I was listening to a talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert (click on the quote below to link to the page) where she made some important points about the saying “follow your passion.” As educators, isn’t this the advice we often give to young people?
How could such well-meaning advice ever be problematic?
As Gilbert has shared, she used to advise audiences to “follow your passion” – until one night, after a talk, she received a message from a woman who had been in attendance. In a nutshell she said this: You made me feel worse about myself, not better. I’m not passionate about anything, and your talk made me feel like I couldn’t find success until I felt like I was on fire about something – which I’m not.
This letter caused Gilbert to reflect on the “follow your passion” mantra. She concluded that perhaps it’s more useful to say, “follow your curiosity.”
While some people are able to apply single-minded focus to one endeavor, others (like me) have a “hummingbird mind,” a mind that flits from one interest to another. Instead of drinking deeply from any one flower, we take small sips from many.
Our culture tells us this is wrong, while it feels completely authentic to those of us who live this way.
Gilbert also points out that “follow your curiosity” may lead to a passion – through experimenting with a variety of interests, you may find one that fascinates you, that inspires deep commitment for a long period of time.
I’ve been reflecting on this when I consider the advice we give to students who are undecided about majors, and future goals. There’s so much pressure on young people to make these decisions early in life, but for many of us (me again), we arrive at our “calling” via a long and winding road. We try, and discard, many roles before we land upon the right one. And that’s ok. No experience is wasted.
In the year ahead, I encourage you to follow your curiosity and see where it leads.