Through The Looking Glass: An Alternative Definition of Passion

by Ziqin Yuan | 5/30/18 2:20am

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Source: Courtesy of Ziqin Yuan / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

As of Week Nine my senior spring, it has finally hit me that I will soon be leaving this place for good. Some things that I already miss include: the plentiful piles of DBA I use to supply, guilt-free, my daily caffeine fix; my student discount; New Hampshire’s lack of local taxes. Some things that I will definitely not miss include: the KAF line (actually, any line on this campus); a nagging sense that I should be finding a passion that sustains me in the way everyone else on this campus seems to be sustained.

Over the course of the last year, I have been seeking out advice on how to best live my post-grad life. The passion question has come up endlessly. In coffee chats over the summer, various “real” adults (meaning people who are over the age of 30 and/or seem to have their lives together) instructed me to figure out what I’m passionate about and mold my future career to fit that. Panels of graduating seniors — students who entered college at the same time as I did but somehow seem to be leaving it far more developed than I am — told stories about following their passions despite pressure from others to change. Was there something wrong with me, then, if I couldn’t figure mine out?

It took me four years to come to this point, but I now firmly believe that not everyone will have a passion, at least not in the way that our society paints it. The idea of an inherent, inborn passion that one gravitates toward is over-hyped, due in part to the prominence put on individualistic values byAmerican society as a whole and in part to the relative prominence of those with passions. The media is full of “rags to riches” stories of entrepreneurs who took their one idea — their one passion project, as some may put it — and turned it into an enterprise. Of course, I also heard stories of those who pursued their passions as side projects, living part of their life to sustain the other part. Unlike those whose passions became their work, these people worked to feed their passion. Yet they still had the commonality of a consistent activity to look forward to and work at.

On a high level, the emphasis on passion makes sense, since it’s much less interesting to talk about the behind-the-scenes work necessary to make a project happen. That being said, as I scroll through Instagram and watch yet another 30-second video of a scrappy business owner who successfully accomplished her dream of providing edible raw cookie dough to the masses, it can be difficult to remember that these entrepreneurs succeed not just because of their passion, but also because of their work. The emphasis that we put on passion for an activity, rather than passion for an achievement, can devalue the role that sheer hard work plays. When you’re passionate about a project, work may seem easy, but that doesn’t mean the work’s not hard. At the same time, hard work does not exist solely in the presence of passion, and passion can come out of hard work.

My friend shocked me the other day when he commented that I seemed to have my life so put together. On paper, I look like a stereotypical Dartmouth almost-alumna, with a clear path for the next few years and a general sense of my future path. Yet the thread that ties all of my endeavors together is a constant, nagging doubt about my one true calling. This thread led me in and out of various organizations, professions and even friend groups.

When my friend mentioned what he considered my relative success in Dartmouth, I was surprised because what he saw as success, I saw as my inability to pinpoint what I wanted out of life. But his comment also made me realize that despite this inability that I saw in myself, I was doing just fine. As I worried throughout these past four years about my lack of a passion, my life moved forward, and I came to successfully define myself by the things I worked at — writing, creating, the sport of eating. And I slowly became passionate about those activities, not necessarily with the inherent, born-with-it passion that some may have, but with a passion that comes directly out of the hours I put into the things I stuck with.

Having said that, I still have trouble convincing myself that I have a passion. But I am also starting to accept that like everything else, passion is to an extent a social construct, and if Dartmouth has taught me anything, it is that social constructs can only affect you if you let them. For four years, I pushed myself to find that elusive, all-consuming passion that everyone seemed to have, without realizing that passion isn’t always an inherent quality that you see portrayed on TV or in student panels. Now that my time here is almost over, I am slowly realizing that with or without a passion, I am doing just fine.