Opinion: Don't Force-Feed Passion

There are two things I distinctly remember about the college admission process: crying about rejection letters, and being asked to define my passion in numerous supplemental essays.

Though I got over the former, the latter has stuck with me to this day. Applying to college was a grueling and lengthy process, yet it was this question, one of passion, that kept me confused far past the end of the admission process.

Beginning in childhood, we are constantly asked what our passion is--how we discovered it, why we love it and how we plan to pursue it. We are asked to define ourselves as a hobby, sport or school subject, and then are then confined to that definition.

A main limitation of forcing adolescents to discover a passion that they may or may not actually have is that it restricts their option to explore. We are taught that an interest could be a passion; therefore, we latch on to a sport we’ve been playing since middle school or a class we got an "A" in. Unfortunately, these pseudo-passions lead many students to forget to explore alternative opportunities.

Only when I was asked by colleges to define my passion did I question if I really had one yet. I mulled over my core interests, but I wasn’t convinced any of them were passions. I had played basketball since second grade, but I wasn’t pursuing it in college. I had enjoyed being an editor for my school newspaper, but I hadn't yet decided my college major. I felt as if none of my interests were sufficient to qualify as passions, so naturally I felt lost when asked to elaborate on one.

It is this sense of guilt that leads students to become ostracized. If everyone around us seems to have a defining passion while we are still searching, we can often feel like a failure. We are made to think that only by discovering a passion may we reach true success. Because of this mentality, the quest for a passion becomes an unhealthy obsession.

This obsession is an ongoing process that begins in childhood, and becomes prevalent at certain milestones such as applying to college or a job. Time and time again, we are told to “stand out” to attain a certain goal or position. This pressing expectation, however, only leads to fabrication and a lack of genuineness when it comes to passion.

There is no doubt that it is important to pursue the things that are personally fulfilling in life. However, passions do not have to be discovered at age four, nor should we feel the need to feed into a society that makes adolescents feel inferior if they aren’t in an award-winning poet or in love with the cello.

Since being asked to define my passion in college supplements, I’ve learned that it would’ve been more truthful to put write “unknown.” It is perfectly acceptable to take time to explore a myriad of interests and not be constrained to one topic. Passions are exciting and rewarding--the search for them should be, too.

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Emma Powers