our society values this so much. As I talked about in my recent post about the construct of “grit”, grit is a character strength defined by passion and perseverance of long term goals. People with grit have sustained passion for one thing and stick to it. Research indicates that people with grit succeed in life, both professionally and academically.

Yet are we jumping on the grit wagon a bit too enthusiastically, at the expense of exploration?

passion

http://goldengatebpo.com/blog/passion-in-the-workplace/

Passion versus exploration

In a NY Times article last month entitled Our Push for ‘Passion,’ and Why It Harms Kids, Lisa Heffernan discusses this strange new notion that, by high school, a child must “have a passion that is deep, easy to articulate, well documented and makes him stand out from the crown“. She jokes that this must happen before he begins his Common App, and anyone who has applied to college recently or helped another do so is awake of this phenomenon. As Heffernan states,

This passion, which he will either stumble upon or be led to by the caring adults in his life, must be pursued at the highest level his time and talent, and his parent’s finances, will allow… This is madness.

She warns that the obsession with seeking a passion comes with costs. Children latch onto “passions” that are not really things they enjoy simply to be able to proclaim one. They feel lost and pressured to find their “one thing” early on. If we are laser-focused on finding one thing our students are good at and then push them to pursue it doggedly, they may miss out on other things they are perhaps more suited to or enjoy more. Childhood is about exploration. As Heffernan concludes,

…childhood isn’t about passion, but rather about exploration. Our job… is to nurture that exploration, not put an end to it. When we create an expectation that children must find their one true interest so early in life, we cut short a process of discovery that may easily take a lifetime.

In some ways, the exploration that Heffernan prescribes is antithetical to grit. However, I’d argue that grit is great, once you find something you want to be gritty at. However, we can’t push young students to latch on so quickly, and sometimes it IS more sensible to quit rather than to doggedly pursue.

Find-your-passion

http://idealistcareers.org/category/job-search/find-your-passion/

 

Passion requires struggle

Evidencing the harm that societal pressure towards passion can cause, in a NYMag Ask Polly column last week, Polly assuages a 25-year-old woman’s fear that she does not yet have a passion. The writer calls herself “Life Is Buffering” and worries that she lacks an anchor in life.

Polly takes a different approach to the obsession of passion, explaining that children in the upper middle class who have been coddled by their parents and lived very fortunate lives often have known no struggle. Yet passion is not born from the easy life. She explains,

Passion comes from hard work. Passion bubbles up from intense, sometimes tedious labor. Passion floats in when you’re exhausted from doing something by yourself, for yourself, just to survive… Passion arrives when you stop seeing men and babies as a kind of solution to not having enough passion. Passion materializes once you give up hope and then you’re just sitting there, without hope, and you think, I might as well do something. I have to pay the bills some way, don’t I? 

Polly reminds us that passion is not “something that descends like magic at cocktail hour, when all the work is done.” It is instead an uphill battle through thankless work and setbacks and struggles. 

Moreover, it is okay to not yet know exactly what you want to do. Part of the struggle is defining that purpose. As Polly concludes,

Those people with the biggest question marks are usually the ones with the most passion of all.

Passion: Elusive, Idealized, & Obsessed

Overall, I believe that “finding a passion” is a bit idealized in our society. Moreover, for upper class students who’s parents and teachers are trying to give them every advantage in life, finding a passion can be a bit of a contradiction. Passion is not something you can be spoon fed, and it is not something that should be a item on your checklist for college acceptance. It is born from struggle and hard work, it takes time to develop, and it’s okay if you haven’t figured yours out yet.

This – of course – goes back to my obsession with failure. If we want our students to develop passions, we need to put them in situations where they can fail. We need to take them out of their comfort zones and into contexts where they will struggle. We need to let them explore and remove the expectations and pressures to zero in on one thing so early on. We must rethink what it means to be passionate, why we value it so much, and how to instill passion in our students without smothering them with the label.

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