Once we discover what we feel is our passion
(or at least, our interest that could become a passion), the work has only begun.
One day in class, a thirty-something student raised her hand to ask a question about my professional journey. She was a conscientious student who was searching and attempting to zero in on her life’s passion. She wondered, “How long did it take you to get to where you are, professor?” I reflected for a moment, thinking of my writing, teaching and speaking careers. “Oh,” I said, “about thirty years and I still have a lot to learn.”
I could literally see the her shoulders slump, her face scrunch up and her head lower and shake ever so slightly from side to side.
She knew she would have to work. Just not quite that long.
In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth debunks the notion that passion is something that comes to us like a bolt from the blue, a sudden revelation that changes our life’s trajectory; and that once discovered we have it made. She states that science has proven that “passion for your work is a little bit discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” (p. 103) I think my student knew about the discovery; had a bit of understanding about the development; but little clue about the deepening. And anecdotally, I don’t think her case is that unique.
The discovery part of the passion process comes from Brailling the world. Exploration, discovery, curiosity and interactions. It’s not a one and done that we will discover with simple introspection Duckworth contends. This is where “play” can be very beneficial. It allows us to dabble, have fun and sort through experiences. (I’m not sure we will find our life’s passion/interests by being glued to “breaking news alerts” which are, basically, somebody else telling us what they discovered and why we should care about it.) We have to find our own agenda.
Once we discover what we feel is our passion (or at least, our interest that could become a passion), the work has only begun. We have to develop it. Like a talent or skill, we need to engage in, as Duckworth calls it, “a proactive period of interest development.” We have to stoke the curiosity. When we continue to read, listen, observe, and participate we gather more information. The interest deepens—or we might discover this isn’t what we really want. And the process begins anew.
The final piece of the passion journey, according to Duckworth, comes in the form of having “encouraging supporters…who provide ongoing stimulation and information” about our passion. This feedback is critical. I’ve written often on this blog about the importance of relationships. Duckworth affirms the importance of supportive networks.
The student who asked about my journey had enrolled herself in college to find her way. Her question of me represented one small piece of her journey—a slice of her discovery path. Her physical reactions to length of time required to polish the passion indicated another benchmark on her journey: she would need grit to persevere and reach her long-term goal.
Video recommendation of the week.
If you have not viewed Duckworth’s popular TED Talk, I’d recommend it. Below you will find a short interview where she hits broadly on the idea of perseverance.
Where do you stand in the discovery, development, and deepening cycles? How do you (or could you) play the role of supportive network for someone who is in the discovery or development mode? Do you encourage the process and joy of play (for others and yourself) when it comes to the discovery phase? How do you stay curious? What have you done today to deepen your passion? Are your goals, in fact, Hell, Yeah goals that inspire you to enjoy the journey of work and learning?
Stay curious about your development and growth, my friend.
Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.
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My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.
(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.
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