A Letter to My Teenage Self: On “Being Passionate”

What the f*** does “being passionate” even mean?

Exploring the black sand beaches of Iceland — I’ve become obsessed with traveling to as many weird places as possible.

Dear Mackenzie,

Congratulations on finishing freshman year of high school! As you move through your high school years, you’ll probably have a lot of people — your teachers, your aunt, that college advisor who comes into your class — tell you that you need to “be passionate.” Variations may sound like this:

“Show some passion in your resume.”

“Be passionate in what you do, and you’ll get into a good college.”

“Passion is one of the most important things we look for in college applicants.”

But you’re wondering — what the fuck does “being passionate” mean? You think it sounds vague and stupid. You like what you’re doing in high school — does that mean you’re passionate? Does doing track for 4 years mean you’re passionate about track? Does doing well in school translate to passion for academics?

I had to find this out the hard way, but this is what the adults mean when they talk about passion: they mean obsession.

All people will mean is to do such a deep dive into something that you become obsessed — you read every book by that author, you spend hours on Wikipedia clicking through articles, you teach yourself how to hack a system, you spend hours at a museum studying a single painting. You spend so much time in a subject that you become its local expert. A good test for this is if you talk so much about a topic that the eyes of the other person glaze over or they desperately search for a way out of the conversation. That’s when you know you’ve learned the intimate, minute details of your obsession. And that’s what you can write your college essay about and talk about in your interviews, and you’ll come across as interesting because you are interesting.

Doing a deep dive into whatever you want is how you figure out what you’re good at, and you will suddenly discover that you’re just as intelligent as the next person, except in your own way. Because the only other thing besides passion that college admission officers want is uniqueness, right?

Don’t worry about being unique. Don’t worry about being passionate. Just get obsessed with something that interests you, and the rest will follow.



P.S. I figured I’d also put my writing skills to use and help out some high school seniors with college essays.

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