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Considering Passion and Career Choices

I had no interest in gardening when I was young; now, as part of my current role and service, gardening has become a passion.

We homeschooling moms are our teens’ guidance counsellors.  I find that a bit nerve wracking, and I’m sure you do, too.  Helping our teens plan their future is so important but is so full of unknowns.  Now, there are some good, balanced resources out there (see my reviews below for a few of them).  There are also many books and other resources that focus on the prime importance of passion and personality in career choices. In this article I will consider some problems with the idea that passion should be the determining factor in career choice, and in another one I will consider the value of personality tests.

Myth 1: Follow your passion

‘Follow your passion,’ is both helpful and harmful advice.  Yes, it is good advice for teens to do something they are excited about, but…

  • How will they know what they are most excited about when they have tried hardly anything—and, by definition, most young people have very little experience? How will they be sure?
  • Later on, what happens when they are no longer excited about it, when the going gets tough, or they fail an exam or can’t get a job interview, or they discover that the passion is not all they thought it would be?
  • It seems that reality does not actually support the widely-accepted value of following your passion.

The slogan ‘follow your passion’ obviously needs explanation; as it stands it is too simplistic. For this reason, it is good to know the origin of this career advice and to compare it to views held throughout history.  This is done in a thoughtful article by Cal Newport, which can be summed up in its conclusion:

 The belief that the world owes you the perfect role for your special unique personality is myopically self-focused and ill-suited to hard times. The alternative notion that the world needs you to offer all that you can is comparably liberating.

Learning the slogan’s historical context is not enough, though.  As Christians, we need to remember that the Bible says we exist to praise, love, glorify and serve God and those around us; the world does not exist for us.  Cal Newport, though not writing from a Christian point of view, is right in saying that ‘the world needs you to offer all that you can’.

From a biblical perspective, career decisions should include the concepts of roles and of service as well as the idea of individual differences and gifts. In other words, when considering careers, a teen needs to consider service and roles as well as passion and personality. And then it turns out that serving a greater goal with dedication often leads to enjoyment of work, something that self-centered ‘passion’ or ‘following your bliss’ often doesn’t. People thrive when they are convinced that their work is important.  Furthermore, embracing one’s roles in career decisions can significantly enhance everyday happiness while resenting one’s roles or struggling against them can cause grief.

Thus it is good to be passionate about one’s career and study choice, but it should be a passion that moves beyond the self and out toward service, not an entitled, ‘follow your bliss’ search for self-fulfillment.

Now, all this is difficult to apply and requires wisdom.  Making wise career decisions involves prayer, time, energy, knowledge of the world, self-knowledge, and input from others as well as courage and persistence.  Teens will need encouragement to give the process the time and energy it deserves.

Even with the guidance of a good career curriculum, making a choice can be agonizingly difficult, but ultimately a teen does need to choose. As Kevin de Young wisely suggests in Just Do Something, live close to the Lord and then just choose anything you want.  This sounds flippant and simplistic but de Young points out that living close to the Lord will adjust one’s goals and expectations so that one is biblically able to just go ahead and ‘do something’.  Not perfectly, of course, but trustingly.

If your teens need to adjust their career goals later, that is not a problem; after all, human plans often need to be adjusted (James 4:13-15, Proverbs 16:9).  This is both perfectly normal and perfectly fine and is not a sign of having made a sinful choice though it may or may not indicate short-sightedness.  Most commonly it is a sign that, as usual, God’s plans are more complicated than ours. And, remember, God can and does use all for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). There’s more on all of this in de Young’s book (see my review) but I just want to add this: do not be afraid but move on in faith.

Still stuck?  Don’t let your teens search frantically for a passion, but instead have them consider these questions and more:

  • How did God make you and what advantages did he give you? (Note that ‘advantages’ could also include hardships which have been suffered through).
  • What sorts of activities give you joy?
  • What needs do you see in the world?
  • Is there a way to combine them?
  • Could you serve by doing something about these needs?
  • What do those around you say?
  • Consider the central ideas of Christianity, that our calling is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And above all, remind your teens be diligent, now and in the future, at whatever tasks God gives them to do.  Not only is that how they can show love to him; it is also how he is training them for what comes next.  Practically speaking, then, teens should put a great deal of effort into their schoolwork for God’s sake.

In conclusion, it is foolish to base a career choice only on a self-centered passion or, as we will see in a future article, on the basis of a personality test.  It is much wiser to base these choices on interests and aptitudes combined with an attitude of obedient service and love to God and others. This is something we should teach our teens in our role as homeschool guidance counsellor and our role as parents.

Relevant resources:

Disclosure: I am not compensated for mentioning or recommending these resources. 

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