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The latest scientific and behavioural research seems to suggest the often-touted mantra of many motivational speakers and life-success gurus to ‘Find Your Passion’ might not be good advice.
“Watch who you let near your mind” is the advice behavioural scientist George W. Dudley1 shared with me in the Nineties, and it seems that advice is still well worth adopting when it comes to this idea that we all need to find our passion in life or, our life will feel empty.
Humans are meaning-making beings. It is an innate (albeit not always conscious) function of our natural approach to life, to be interpreting meaning through our everyday experiences.
And while significant and continual evidence-based research2 points to the importance of meaning in our lives and the many benefits living a meaningful life can have to our psychological and physical well-being, we need to be careful about the practical reality of finding our one passion or purpose that we’re destined to discover.
The issue for me is these motivational gurus (who rarely site evidence-based research for their claims) are either intentionally or unintentionally suggesting each of us, individually, has one passion or purpose in life and we need to find it.
What if we don’t?
What if we can’t find that one passion or purpose in our life… despite a desperate search after attending a motivational conference?
Here’s a much more refreshing (and evidence-based) view of how to approach this idea of having a passion or purpose in life.
A recent Stanford News article by Melissa De Witte highlights research by Paul O’Keefe, Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton that suggests “The belief that interests arrive fully formed and must simply be “found” can lead people to limit their pursuit of new fields and give up when they encounter challenges”.
What the researchers found, is rather than setting yourself the potentially unattainable task of finding your one passion in life, you’re better off approaching this as ‘developing your passions’.
This is more attuned to the notion of humans being meaning-making beings.
For many of us, we are less likely to find that ‘one passion’ and this could, as the researchers highlight, find us giving up on the search altogether when it gets too tough to pursue that one passion.
Rather, as we think about and start to discover the things that bring more meaning to our lives, the things that we feel interested in, that move us emotionally and intellectually, we don’t cut one off from the other in the aim of isolating that one passion.
In my own life, I don’t have the one passion or purpose and have always found that idea to be counterproductive to my sense of meaning in life.
Rather, I continually try and develop (not always successfully) the many areas in which I find meaning.
Mostly this revolves around my close relationships (family, friends and professionally) – this is where I find most meaning, and perhaps, this is why the majority of my professional life is also about researching and sharing my research around the importance of relationships and trust in our professional and personal lives.
However, it’s not just from relationships that I find meaning. There’s music, cooking, entertaining, writing, reading, research, travel, kayaking, exercise and theatre.
I share this with you not to be self-indulgent, rather to provide examples for you to consider what’s meaningful in your own life.
I really do hope you find this article meaningfully helpful (pun intended), because I have seen over my twenty-five years as a corporate conference speaker many disillusioned audience members who have pursued the mantra of ‘find your passion’ to live the life they should live, only to end up feeling more disappointed in the life they have.
- co-author with Shannon Goodson of the book ‘Earning What You’re Worth’
- For example the work of Michael Steger
Articulately put. I identify strongly with the idea of developing passions rather than ‘discovering’ what they are, which can be limiting and even reduce confidence. Thanks David.
Good on you Kerry – there’s a lot of hype around ‘finding purpose and meaning’- the message is often however delivered in a way that can cause people to feel less meaning in life and wondering why they can’t find their purpose … when in reality for most of us, we live it day to day, but may not be consciously associating it as meaning or purpose. Thanks for contributing.