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Following Your Passion When You Don’t Have One


For students entering college or fresh out of college and entering the workforce, the advice often given is “just follow your passion”, which at the very least is constructive and reasonable advice. But, what do you do if you don’t have a passion or a dream to guide you?

Not everyone knows from birth that they want to write, paint, become an astronaut, or tend to baby tigers in the zoo. Sometimes, people find themselves without a specific passion or dream and being advised to follow these nonexistent concepts, results in a paralytic rut, or worse, following someone else’s passion just because it sounds good.

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An interview with Chana Joffe-Walt, NPR News and Max Kornblith looked at options for the “passionless”. Max, a young college grad, is one of those people who does not have a passion to follow. Although a smart person with many different interests and well educated, Max has no idea which career would be the one for him. He explained his dilemma to Tyler Cowen of George Mason University in a letter. 

According to Tyler Cowen, the fact that students can even consider following their passion and really concentrate on what it is that they are passionate about, shows a positive result of years of industrialization and a more productive country. When you think about it, our grandparents certainly did not have the same options. They generally followed whatever their parents did and the idea of setting out blindly on a mission to find their “passions” was not generally advised. 

But, even though it’s a great indication of the opportunities that young people have these days, Cowen found that he really could not come up with an answer for Max. He invited him to lunch to meet in person with two other economists, Bryan Caplan and Garett Jones. 

The economists posed the following questions: 

  • How much are you willing to suffer in the short run to get a better future?
  • Have you ever considered working in Asia? Say Singapore, Tokyo – yes or no?
  • How important is it to spend X number of hours a week with your kid? And what is that X?
  • How well do you understand you own defects?
  • What does 50-year-old Max want?
  • Can your community be a cyber community or do you need to have face to face community?

Something they asked Max to consider was also whether or not maximizing his earning potential was a priority. As shown by our recent reports, the greatest ROI for college educations is going to be in the field of engineering. If you want to focus primarily on earning potential, you will want to consider the investment in your education as well as the potential salary.

Although the economists were unable to advise Max of any specific career path, they did give him some things to consider that may help with his search. If you don’t have a specific passion to rely on, you may want to ask yourself the same questions before diving into something, because as the economists agreed, having no passion is probably better than following a popular passion and will likely end with better results.

Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear from you! How did you choose your career? Did you follow your passion or is there something else you wish you would have followed instead? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments!

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(Photo Credit: By LaurMG/Wikimedia Commons)

Christina Majaski
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