Thursday, August 02, 2018

Stop Telling People to Find Their Passion

Source: Public Domain Pictures
Paul O’Keefe, Carol Dweck, and Gregory Walton have written a forthcoming article in Psychological Science titled, "Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It?"  In this paper, they draw upon Dweck's work on growth vs. fixed mindsets, and they apply this framework to the topic of people's passions and interests.   In this paper, they contrast individuals with a fixed theory of personal interests to those with a growth theory.   Those with a fixed theory believe that they possess a passion for certain types of work, and they simply must discover those interests.  Individuals with a growth theory believe that interests must be "cultivated through investment and persistence."  

The scholars conduct a series of studies to examine the impact that these different theories have on motivation and behavior.   They discovered that, "A fixed theory was more likely to dampen interest in areas outside people's existing interests."  Moreover, they found that people with a fixed theory believed that they would be highly motivated once they discovered their passion.  In a sense, they foresee an easy path once their underlying interests and passions are revealed/discovered.  Those with a growth theory of interests tend to adopt a more realistic outlook, namely that they will encounter difficulties as they pursue a passion.  

Finally, perhaps most importnatly, in their final experimental study, the scholars discover an important relationship between a growth theory and persistence in the pursuit of an area of interest:

Inducing a fixed theory led students to discount a newfound interest more definitively upon exposure to challenging content. Difficulty may have signaled that it was not their interest after all. Taken together, those endorsing a growth theory may have more realistic beliefs about the pursuit of interests, which may help them sustain engagement as material becomes more complex and challenging.

This new research strongly complements earlier work at Stanford by Bill Barnett and Dave Evans. In their book, "Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life," Barnett and Evans apply deisgn thinking principles to the process of discovering and building a career.   They argue that one does not find his or her passion by sitting in a dorm room pondering life's big quesitons.  Instead, they argue that one should adopt a learn by doing approach, much like a design thinker.  You prototoype as a design thinker, and you can do the same with regard to building a career.  In short, you try various things, by shadowing an alumnus for a day, taking an internship, meeting with mentors in various fields, attending a professional conference, or trying a course in a different field.  Through these actions, you learn about what interests you and what does not.  In many ways, Barnett and Evans are arguing that you must cultvate and develop your interets through action, rather than waiting for a passion to be revealed through some "aha" moment.  Now, O'Keefe, Dweck, and Walton provided sound psychological research that complements the practical guide to designing a career offered by Barnett and Evans in their terrific book.  

1 comment:

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