It seems like every commencement speech these days dishes out the advice to “go find your passion.” But this just creates more stress for already overwhelmed students. It just makes you feel like you’re behind!
If you’re like most students, you’re still figuring out what interests you, never mind what your passions are. Worse, this cry to “find your passion” implies that there is only one black and white answer. But when you’re spending most of your time trying to keep up with your demanding schoolwork, it’s unfair for anyone to tell you to find that ONE thing you want to spend the rest of your life on.
Telling you to find your One Big Passion makes it seem like your interests and gifts exist outside of yourself. In reality, passion is within you. It’s that little voice inside that starts speaking up when you come across something that fascinates or intrigues you, or even makes you mad. It’s that little spark of interest.
But based on what we hear about passion, we expect the skies to part when we identify a singular thing that we’ve been seeking out all our lives. Instead, it’s usually a bunch of tiny internal signals that add up to the topics and activities that simply light you up!
So how can you start to notice these internal signals? It begins with asking several critical questions. Again, you’re not trying to figure out the one thing you need to commit to for the rest of your life. You’re just making a commitment to notice when something really clicks with you and compiling a list of everything that fits with your unique set of strengths and interests.
Here are some questions that can guide you in uncovering these signs:
What are you curious about?
It’s not always clear right off the bat when a specific topic or activity is a fit for you. Usually it’s less about finding a passion and it’s more about cultivating your many passions. Identifying the topics you’d like to learn more about is an important first step. Pay close attention to your curiosities. Many times, they can lead to what really lights you up.
What problems do you notice around you?
Because of your unique personality and set of experiences, you’re likely going to notice different kinds of problems from your friends. The problems you notice say a lot about what’s important to you and what kind of difference you want to make. Even if you don’t find yourself wanting to tackle that exact situation, seeing what challenges you’re in tune with is a great place to start. (And if you find yourself generating solutions, too, that’s fantastic!) Many times, the problems you notice will trigger your emotions — and we tend to forget that passion can be expressed as anything ranging from optimism to frustration.
What kind of help do you find yourself providing to others?
One of the greatest ways to pick out your natural tendencies is to see where you feel inclined to help. Are you regularly helping your brother organize his room? Do your friends tend to turn to you for relationship advice? Note what type of support you usually jump into providing and figure out what kind of help others are always ask you for.
What topics energize you?
We don’t get very far with the things that make us feel apathetic. It’s all about noticing when you feel a jolt of energy. Something that fuels you rather than depletes you is going to be an area that fits with your strong suits. This can be true when you’re doing that activity, but you also may find it to be true when someone just brings up the subject in conversation. If you feel a burst of energy after doing something or talking about it, that’s an important signal.
Who do you look up to?
Identify your greatest heroes. These can be athletes, family members, leaders, or anyone else who pops into your head. Which qualities do you respect most? At some level, these are attributes that you see in yourself! What subjects or causes are they involved in? This may inform what kinds of things you’re interested in pursuing. Take a close look at the people you look up to and why you look up to them.
So, here’s your homework: grab a piece of paper and spend 20 minutes jotting down the answers to these questions. Then, continue collecting anything new you notice. You want to keep your list growing!
Again, this is not about finding a singular passion. This is about noticing those internal signals so you know more about what juices you. Many of those signs will show up as you’re doing things, not just sitting and contemplating. You could be going about your day or maybe trying something new, and you could notice a little spark of interest. Add that to your list! Don’t let it slip through the cracks.
While it’s stressful to “find your passion,” answering questions like these can help you get clear and stand out to your Dream School. When you pay close attention to your sparks of interest, you collect a unique and in-depth understanding of who you are and what you want to explore– plus, it’s not so intimidating since you’re doing it one step at a time!
Your answers to these questions are much more telling and interesting to colleges than labeling one subject as your passion. If you want to get into your Dream School, stop trying to “find your passion” and start collecting a list of your unique strengths and interests. You’ll be able to spend less time being frustrated that you haven’t “found your passion” and more time identifying and doing what you love. And that’s what your Dream School wants to see.