Stop telling me to follow my passion, I don’t have one

Hypothetical path leading to a place of happiness. Photo courtesy of Denise Jones on Unsplash

LAUREN HOUGH | OPINION REPORTER  | lhough@butler.edu 

I’ve always been told not to start any form of formal writing with a quote by someone other than myself. I’ve also been told that to find the best career path, I need to follow my passion. I’m going to flip the bird to both of those today.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines passion as “a strong feeling or emotion.” If that’s the case, I’m passionate about fuzzy socks and tiny puppies; I’m passionate about traffic jams and group assignments; I’m passionate about dropped ice cream cones and the end to every Nicholas Sparks movie. So tell me, just how am I supposed to turn these “passions” into a career?

But seriously, I have strong feelings about nearly every social movement, political issue and wrong-doing in this world. I’m an opinionated person — hence the reason you can find my name under the opinion section of this newspaper. Passion is an entirely ambiguous term that not only varies from person to person, but also encompasses aspects of just about any industry.

However, if I’m being honest with you, dear reader, I genuinely don’t think I have a career-related “passion.” I experience self-doubt and insecurity when asked, “What do you want to do after graduation?” The feeling of belonging and stability that one has when they’re passionate about their college major is one I have yet to feel.

I’m going to take a wild guess that I’m not the only college student who feels this way.

Even if you are one of the lucky ones who discovered their passion early in life, chances are you might struggle to apply that passion to a career for a number of reasons. 

For starters, some passions can be applied anywhere; take for instance, a passion for helping people. Someone who is passionate about helping others could become a lawyer, a firefighter, a doctor or a teacher. All of these occupations satisfy the drive to help others — but how do you know which one to choose? Some passions provide no direction.

Alternatively, your passion might be unrealistic. Riley Duhamell, a first-year psychology and criminology major, realizes this about her own passion. 

“I really like video gaming, and I take video gaming seriously to heart,” Duhamell said. “But I would never do anything job-related to that.” 

While Duhamell really enjoys video gaming, it is also her outlet, so she has decided to separate her career path from her passion to preserve that escape. Instead, she chose to pursue something that is less financially risky and better aligned with her personal skill set — criminal profiling. While criminal profiling isn’t something Duhamell is passionate about, she finds many aspects of that career path interesting.

This distinction between passion and interest is what I’ve found to be the real solution behind the age-old question, “What am I going to do with my life?” By identifying interests, you can figure out industries and job sectors to explore. Someone who is interested in music but doesn’t have the skill to become a professional musician could find jobs that they’re qualified for — and enjoy — in the music industry: music educator, producer, tour manager, booking agent, copyright lawyer or audio engineer. The list goes on and on. 

Interests often blossom into passions — but they cannot do so without active exploration and applied experiences. There are a few ways to actively seek out career opportunities relating to a field of interest.

Jack Mahaffey, first-year exploratory studies major, has sought out ways to explore interests on his own.

“I found something I might be interested in, which is music production,” Mahaffey said. “I’ve looked into all these different music-creating subscription-based websites, so I’ve been tampering with all of that and figuring out if I like it, and I do so far, so I’ve just been experimenting with different platforms.”

Mahaffey utilized the internet to explore career opportunities and skills required for that field, but the Butler Career and Profession Success office can help you take that exploration one step further. 

Andy Cassler, a career advisor in the CaPS office, provided suggestions for students who want to begin exploring interests.

One resource that Cassler stressed is a book called “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.” This book uses a process called “design thinking” to structure your approach to life. If you meet with a CaPS counselor, they can get you a copy of the book and its accompanying workbook. 

“In life design, there are two prototypes,” Cassler said. “The first one is prototype conversations where you’re talking to people. I think that certainly should be part of this process where you’re connecting with alumni or other professionals.” 

The second suggestion Cassler made was to find experiences like internships, volunteering,  job shadows or independent research. These experiences would allow you to learn more about your interests and determine if there is a potential career path there for you. 

The most important aspect about this exploration process is that you don’t stress. Society puts loads of unnecessary pressure on college students to have their lives figured out at the ripe age of 18. Not only is that unrealistic, it’s counterproductive. We should focus on taking this time to explore what’s out there, and to discover what career attributes fit our needs.

“You can’t just pick things because you’re stressed and you feel like you need to,” Duhamell said. “You just have to relax and go with the flow a little bit and it will come to you eventually.”

Don’t forget to enjoy the process. 

And remember, you’re never too late to start exploring.

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