The passion myth can make young people miserable. 

As a teenager for some reason that is still a mystery to me, I never really found a scene. I was definitely into stuff. Soccer, swimming, dance, music – but none of these interests ever escalated to the ‘scene’ academy. None of them ever really stuck. I never missed a social occasion to swim some laps, and I wouldn’t dare skip out on an underage party for band practice. I saw other young people find their niche. The band kids, the math kids, the art kids, the rugby kids, the skaters. They had a clear and definite passion, which at some stage I’d missed out on finding, or simply didn’t feel like it was important until it was too late.

By the time I reached late teens I was well and truly off the richtoscale of confusion. I turned into a teenager from family swap, giving my parents utter hell without any clue why. I screamed obscenities at my absolutely angelic mother who never did anything but cook, clean, and dote over me. I tried out every teenage retaliation technique in the book. I got tattoos, I stretched my ears, I snuck out my window late at night, I had sex because I thought it was the grown up thing to do – because for fucks sake, 16 was well grown up OK. Caring wasn’t cool, so that’s what I did. I idolised people who simply didn’t give a shit.

I’m old enough now to understand my own pubescent feelings. The rush of hormones combined with a lack of drive and direction had me running hot. Coping with the overwhelming sensation of growing into a new body, feeling way too much all the time, being unsure whether caring or not caring was cooler, and being treated like both a victim and villain for simply existing in the world made it impossible to simultaneously focus on locating and locking down the mysterious and sought after ‘passion’. Finding my passion, my scene, my purpose in life, was an insurmountable task when placed alongside the pressure of navigating being a young woman in the world.

The word passion is thrown around like it’s nobody’s business. For some this is an encouraging and motivating method of guidance, but for many young people the dream of finding ones passion can be a miserable and fruitless task. The problem arises when we don’t help young people find the opportunities or tools that will guide them toward finding what makes them happy. Happiness in what we’re doing doesn’t stumble upon us the moment we enter high school, or our first job, sometimes not even by the time we graduate. It comes about from experimenting, engaging with new ideas, learning new skills,  and reflecting on what makes us happy.

Counselor, therapist, and social worker Todd Kestin sums the issue up well when he says, “passion stems from doing things that tap into your natural abilities while challenging you to deliver at the height of those powers. You can’t, as most believe, discover these things by thought alone. You must engage with the real world and unearth them as you move forward.”

I wish in stead of being told that school was the be all and end all, that other avenues had been suggested to me. I wish that I had be told I didn’t have to know what to do, I just had to be open to exploring different ideas, skills, and creative outlets. And if I didn’t like something that’s fine, we’re all different and we won’t all be stimulated by the same things. I wish I’d been told I probably won’t be good at everything, but the things I am good at I should stick with and explore further.

At 25 I haven’t quite figured it out but I know that that’s OK because I’m drawing closer to the goal posts with every bit of energy I put into new projects. I know now passions are hard to find and they can often be fleeting. The pressure of student loans and earning money and buying a house can make deciding to follow a less stable route really daunting. Following your passion can feel more like an act of gambling than a career choice, with the outcome almost entirely unknown until you jump head first straight into it.

So tell your children that they are smart, they can learn anything they want, they can change their mind, they don’t have to know what they want to be right now or ever, and they are never to old to change direction. Help them find outlets that stimulate their creativity, their minds and their bodies. And encourage them to seek their passion, not wait for it to arrive at their feet because they will be waiting a long time. Make sure they know it’s OK to fail, because that will undoubtedly happen, and that every experience is valuable in learning about ourselves and the world around us.

Being unsure is a given when you’re young, but if we understand clarity and direction can only grow from meaningful experiences, the hunt for it becomes a whole lot easier.

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