“Follow your passion, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” - Every Graduation Speaker Ever.
You’ve heard that advice before, right? Probably given it a couple of times, too, I bet. I know I have. Well, maybe not exactly verbatim, but something along the lines of: now is the time to figure out what you enjoy and what makes you come alive, then find a career path that suits you. Or, I’ve said contrary advice: whatever you do, don’t do something that doesn’t bring your energy or life.
Either way, the message is the same, and yet it’s notoriously difficult to follow.
It’s not a helpful thing to say because it adds stress to an already stressful decision process. Not only do you have to pick something that will pay the bills, but you also need to choose a path that won’t lead you to drudgery or destruction.
It’s not helpful advice, but it doesn’t mean it’s untrue. As my son asked me recently, “How do I figure out what I want to do?” He’s asking for help, guidance, and support—not a blanket platitude that actually brings more anxiety than clarity.
That’s where interest discovery comes in—an iterative process to grow in self-awareness.
Discovering your interests is crucial to decision-making regarding your future. People who don’t enjoy what they do will neither be as successful as they could nor feel as fulfilled. Period.
So how do we help our kids and students discover their interests? Surprisingly, it doesn’t happen in the way we might typically think—where someone stumbles upon an interest almost like an epiphany. Rather, it’s a process of experimentation, trial and error, and intentional reflection. Here’s what it looks like:
Phase One The thing about interests is in the first phase, we hardly notice them. We typically notice the things we don’t enjoy or find boring and don’t quite pay attention to our interests, at least at first. Just consider the kid who can’t stand sitting through English class with a teacher who drones on and on. They are aware of every second. But they don’t notice how quickly their chemistry class goes. The teacher is engaging and positive, and the student readily jumps into running experiments and firing up the Bunsen burner.
Phase Two The second phase of interest discovery is where things get interesting. That’s where you become conscious and aware of the activity you enjoy, precipitated by some reflection where you take inventory of the activities you’re engaging in. With an interest, you find yourself looking forward to it and are willing to invest some time and energy into it—at least compared to other activities. As Angela Duckworth, psychologist and author of the best-selling book, Grit, says, this phase is not about introspection; it’s about moving out into the world for experimentation. You can only develop your interest by intentional commitment to it, testing it, and experiencing what it’s like. This is where most people change directions and pursue another interest or perhaps a path of less resistance.
Phase Three This is where an interest can transform into a passion- or, in other words, something you feel drawn to invest your time and energy into, even to the point of suffering in some way during the pursuit. What’s of particular importance during this phase is encouragement by your support network.
Discovering your interests takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight or by taking an interest inventory online. Not all interests are worth investing in. People’s interests change over time, largely influenced by the people around them. But by being aware of the process and committing to it over time, we can help the young people in our lives distill what grabs their energy and is worth their time.
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).