In an upcoming paper for Psychological Science, researchers from Stanford University say actively looking to ‘find your passion’ could make it less likely to actually happen.
Basically, the phrase implies that once an interest resonates with us, pursuing it will be easy. Then, when we (inevitably) hit a few speed bumps, we give up, thinking that route mustn’t have been for us.
In addition, the wording suggests that we’re limited in the number of interests we can have – causing us to narrow our focus and prevent ourselves from developing skills in areas we otherwise might thrive in (and go on to prefer better).
To better understand this, the researchers conducted five experiments involving 470 participants.
In the first, they recruited a group of students who identified as either ‘techie’ or ‘fuzzy’ (aka, interested in arts and humanities.) They asked both groups to read two articles, one that related to each area.
They found that those students who held a fixed mindset about their interests were less open to the article outside of their niche.
“If you are overly narrow and committed to one area, that could prevent you from developing interests and expertise that you need to do that bridging work,” explains Paul O’Keefe, the study’s co-author and assistant professor of psychology at Yale-NUS College.
In another experiment, the researchers piqued students’ interest in the universe by showing them an engaging video on it. At first, most of them were fascinated. But after they were read a challenging scientific article on the same topic, their excitement quickly dissipated.
“Difficulty may have signalled that it was not their interest after all,” the researchers explain. “Taken together, those endorsing a growth theory may have more realistic beliefs about the pursuit of interests, which may help them sustain engagement as material becomes more complex and challenging.”
So, what’s a girl to do?
Perhaps instead of ‘finding’ your passion, ‘developing it’ is more worthwhile.
“If you look at something and think, ‘that seems interesting, that could be an area I could make a contribution in,’ you then invest yourself in it,” says Walton. “You take some time to do it, you encounter challenges, over time, you build that commitment.”
And Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Lewis and Virginia Eaton agrees:
“My undergraduates, at first, get all starry-eyed about the idea of finding their passion, but over time they get far more excited about developing their passion and seeing it through,” she says. “They come to understand that that’s how they and their futures will be shaped and how they will ultimately make their contributions.”