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Encourage Interests; Don't Expect Passions

By: Ian Byrd

For a few years, I delivered a keynote about the possible 21st-century careers awaiting our students. When I speak about this topic, people respond by wanting to help kids “find their passions.”

But I think the word “passion” is a problem. Here’s why.

“Passion” Is Unreasonable

When we call something a “passion,” it implies lifelong devotion and intense focus. “Passions” sound like they should be big, important, world-changing ideals. The word literally means “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Its second meaning is to describe Jesus’ suffering on the cross! This is a bit much to expect from people – especially your eight-year-olds.

People ask me how I developed my “passion” for gifted education. The reality is, I randomly ended up with a job teaching in a gifted program. It was 2008 – the start of the Great Recession. Teaching jobs were impossible to find. I had just gotten married. I would have taught anything for a paycheck. I was offered one job. I took it.

Now, yes, once I started teaching in a gifted program, I got very interested in it. I connected with the students and was personally fulfilled by learning about the social-emotional aspects of education. This interest continued to develop as I learned more. But I would have been just as interested in teaching any other group. I came from a special education background and was very interested in that as well.

In no way was there a burning passion that drove me to gifted ed. It was a random event that I became interested in.

So let’s cut way back on the word “passion” and use “interests” instead.

Interests aren’t intimidating. We can all name some things we’re interested in. These don’t have to be world-changing. But! Interests can become something bigger, given enough time and resources.

Interests Develop Over Time

Given time and resources (and luck), an interest might evolve into something greater. After some initial draw, we explore. We learn more. We uncover sub-interests and then sub-sub interests. Sometimes we grow bored, other times we keep going deeper.

Interests appear randomly and grow organically. We cannot know what we’re interested in until we see it. And we can’t tell if an interest will grow into something greater or just die off.

My interest in gifted education began with a random event. A decade later, it’s grown and evolved as I’ve explored the topic. I’ve found sub-topics I’m particularly interested in. And I fully expect this interest to continue evolving. I certainly hope I’m not doing the exact same thing in five years! It’s okay to move on from interests.

We should also expect kids’ interests to grow, evolve, and often die off.

Exposing Interests

As adults, our job is to help students discover interests. Gently expose them to as many topics as possible, giving them room and support to explore at their own pace and in their own style.

We can help students find interests by:

  • watching movies with them

  • wandering through book stores

  • going to museums

  • browsing YouTube

  • meeting professionals

  • attending all kinds of events

  • following fun folks on social media

But we can’t meddle with the process too much. We can provide resources, we can offer guidance, but when we try to force things, the interest can vanish in a puff.

Interests Come and Go

It’s okay when interests end. It’s okay when they change. Don’t think of it as a waste when a child spends three years obsessing over ballet only to become fascinated by golf in year four.

It’s important to learn how to get good at being interested! Being interested is a skill. It means you are comfortable with finding information, mastering basics, getting better, and learning to say no to what’s no longer interesting.

Interests Combine

The true power of gathering many interests is that, one day, the perfect set of interests combine and, like Voltron, become something greater than their parts.

Byrdseed is a culmination of past interests: recording music, taking art classes, acting in school plays, reading every book about dinosaurs, learning about startups, and running a high school youth group.

Of course, along the road, none of these things seemed related. You might have told me along the way, “Ian! You need to focus!” Many did. But it’s really that lack of focus that gives me lots of background knowledge to draw from. It helps me easily jump into new interesting topics.

Goodbye “Passion”, Hello “Interests”

So let’s stop expecting passions from students (and ourselves). It’s unreasonable. Encourage interests. Even when they change. Even when they seem meaningless. You never know what they’ll turn into.

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