The obsession with following your passion is on the rise in Australia. (Pic: iStock)
The obsession with following your passion is on the rise in Australia. (Pic: iStock)

Why passion is no match for persistence

PASSION is sorely overrated when it comes to achieving goals.

I'm pleased to hear Prime Minister Scott Morrison declare "Australians in jobs" as his biggest passion, but what's his plan of attack?

Professing to be passionate isn't enough. Ask anyone who's succeeded in industry or realised a dream.

But politicians aren't the only ones carping on about passion like it's an end in itself, a guarantee of accomplishment.

Our schools and universities perpetrate this furphy, and parents push it too, telling kids that if they find their passion they'll be right. If only it were this easy.

Yes, some lucky people can say, "I've wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid, and here I am", but they are in the minority.

I know many first-year university students who have thrown in the towel after one semester, for reasons that are scarily similar: they aren't passionate about what they were doing. But here's the thing: people who stick with something and push forward with a plan tend to come out on top.

Passion, then, can become one of the fruits of perseverance. Through hard work we find our way. I wonder when this message became diluted or downright unfashionable?

Our schools and universities perpetrate the idea that following what you love is the best way forward. (Pic: iStock)
Our schools and universities perpetrate the idea that following what you love is the best way forward. (Pic: iStock)

According to Google Trends, the desire to "find your passion" has been increasing year on year since first measured in 2004, and Australians are the fourth most preoccupied with this pursuit after South Africans, Singaporeans and Canadians.

What gives?

Are we a nation of lost souls wandering around in search of meaning - a distinct possibility given the lack of leadership out of Canberra in the past decade and our crumbling faith in churches, banks and other pillars once respected - or is our path to purpose otherwise obstructed?

New research by psychologists at Stanford University suggests that we are chasing passion with blinkers on.

We've become so blinded by the popular notion of "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" that we see passion as something innately within us and all we have to do is figure out what the hell it is and everything will be sweet.

However, this belief can cause us to stagnate.

The researchers examined two implicit theories - that personal interests are "fixed" or they are "developed".

Through five studies, they found that people with a fixed mindset were unlikely to be curious about things outside their existing interests. These people expected to have boundless motivation upon finding their passion, but failed to anticipate difficulties and when problems arose, their enthusiasm waned.

The belief that we must love our jobs at all times can cause us to stagnate. (Pic: iStock)
The belief that we must love our jobs at all times can cause us to stagnate. (Pic: iStock)

Consider the school leavers channelled into the university course they wanted - or were told they should want - and when it doesn't light their fire, they back out.

A report from the Grattan Institute estimates that 50,000 students, or roughly one-quarter, who started their degrees this year will not finish them.

Look at the way some people view dating as a quest to find "the one". Faced with relationship challenges, they move on fast.

The researchers say that with a growth or flexible mindset, personal interests are developed over time, and motivation to maintain relationships, resolve differences and stick things out increases.

People become more resilient, and better equipped to deal with challenges.

"The message to 'find your passion' is generally offered with good intentions," they say, "to convey: do not worry so much about talent, do not bow to pressure for status or money, just find what is meaningful and interesting to you.

"Unfortunately, the belief system this message may engender can undermine the very development of people's interests."

To expect a burning passion to dwell within us and magically reappear to guide our path or solve a particular problem is to limit what we can achieve.

Kylie Lang is an associate editor at The Courier-Mail.



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