A Letter to My Teenage Self: On “Being Passionate”
Mackenzie Burnett
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I’ve always thought that the “be passionate”, “chase your dreams” narrative lacked context when thrown around as career advice for young people.

I like the use of the word obsession because it implies that one cannot help but pour creative, emotional, intellectual, physical labour into an endeavour and that act in itself is a natural state of being. I find that a lot of young people will mistake curiosity and excitement for true passion. Curiosity and excitement can very well be catalysts for long term passion, but my gripe is that a good number of smart people will choose their paths on the grounds of the former and not the latter. In the world we live in where opportunities are abundant, it is no wonder that a large percentage of young adults switch programs in the middle of their academic career, or end up in domains far away from what they had originally gone to school for.

It has become such a widespread phenomena that we no longer bat an eye when this happens, and accept being lost and apathetic as a rite of passage to the adult world. So we don’t speak of the consequences of wasted money, sunken time, and opportunity costs, but those costs are a real burden to us when we mistake something else for our truer desires. I wish our education system could prepare us for the grit, sacrifice, experimentation, failure that are all necessary complexities in finding one’s domain, rather than telling us to simply “be passionate, chase your dreams” as if brushing on a layer of excitement somehow makes us more capable of reaching goals.

I don’t mean to sound like a grouch here, but how many times have we gotten jealous when we find out that former high school friend now runs a business and found their calling? How many of us feel inadequate when a peer earns a well deserved promotion and starts a family? Having a passion for life isn’t an outfit you change into to get your foot through the door for an interview. (it’s a different story if you absolutely need the money, but I suspect the demographic reading this will most likely prioritize happiness over money).

If you have a hard time channeling passion into getting that job/school/career, do you honestly expect to change into the same outfit everyday? If not, stop being dishonest to yourself. Find a domain where you are intuitively inclined to understand and master its intricacies. Not only is it a courageous thing to do, but also the most sustainable, beneficial, and efficient use of your time. And like the OP said, “you’ll come across as interesting because you are interesting.”

I wish someone told me these things in my teens.