Is passion misunderstood?

The point that is missed in The New York Times article entitled, “Our Push for ‘Passion,’ and Why It Harms Kids”.

girl with head in hands

Lisa Heffernan made an important point in last week's NYT article about passion: overzealous parents often take the concept way too far, and the search for a passion becomes a high pressure quest for the holy grail.  The ultimate cost is missed opportunity (the intense quest to pursue a false passion prevents kids from organically discovering a true passion) and an unfair sense of failure for kids who are naturally well rounded and not inspired to focus on one or two things.

While the problems raised in this article are real, the blame is unfairly placed.  The true blame, instead of on an important movement for kids like "finding passion," should be placed on unreasonable parental pressure and the blind pursuit of false interests.

Yes, like the author, our garage is filled with relics from activities gone by.  And yes, we do use the notion of finding our kids’ passion to help us guide our decisions.  One of the questions we wrestle with every day is “how much is too much?”  When is a kid “over-scheduled” and when is he or she just into a lot of cool stuff?  I talk to other parents about this constantly, and I find myself feeling protective of our family’s approach.  It sometimes reminds me of the old George Carlin routine.  Whenever you’re driving on the freeway, whoever is driving in front of you and slowing you down is an “idiot”, and whoever is zipping past you is a “maniac”. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:



Personally, as with almost everything, I am quick rationalize with my kids, to the point where I often don’t know where reality ends and rationalization begins.  My son loves all his activities, so I’m sure it’s fine that he races from club baseball practice to a rec basketball game to a jiu jitsu tournament all on the same day.  Sure, his face is red and his eyes are glazed over, and he eats 5 double-cheeseburgers without coming up for a breath…  but hey – he’s a red-blooded American boy, so it’s all good.  It’s helping him with time management skills… and… helping with stress management and prioritization.  He's also learned to have focus on the tasks at hand, and also teaches him to do his homework efficiently. Right? My daughter has a similar busy schedule, and must also get her 3 hours of homework done.  She likes to go to bed late anyway, so it’s all part of her normal flow.  Right?

I don’t know the answers, but here are the two questions that govern our decision making when it comes to these issues with our kids:  do they love it, and can they handle it?  We check in regularly to ask them these questions. If the answers are "yes", we’re inclined to let it ride.  After all, how many things in life do you get to love?  I also know what my kids are capable of doing in school, and we won’t compromise on that front, so as long as they are meeting their own and my wife's and my expectations in school, again, we let it ride.  We regularly check with our doctors about sleep – are they getting enough?  How do we know?  The doctors don’t have precise answers, just a handful of vague questions.  Do they seem happy?  Vital?  Eager?  Generally, yes.  So we let it ride.

Do our kids know at some level that it would be great to have a passion?  Probably.  Our older one actively feels that pressure – she wonders if there is a sport out there that she would love even more than volleyball.  She wonders if she should spend more time on her drawing and painting.  She gets the way the world looks at these things.  But it’s our job as parents to give her perspective, to let her know that it’s OK to wonder those things, but sometimes we can’t know all the answers, and that we just have to use our best judgment as we go.

The search for passion may lead to a single dominant interest area, it may lead to the kind of multi-activity conflict our daughter struggles with, or it may be a continuous exploration with no resolution.  These are all OK.  What defines any of these outcomes as failures is how we, as parents, respond to them.

In other words, it’s not the search for a “passion” that causes a sense of failure.  It may cause some level of stress, but learning to manage stress and be OK with things not always falling neatly into place is OK.  The search for passion can be an amazing journey, if you let it. As parents, our job is to facilitate this search, but keep it all in perspective.  Perspective is at the heart of everything.  Life is stressful, setting goals is stressful, and we’re not going to be successful at *everything* we do. Learning that early is OK and in fact, it’s crucial. But it better be learned in a supportive environment with plenty of perspective.  If it is, it may be the most valuable lesson we can teach our kids.

This post was written by Jon Kraft, Thrively's CEO and co-founder. Don't know him? Click here and then you will!

Whether you believe in the "find your passion" narrative or not, Thrively was designed to help parents and kids find fun activities to do in their free time. Try Thrively for free and your kids can take our fun, self-esteem boosting Strength Assessment, or find a camp/class/club near you that would, dare we say, help pursue a passion :)


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