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Is 'find your passion' actually bad advice?

Is ‘find your passion’ actually bad advice?

3 min read
  • Motivation, Resilience & Growth Mindset

Many young people are often encouraged to do ‘something they love’ and to ‘find their passion’. This advice is usually given with good intentions, but is it actually helpful?

Recent research investigated the consequences of this type of advice, and why it may not be the best thing to tell students.

Finding your passion vs Developing it

To test whether or not it is detrimental to encourage students to ‘find their passion’, researchers looked at two different theories of interest. The first was ‘fixed theory of interest’, which is the belief that interests are inherent, and that the number of interests a person can have is limited. The second was ‘growth theory of interest’, which states that they are developed overtime, and that having a strong interest in one area does not mean we cannot have one in another.

The researchers looked to answer three questions: does a student’s mindset (fixed or growth theory of interest) impact 1) their interest in a topic not in line with their passion, 2) their motivation to pursue their passion and 3) their interest in a new topic when pursuing their passion becomes difficult?

They found that:

  • Students with a ‘fixed theory’ mindset showed less interest in a topic not in line with their passion in comparison to those who endorsed a growth theory mindset.
  • Students with a ‘fixed theory’ mindset were more likely to believe that finding their passion would release boundless motivation, and that pursuing their passion would not be difficult. This contrasts with those with a growth mindset, who recognised that even if they were passionate, difficulties pursuing an interest may arise at times.

Students with a ‘fixed theory mindset’ showed a significant drop in interest in pursuing a new passion when it became challenging in comparison to those who had a growth theory mindset.

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Other benefits of a Growth Mindset

Other research has highlighted the importance of having a growth mindset. For example, the benefits include:

Growth Mindset and Learning

One fascinating study tracked the progress of over 500 students during their 4 years at university. The researchers found that those with a growth mindset were more likely to:

  • prioritise learning over immediate performance;
  • attribute their successes to effort and study skills, rather than uncontrollable factors such as luck;
  • feel more inspired and enthusiastic about academic performance;
  • put more effort in or learn from their mistakes in the face of adversity. 

Stress Mindset

Another interesting study investigated the role of stress mindset. Some believe that a little stress has the potential to enhance performance, whereas others believe stress will always debilitate performance. The researchers found that having a growth mindset towards stress is beneficial as it leads to a higher level of performance and increases the likelihood of seeking out feedback.

Anxiety Mindset

Further research has explored the link between growth mindset and well-being. A thorough review of 17 studies involving over 6,500 students found that those who had a fixed mindset were 58% more likely to develop severe symptoms of anxiety, depression or aggression. Other research has also shown that having a growth mindset can aid with recovery from mental illness. Here, researchers found that, in both the short and long term (9 months later), young people who received growth mindset interventions showed significant declines in their symptoms of depression, as well as encouraging results for anxiety.

Final thought

It is clear to see that, whilst urging students to find their passion is usually meant with good intentions, it may actually lead to negative outcomes. Having a fixed view on what you’re passionate about may lead to students not trying new things, or giving up when things become difficult.

As the authors of the original research stated, “urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry”.

Find more information about growth mindset and how to develop it on our guide page.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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