Forget Passion—Here's Why You Should Follow Your Curiosity
“Follow your passion.” A simple enough phrase, but it can evoke polar opposite reactions. In some, this brief sentence lights a fire and offers inspiration to help them crush current obstacles to reach their goals. In others, these three words tug at a deep-rooted anxiety, all because they haven’t figured out their passion in the first place.
I fall into the latter category. I’m a dabbler; always have been. I spent short bursts of time playing guitar, piano, drums, violin and the harp as I made my way through adolescence. Soccer, tennis, swimming, volleyball, basketball, softball, racquetball and bowling all show up on my messy resume. I had friends who identified as goths, jocks, anime kids, academics, outcasts and some who defied labels altogether. I changed my college major four times before graduation. From the outside, I’m sure it looked like I was lazy, or flaky, or disinterested in everything. This honestly couldn’t have been farther from the truth, and it stung when I was made to feel that way. Everything piqued my curiosity and I wanted to try it all. I was doing all the things before “do all the things” even existed. As fun as that exploration was, as soon as I compared myself to more established or focused friends, it felt like I was floating around, unable to land on my one true purpose. I was certain something was wrong with me. Everything I saw around me seemed to confirm my theory.
Even as a 28-year-old working professional, I still constantly struggle with this. I was given the opportunity to earn a master’s degree at zero cost through my employer’s tuition exchange program, and although I felt pressured to go for the trusty business degree or pick something that lined up with my current role, those options made me queasy. I knew if I went for what was expected of me, instead of what sparked my interest, I would be slogging through two years of obligation instead of genuinely enjoying going back to school. After many weeks of back and forth, I ultimately went with my gut reaction: pick what sounds interesting. End of story.
This degree is a master’s of arts in multimodal literacy for global impact, which is an over-complicated way of saying international communication. People always seem intrigued about the program, asking why I chose it or how it aligns with my future career goals. The truth? I chose it because it sounded fun. It has nothing to do with my current job, and I have no concrete plans to pursue it as an employment path. No, I didn’t have to take the GRE. No, it doesn’t require a thesis. I used to internally panic during these conversations or change the subject as quickly as possible, knowing full-well I was only learning for the sake of learning and afraid that was an unacceptable explanation. I felt like a failure for picking what felt like a frivolous program. As I started taking classes, I was thrilled to be back in the academic wheelhouse, reading articles and writing papers and having awesome discussions with like-minded people in our virtual classroom. I couldn’t shake that guilty feeling, though; the “what’s the point if it’s not leading to a specific job” narrative floating around my brain.
It wasn’t until this past winter that my beliefs about myself were upended. First, I fell upon Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk about being a “multipotentialite,” in which she scraps the myth of humans needing one true calling. She argues jumping around from thing to thing should not lead to some auto-declaration of being indecisive, and that we need to take a deeper look at what drives the human experience. Why are so many people hopping between career paths, or cities or pastimes? The motivation for this type of lifestyle is simple: good, old-fashioned curiosity. Wapnick proposes that gaining experience in a ton of different fields and topics can create wonderfully unique abilities and talents which are not only useful to prospective employers, but can also make some people happier.
There are plenty of people who have always been pulled toward one hobby or one industry and feel born to tackle a laser-focused path. They’ve only got eyes for one prize and would be miserable if they had to hop from job to job. Then there’s the rest of us: folks who have a wide variety of industries and job titles under their belt, and compile what may be considered an eclectic mix of hobbies outside of their nine-to-five. What if we gave this group the permission they’ve been looking for to explore, and wander, and dive into their interests? What if we encouraged their inquiries instead of labeling this group as wishy-washy or unable to stay put? What if we pressed paused on the judgment button and let the multipotentialites be the truest version of themselves, weaving beautifully uncommon lifestyles?
Hearing Wapnick’s TED Talk allowed me to release a breath I had been holding for 27 years and handed me a permission slip I didn’t know I needed until it was in the palm of my hand. There’s nothing wrong with being a Jack (or Jill) of all trades, and it’s not fair to ask people to fight their inquisitive nature in order to fit the mold of what our society has deemed respectable. This relief was doubled when I heard Ashley Gartland, a business coach for women, talk about the value of curiosity. For those of us who find the word “passion” to be burdensome, she introduced the challenge of releasing all expectations and pressures on ourselves and leaning into exploration. It’s one thing to have someone else (say, Emilie Wapnick) relieve external expectations, but true progress only happens when we can give ourselves the same sort of grace. Doing the work internally and accepting your exploratory nature is the first step.
The second step is throwing out any notion framing a new adventure as somehow selfish. When someone vaguely mentions they’re thinking about switching things around, listeners are quick to react incredulously: “But, why?! You’ve got it so good right now!” It can feel like you’re being ungrateful when you start to take steps away from a situation which looks nice on paper, or you may be made to feel irresponsible when you’re starting a project before you have a clear view of what the finish line is going to look like. The bottom line is that you’re the only one that has a full, clear picture of what you want your life to be. Anyone on the outside peering in is making assumptions based on patchy, limited information. It’s important to release the judgements—the internal ones and external ones
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had a lot of other multi-curious folks in my life, from my boyfriend to my best friend to my uncle to my colleague. One of the reasons I connect with these people is because they embrace their broad range of interests and give the middle finger to what society thinks they “should” be doing. If I can respect others for continuously shaking things up and learning new things, shouldn’t I give myself that same treatment? Who cares if I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up? This doesn’t make me lost. It makes me, me. And as long as I can keep learning, trying, doing and exploring, I know I’ll continue to be the best version of myself.
Giving others the space and freedom to dabble, to be curious, and to explore will ultimately make them better people to have in your life. They will feel empowered and excited about each new interest, sharing with friends and family as they discover new things. They will feel supported and encouraged to be exactly who they are instead of stunted from trying to force themselves into a societal mold. They will be grateful to you for accepting how they choose to balance their wide range of interests and will be more likely to ask your advice or bounce ideas off of you in the future. In the same way, try giving yourself similar space and freedom to “do all the things,” so you can create a life which keeps you on your toes. What will you dabble in next?
Sara works as a full-time admissions counselor at Flagler College in St. Augustine and runs a wellness Instagram to connect with other foodies. When she’s not in the kitchen, you can find her at the gym, reading a book, planning her next trip, or re-watching Game of Thrones episodes with her dog.