Follow your Passion — Two sides of the Narrative

As a child, my average day would involve slowly munching small morsels of food, watching cartoons and taking relaxing naps. I used to spend my afternoons reading Enid Blyton or Amar Chitra Katha, all the while switching between wanting to live the English life and wanting to meet the epic heroes. Apart from the obvious reasons, to me, life was a lot simpler when I was a child, because nobody asked me why I did whatever I did and what I sought to get out of it. I did not seek purpose in anything and I did what I wanted to do in the moment. School was normal and I was always a studious kid who liked studying. I never knew why I liked it, I did it simply because I found it interesting and the pressure of maintaining a reputation was somehow important to me. People would ask what my passion is. I would say reading and watching TV. Somehow, I believed this would change over time but it never did.

Popular belief is that true passion for an activity would make one give it all up, regardless of the rewards. It is a feeling that will drive you towards a version of yourself, to a point of ultimate happiness. Nothing can change your love for it. It alarmed me that I had never felt anything close to this state of, so called, euphoria that you get by following your passion. Maybe I did, but who can ever conclusively say this is the happiest I can get when there are a million things out there. A lot of my friends found their passion. It ranges from music, drama, sports, and media to everything else we have heard of. This passion they claim is something so integral to their life that life without this element would be vastly different. Sometimes, they do not see any purpose in life without this element.

This caused a sense of regret, resentment, and probably even fear inside me. What is this passion that they are talking about? What would be mine? How would I find it? If I ever miraculously find out, how would I make it my life and let it consume me? I will probably never find answers to these questions, but I certainly know why follow your passion as an advice should never bother me. This narrative has to exist in the society to encourage creativity, to make sure that everyone is not the same. Everything new and inspiring that we see today is probably a product of someone following their dream against all odds generations ago. Then why is this not necessarily the best advice? Although follow your dreams is a good counter-narrative to social pressure on kids to pursue mainstream monetarily rewarding activities, it is also a narrative that puts insane pressure on kids to find out that something that would be their life. It makes people go through extreme stress and prevents people from realising its okay to have a bunch of interests and its okay to do something for money and a desired standard of living.

Follow your passion is usually attested by stories of famous people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Kids drop out of college trying to replicate these great minds. We should understand that this narrative only tells you the success stories. What do we know about the countless number of people who risked all they had and failed? What do we know about the people whose passion burned down to a lifelong regret? What do we know about the people whose life choices based on passion prevented another individual from having a shot at a decent livelihood? The follow your dreams narrative glamorises few success stories and shadows million others whose lives we have not heard about. This is exactly why it is not okay to make a choice under the illusion of following your passion.

Another harm of this narrative is the fact that it makes individuals believe that the path to success itself is as glamorous as it sounds. Various research studies conducted by Yale and NUS graduates show a series of tests where individuals who said they believed in following their passion felt their interest drop lower when the tasks in their field of passion got tougher and tougher. On the other hand, a bunch of tasks given in various other fields which suited individual capacities held their interests at better levels. Thus, happiness and interest remains intact as long as there is progress and satisfaction of completion of milestones. This goes to say that an individual has just as good a shot at happiness if he/she is pursuing an interest and not a passion but is successful at it.

It was a path with so many confusions and even self-hatred until recently for me because I did not have a passion that I could turn into a career or have a passion at all. Acceptance of the fact that I have great interests that I can pursue and the ability to work in those areas has brought a lot of satisfaction and peace of mind. This made me realize that success could be a passion too and would probably be the closest to being mine. Some of us may not dream of standing in the most scenic place in the world, doing what we love. The dream could just be working 9-6 and coming back home to read and chew morsels of food while watching TV and sleeping. This works just fine too.

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