During commencement addresses we often get the advice to “Follow your Passions” in order to be successful. On the surface this sounds like good, sage advice; But, many people have no clue as to what their passions may be, or even how to discover them.
Recently, I heard an interview on NPR where a high school student started down this path in order to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He contacted leading academics and ended up doing lunch with several important economists in order to find out “what dreams should I follow, if I have no dreams of my own.” This got me to thinking about what kind of advice I would offer if someone approached me. The interview was very dissatisfying; the economists asked a lot of questions but ended up offering no real advice except to follow the money.
In life it has been my experience that many people are not introspective. Everyone is capable of being happy, everyone has experienced joy in their lives; but if you ask people “What do you enjoy doing?” many cannot find an answer. I wouldn’t say this is bad, but without understanding yourself better you are denying yourself the ability to pursue happiness. Passion is the same thing; I believe we all have the capability of becoming passionate about something, but discovering that passion can be difficult.
As a starting point to introspection I recommend something along the lines of the Rokeach Values, the idea is very simple: print out the 18 terminal values (below), cut them into separate cards and place them on a table. Move them around to identify which ones you consider important, and which ones you consider less important. Once you have selected your “important” pile you will start moving them around and sort them into order from most important (to you) to least important. Then you will do the same thing with the 18 Instrumental values (also below).
This is the first step to finding your passion. The terminal values represent how you would like life to turn out; when you die what would you like to have accomplished. The instrumental values represent the path you would like to take to get there; Would you like to be acknowledged by your peers for your imagination? Your Helpfulness? Your Intellect? With this information under your belt you can start to look into fields that will help you to fulfill your goals.
My next piece of advice would be to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (which forces you to take a lot of non-core classes) as opposed to a more focused degree, and to start getting involved in lots of different activities. Most activities will probably fail to hold your interest for more than a week or so, but that is good. The goal is to expose yourself to lots of different experiences and viewpoints and… stuff. By doing this you will start to uncover what you enjoy, what you hate, what drives you. And you will start to uncover who you really are.
Along the way you will, hopefully, discover your passion. And if you don’t, then you can follow the money.