Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, remembers asking an undergraduate seminar recently, “How many of you are waiting to find your passion?”
“Almost all of them raised their hand and got dreamy looks in their eyes,” she told me. They talked about it “like a tidal wave would sweep over them,” he said. Sploosh. Huzzah! It’s accounting!
Would they have unlimited motivation for their passion? They nodded solemnly.
“I hate to burst your balloon,” she said, “but it doesn’t usually happen that way.”
What Dweck asked her students is a common refrain in American society. The term “Follow your passion” has increased ninefold in English books since 1990. “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is another college-counseling standby of unknown provenance.
But according to Dweck and others, that advice is steering people wrong.
“What are the consequences of that?” asked Paul O’Keefe, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale — NUS College. “That means that if you do something that feels like work, it means you don’t love it.” He gave me the example of a student who jumps from lab to lab, trying to find one whose research topic feels like her passion. “It’s this idea that if I’m not completely overwhelmed by emotion when I walk into a lab, then it won’t be my passion or my interest.”
That’s why he and two co-authors — Dweck and Greg Walton of Stanford — recently performed a study that suggests it might be time to change the way we think about our interests. Passions aren’t “found,” they argue. They’re developed.
In a paper that is forthcoming in Psychological Science, the authors delineate the difference between the two mind-sets. One is a “fixed theory of interests” — the idea that core interests are there from birth, just waiting to be discovered — and the other is a “growth theory,” the idea that interests are something anyone can cultivate over time.
To examine how these different mind-sets affect our pursuit of different topics, the authors…