I, too, was discussing this recently with some friends. The problem, it seems to me, is that while there is much to be said for pursuing in work what you love in life, a lot of people seem to assume that their “passions” will just come to them like a bolt from the blue. At some point, they seem to imagine, you just wake up knowing what you love, and then you’re able to plan a career around that.
But it does not work that way. Instead, you discover only after doing things that there’s something you love to do. The point of a broad exposure to different ideas, pursuits, and cultural influences during your education is to enable you to discover what it is you love doing—which, of course, will come only after doing many things that you don’t love. You don’t just somehow know that you want to be an architect because building is your passion, or decide that researching the history of coal mining in upper Silesia or the genetic diseases of fruitflies is what you love to do. Instead, you read a book about architecture or European history or medicine, and that leads you to another book or to a lecture or to a documentary film, and then you take an intro class at your community college, and get a summer internship at the Silesia Cultural Foundation…or whatever the story. You go from one discovery to the next, exploring your way forward. You must discover your passion—it isn’t handed to you. And you only discover it by trying things and being patient and allowing that discovery to bubble up from underneath. That involves a lot of work and a lot of trial and error and a lot of dead ends, sometimes. But that is true of all things in life. Often you do not realize that you have a passion for a particular thing until after you’ve been doing it for a long while. To say you don’t know what job to pursue because you don’t know what your passion is is like saying “I know I should marry a person I love, but what if I don’t have a person I love?” or “I know I should eat food that is palatable to me, but what if I don’t know of a food that’s palatable to me?” You have to go out and find these things; work to discover what you love to work at. Yes, that’s sort of a bootstrap paradox. But it’s still the only way it can be done. The idea—pushed by inspirational posters and Hollywood—that you just know what you want from life and go out and get it, is misguided and ultimately self-defeating.