Are Passions Discovered or Constructed?


Cal Newport, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote an interesting article following my post, “What if You Have More Than One Passion?”

In my article, I give my thoughts on people who are passionate about many things. My feeling is that, while focusing on one pursuit to get results is good, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore others in your spare time.

Cal shares a different view. He argues that to be passionate about something requires skill in a craft. So if you have no passions, it simply means you haven’t mastered a skill sufficiently that the world rewards and recognizes you for it.

Cal’s response to the titular question in my previous article is that people don’t generally have many passions, just superficial interests that haven’t been developed yet.

The Mastery-Centric View of Passion

For the most part, I agree with Cal. Passion is a by-product of mastery.

When I first started exercising, I found it to be a struggle. Now that I’m in decent physical shape, I find exercise to be more enjoyable.

Blogging definitely became more enjoyable once I started to actually receive comments on my posts.

I also agree that this view stresses, in Cal’s words, the painstaking construction of a passion, instead of just stumbling upon it. It’s the difference between a relationship that grows with time and the expectation of love at first sight.

Passions are Constructed, Interests Aren’t

The only objection I have to the mastery-centric viewpoint is that it assumes that mastery is always the missing ingredient. If you don’t enjoy something, the solution isn’t to become better at it. Often this is a worse strategy because it’s hard to become good at something you aren’t interested in.

My split would be to say that passions are built, but interests are discovered. I agree that the person waiting for life to provide them with a passion is a fool. However, I’d say the same of the person hoping they will fall in love with a pursuit that doesn’t interest them.

As I argued in this article, if you’re trying to find out what you want to do with your life, look for sparks. If your interested in a topic, consider mastering it. You don’t need to fall head-over-heels in love with a subject to make it your primary focus. Those feelings often come with time.

Once again, I feel the approach to finding a career/life path is like finding a relationship. Most people aren’t naive enough to believe that they are going to be instantly in love from the first meeting.

But at the same time, if you aren’t at least attracted to someone, there is little potential. The interest needs to be there before you can be passionate. Arranged marriages (both literally and in career choices) won’t work if there is no initial attraction.

For the Multi-Interested

As I said in the last article, enjoy your various interests. That doesn’t mean you can’t focus on mastering one, and make it your main pursuit.

For the Lost and Confused

Worrying about finding a passion has it backwards. Tap into your interests and work to master them. Mastery creates passion out of interests.

My exception to Cal’s argument shouldn’t be taken as an attack on his approach as a whole. I thought the original article was well written and definitely worth reading if you’re interested in these ideas.

With water and sun, an acorn can become an oak. But a pebble will always be a pebble.

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