Follow your passion.

This is what I tell my students when they come at a crossroad of their academic career. When an 18-year old freshman comes to me and tells me that his/her grades are slipping and he doesn’t find chemistry interesting anymore I always start with “What are you passionate about?”

And 9 times out of 10, this results into a shrug, or an “I don’t really know”. Which leads then to roughly more time of figuring out what to do. Some of the questions linger with what made the choice of BS Chemistry come in the first place. Other questions include, what are his/her skills or even a vision in the short-, medium- and long-term. Why do we need to flesh out these information? Mostly because, it is part of finding out what one is passionate about.

Passion follows hard work

A lot of people have already written and debated against this advice for young people. In an article written by Cal Newport, he notes that passion follows you. In another article, he mentioned that following your passion is perhaps a bad advice. He ascertained that studies point to importance of autonomy or a sense of competence in the work place and the anecdotes that clearly identified pre-existing passions are rare. Both of these pieces say that a distorted idea of passion (i.e. a one true dream job) is dangerous, mostly because finding a career you love is elusive and it comes with hard work.

I do agree with Cal, in sense that a fulfilling career that leads to a passionate disposition towards that career choice is earned with hard work. You develop it as you become more skillful at something. So for me, this leads to a rethinking of what it means to be passionate about something. Is it just merely wanting, dreaming and idealism or is it something more?

Being passionate is not simply doing what feels good.

Others may misconstrue following one’s passion with a sense of being overly dependent on emotions and what “feels” good. But this exercise of finding one’s passion is more of a logical and reasonable endeavor above anything else. Finding one’s passion is to find out what unsettles you and propels you to move, to act. It is more than just feeling happy about what your doing. It should give you a sense of fulfillment. However, this is hard since you don’t know what it is in the first place.

The process of finding your passion allows you to reflect and discern on what makes you tick, what purpose you believe you serve, what will get you up in the morning and what trials you’d gladly face every single day no matter how hard they come. I don’t think there’s anything purely emotional with that thought process. It is one of the most difficult things you need to think about mostly because at this crossroad in your life, you probably don’t have a lot of experiences to start with. And at the end of the day, this may seem like a self-indulgent process, albeit an important one to self-discovery.

How can I know that music is not for me and that I would rather go to science? Well, there’s no black and white answer to that. The most obvious one is to try them and see for yourself. However, depending on where you are in your life, you may not have the luxury of time. For a college freshman, there is indeed some time to look for your passion, to experience different things. For someone who’s graduating and have to make life-changing decisions in a month, this can prove to be very difficult. But if you can’t try these things, the best substitute for it, I guess, is to look at other people’s experiences to serve as examples.

Being passionate is being continuously amazed

Being in an inter-disciplinary lab allows me to venture into different aspects of scientific research. There’s always a dichotomy between wet-lab researchers vs. computer-based researchers in our lab. Conversations sometimes delve on things/tasks that we’ll never be happy doing. For example, one of us would never find fulfillment in making a program, whereas, I would die of boredom if I have to sit in the microscope all day. Despite disagreeing on what these tasks are, we always agreed that the sense of amazement of being able to discover something keeps us in science, whether this discovery is in a new program, a microscope image, or statistical difference between control and sample conditions. And I believe this sense of amazement and wonderment keeps us passionate about our work.

I think then, people should choose something that keeps them questioning and looking for answers. They should go for things that will allow them to develop themselves and simply not sit and be completely content. They should pursue things that keeps them amazed even in a difficult situation.

Being passionate is being committed

Difficulties and challenges are those moments that derail us from gaining satisfaction and fulfillment from what we are doing. In the case of most students, these are tasks that they feel they are not equipped to do, or are never good at. Some students will never find math appealing, I, on the other hand, disliked the social sciences and humanities back in college. However, every single job in every single field will have moments like these. It is then important to note that being passionate about something is being committed to it.

I will always remember a theology professor’s words when it comes to commitment. It is not saying yes now, but saying yes every single moment. When conditions get tough, monotonous or unappealing, it is whether you know if you are passionate about something or just going for it for the happy feeling. To go back and try again, to persevere and hope, these elements redefines what being passionate is all about.

In our re-thinking of passion, I leave you with the idea that passion is not simply a fleeting feeling but rather something more dynamic.

We liken passion to a flame. It is something that keeps us warm and comfortable, but not too comfortable lest we get scorched. It is something that keeps moving, never static. It is something that needs to be fueled, lest it burns out. And I think most importantly, I think it is something that lights up our path and guides us.
PS. Credits to Nath Hermosa for sending the articles by Cal Newport that got me thinking in the first place