“Find your passion.” We’ve all heard this term mentioned in some motivational speech or article way too many times. Throughout our lives, we are fed this idea that through extra-curricular activities, clubs, internships, university classes, or even jobs, we will discover our ‘calling’; that which we will love and can explore.
As romantic as this may sound, it may not be true for the majority of us. The phrase ‘finding your passion’ implies that your passion is something inherent or inborn — waiting to be found. However, a 2018 study done by psychologists from Stanford and Yale — NUS College Singapore would suggest otherwise. According to them, passions are cultivated rather than found.
Getting people, and especially young minds, to understand this key difference is essential. People who believe that their passion is fixed are more likely to assume that when they find their passion, everything will be easy for them. These people are more likely to give up on their interest when the going gets tough, as they would assume that the interest is not their true passion due to its difficulty.
Researchers came to this conclusion based on a study in which they divided students into two groups depending on whether they rated themselves as having fixed (believe that passions are inherent) or growth (believe that passions can be developed) mindsets. Students in each group were given an article that went against their self-reported interests. It was found that students with a growth mindset were more likely to be receptive to new areas and fields. Moreover, in a subsequent study, a fixed mindset was also found to restrict development potential in areas of interest as well. When students were given a slightly more technical and dense article than before on their declared area of interest, students with a fixed mindset were more likely to give up and lose interest in the article. This suggests that people with a fixed mindset may be reluctant to open themselves to new areas and may give up on their interest faster.
Reading about this study, I found myself reflecting on my journey until graduate school.
I didn’t know that Human Factors Psychology existed as a field until about four years ago when I took a course in Aviation Psychology. Since then, I’ve spent a year working in the Human Factors department at an airline and two years in a Human Factors Ph.D. program. This field has become my passion.
Personally, I think this has only been possible because of my eagerness to learn new things. You can’t decide whether you like or dislike something if you don’t even know it exists.
I thought it would be interesting to share some tips from my journey on how to have a growth mindset and cultivate your interests.
1. Engage, even if it means moving out of your comfort zone.
When you encounter something new or are doing something in the area of your interest, be sure to invest in your time and resources. Engage with it at a meaningful level. When I started learning Aviation Psychology during my undergraduate years, I took the time to read further about research done in the area and read testimonials by professionals in the field. In doing so, I cultivated an interest and passion for myself at a deeper level, rather than superficially engaging with the class.
2. Be mindful of your experiences.
When you do engage with something, be mindful of that experience. Ask yourself: Did doing this make me feel energized? Excited? Inquisitive? What about this activity made me feel this way? Would I like to do this again?
This is not to say that you must be on the lookout for a new interest in everything you do. Rather, this is just a way to introspect and gauge your propensity for something that you are doing to explore a potential area of interest.
When I noticed my interest in Aviation Psychology, I made it a point to stay focused in every class and engage with it fully. I made a note of the things I liked and disliked, and asked myself whether this was something I could see myself doing every day.
3. Talk and Discuss
Talking about what you are involved in is a great way to cultivate your interests further. Doing so can enable you to have engaging conversations with potentially like-minded people who can offer new perspectives on your chosen area of interest. Moreover, if you seek out knowledgeable people from the field that you are interested in, they can offer you anecdotal insights about the field which could further your interest or at the very least, make you more informed.
I used to have regular conversations with my Aviation Psychology professor who told me about the kind of research she did and the opportunities that she had received. Hearing her stories definitely helped cement my love for the field. As a bonus, she even pointed me towards the graduate school I currently attend.
Cultivating interests is not without its challenges. Common ones that I have experienced involve losing motivation, finding it difficult to maintain the same level of rigor, and dealing with things getting boring in between. But, this is exactly where having a growth mindset can be helpful. It will help you persist through challenges, and help you cultivate a passion for yourself through your persistence.