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Why You Shouldn’t Try to Discover Your Passion

Is your passion waiting to be discovered? Or do you have to make it happen?

If you're waiting around for your life’s passion to suddenly emerge, you're going to wait a long time. At least, that's what recent research by psychologist Carol Dweck and two colleagues tells us.

These researchers suggest that there are two “theories” of life passion: the “fixed theory of interests” and the “growth theory.” The fixed theory says that our passions are there—inborn, and just waiting to be discovered. The growth theory maintains that we have to develop specific interests over time, and that we develop our passion as we do work in a particular area.

Their research suggests that although many people, including high school and college counselors, believe in the fixed theory, there is greater support for the growth theory—we have to spend time exploring our interests, working hard at them, in order for our passion to emerge over time.

The danger of a belief in the fixed theory is that when the going gets tough, people may give up and decide, “This isn't my passion after all.” This may cause people, young and old, to be on a constant search for that one "perfect” interest or career that provides easy and endless motivation—instead of realizing that a passion takes work and the need to overcome obstacles and setbacks.

I think there is a parallel that I see in young people who are seeking out that “perfect job.” Ideally, that belief leads to a constant and ongoing search, where everything goes smoothly, and you get a constant sense of motivation and satisfaction. In reality, you may have to “make your passion,” by developing your interests more fully, taking the good with the bad, working to overcome the difficulties, and finding satisfaction in your accomplishments.

Here is a link to an Atlantic article on the Dweck et al study.


O’Keefe, P.A., Dweck, C.s., & Walton, G.M. (in press). Implicit theories of interest: Finding your passion or developing it. Psychological Science.

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