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Stop Telling Adolescents to Find Their Passion

Encourage them to find their path instead.

The pivotal years of adolescence come with many pressures, one being finding a future career path. Adolescents are told to seek out their interests, pursue their goals, and find their passion. For some of us, this may come easier than for others. Perhaps little Sally knew she wanted to be a nurse from a young age, and the transition to college and then nursing school is a no-brainer. But what about Katie? She knows she likes art, acting, and theater, but how can this translate into a career? And is pursuing a career within her passion, the arts, the best career decision? Does satisfaction come only from pursuing a career in your passion? These are serious questions that adolescents and others face daily, and sometimes parents, teachers, and schools add to the pressure. But perhaps there is a different, better way to approach this topic.

Let’s talk about passion. In many ways, it is marked as the gold standard by phrases like “if you find your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life.” But it also subconsciously implies that if you don’t know your passion, can’t seem to find it, or can’t translate it into a career, something is wrong. The fact is, not everyone has a strong conviction or passion for a certain topic or area of interest, and we need to normalize this. In my work with adolescents and young adults, by far one of the biggest stressors they bring to sessions is feeling the need to have to find their passion. These individuals are misled into thinking that career equals passion. But some passions simply cannot translate into careers, or are not “smart” career decisions.

Here is a different perspective: Billy works as a plumber. He is good at it, makes good money, and gets time off that he can spend with his family and travel. He is not passionate about it. However, for Billy, it is enough to create life satisfaction. He is able to go to work, complete the tasks of the day, and live a life in which he has time for hobbies such as woodworking. On the other hand, Nancy is passionate about animal rescue. She has saved up enough money to open an animal shelter but is struggling to financially make ends meet. She finds herself working over 60 hours a week due to the demands of her business, and struggles to find time for family, friends, and self-care.

These are two opposite scenarios and many individuals would fall somewhere in the middle, but maybe there is more to life than simply finding your passion to obtain life satisfaction. When working with individuals, I instead encourage them to "find their path." A path is a direction that includes work/career, hobbies, values, and a social sphere. It can be outlined by the following principles:

  1. Finding work or a career that I like. This is something that I like doing most days, or at the least, that I can tolerate. I also find myself good at it. Again, this will translate into a passion for some, but for others, it’s simply, “I can see myself doing this and overall enjoying it.”
  2. Can I fulfill my hobbies? Outside of work, I have enough time to emphasize my interests (e.g., time to go to the gym, cook, take vacations, paint, etc.).
  3. Can I live in alignment with my values? Perhaps I value quality time, freedom, or flexibility. Does my current path allow me to align with my values or does my career choice impede living out in accordance with my values?
  4. The social sphere. As human beings, we are social creatures. We need time for friends, family, and community. Does my current path allow me the time to be with my social circle, or do I work among others to create comradery and connections?

The pressures of having to find a passion in many ways can exacerbate feelings of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. Finding a career that does not translate to a passion can still provide a meaningful and satisfying life. Seeking out a "life path" can be an equally satisfying, and even sometimes healthier, life direction. Making sure we tend to all major pillars, including hobbies, values, and our social circle, ensures that we create balance to obtain that satisfaction and happiness we all desire. So, the next time someone isn't sure what they want to do for a career, don't tell them to find their passion; encourage them to find their path.

More from Claudia Skowron MS, LCPC, CADC
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