What are you passionate about?
Do something meaningful with your life!
Find a job you love.
All very cliche examples of the advice we've all given a young person at some point. We have the best of intentions in sharing our words of wisdom, but they aren’t very effective.
What do we actually mean when we ask a teenager to tell us what they’re passionate about? Rather foolishly, we expect them to know when we ourselves struggle to respond to such a deeply personal and complex question.
There's much to be read on connecting with young people; experts galore ready to lecture you. To look at this from a different angle, though, may offer a fresh insight into what it is we are really trying to have teenagers think about when we accidentally overwhelm them with cliches older than their grandparents. Forget about asking them what they see as their passions and look to help them understand how passion is created.
“Passion is a result. Passion is an energy. Passion is the feeling you have when you are engaged in something you love”
If passion is the consequence of something, then what is needed to achieve the desired result? Let’s consider three areas crucial to helping unlock a young (or any) person’s passion.
Values and Principles Essential to self-leadership as young people grow into adults are a set of core values and principles. Identifying and labelling core principles and defining what they mean can help us make decisions about how we spend our time and with whom we spend it. Avoid telling young people what their values and principles should be, try to model effective examples of how values and principles affect our behaviour (Clarkson, 2018). ‘We’, here, means all adults who have contact with young people - parents, coaches, teachers, tutors, extended family, etc. - as many effective examples as possible will help them make positive decisions about what to value and prioritise. We can help by listening empathically when young people talk to us, reflecting and acknowledging their emotions, opinions and ideas. Through effective conversations where we seek to really understand a young person, we can help them come to their own realisation of what values and principles they hold most dear. Understanding this, they are more likely to independently engage in positive purposeful behaviour. Behaviour results from decisions (Covey, 1989) and decisions are based on values, or are a consequence of values that lack clarity. When positive decisions are made, based on clear and positive values and principles, then the outcome is a series of behaviours contributing to something that the young person believes to be right. We have ignited the first embers of passion!
Making a Difference It is true that young people go through a stage of adolescent egocentrism in their early teens (Thomas, 2019), however, this does not mean they seek to reduce their impact on those around them. At all stages, possibly even more so during this important time of psychological development, we must provide opportunity for young people to positively influence others in their world. Many parents would scoff at the thought of their teenager having true altruistic intentions. That is not the goal. Reframe the thinking to consider what impact they are having on their siblings, peers and other social groups. Listen for conversational clues that may point to their valuing their impact, often disguised behind a veil of egocentrism, and tease out their true thoughts through empathic listening to help them define their values and guiding principles - help, don’t tell. When you are able to help a young person see their world differently, they can begin to see how they’re impacting others and start to make decisions about the impact they want to have. This means they are more engaged with their core values, and passion is a more likely outcome.
Creativity and Innovation It’s boring. It’s the same thing everytime. We typically put statements like this down to teenage whinging. There’s some merit to that - they can be pretty good at it! But at what point do we hold them accountable? What do you think could be changed to make it more interesting? How could it be varied to make it more fun and challenging for you? Engaging work involves teams working together to solve problems. How often are teenagers engaged in this in a meaningful sense? Creativity is a process that involves noticing a problem, finding the issues, playing with solutions and evaluating them once tried (Jefferson & Anderson, 2017). Teenagers are excellent at the first step, but if we limit them to this then whinging is all we’ll get - we will have to own that consequence. Give the ownership back to them. Challenge them to find solutions to the problems they find. As a community, are there ways we can engage young people in implementing their ideas? To notice a problem in a process means that we value that process and the desired outcome. Being challenged, and permitted, to create new processes to improve the outcome may well lead to the discovery of a passion we didn’t know we had!
We should stop asking young people what they’re passionate about as the conversation starter. That is an unfair and anxiety inducing question! Build relationships and have conversations with them that afford you the opportunity to guide them in the discovery and definition of their core values and principles that influence their behaviours and impact on others. Embrace the problems they find with the world and empower them to solve those problems. The hard part is remembering to guide and not direct or push.
Passion is the by product of clear values that motivate purposeful behaviour to have an intentional impact and solve real problems.
Clarkson, A. (2018). Helping Teens Discover Values to Live By. Retrieved from https://parenthetical.wisc.edu/helping-teens-discover-values-to-live-by/.
Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press.
Jefferson, A. & Anderson, M. (2017). Transforming Schools. Creativity, Critical Reflection, Communication, Collaboration. London and New York: Bloomsbury.
Sinek, S. (Capture Your Flag). (2009). How to Identify Your Passion and Create Results From It [Streaming video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fb3_7sIqQY.
Thomas, J. (2019). What Is Adolescent Egocentrism, And How Can I Deal With It As A Parent? Retrieved from https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/adolescence/what-is-adolescent-egocentrism-and-how-can-i-deal-with-it-as-a-parent/