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How to find your academic passion

Vivian Li | The Strand | Opinion | September 18th, 2017

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Toronto (CUP) — Because of my varied interests in multiple disciplines, I’ve always had trouble trying to determine my academic passions. Today, after a careful evaluation of my values and drives, I have a more stable idea of what I wish to study. The following are a few tips I’ve learned along the way to help you choose and identify your academic passion(s):

Keep an open mind and try not to reject options on the surface.

You may not want to try something because you don’t see yourself pursuing it as a career, or you have no idea how it could turn into a job. But I personally believe that if we live purely to pursue certain goals for their material worth, at the end of the day, we won’t exercise our most fulfilling division— the faculty of ideas and actions which harbour personal meaning.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t find your academic passion quickly.

Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations; you might not know if what you’re doing is for yourself or for someone else. As well, coming into a new environment is daunting, exhausting, and sometimes might result in actual tears (believe me, most of us have been there before). But it’s important to be patient with yourself; you don’t know all the answers, and that’s okay. For now, remember to engage in the activities that you love, try to stay on top of class readings, meet new people, and form relationships that you can rely on.

Understand what you love, and think of ways to do what you love.

One way to figure out what you love is to list all of the extracurricular activities you enjoy doing. I think it’s important to spend a few minutes jotting them down without judging the items and assigning “good” or “bad” labels. At a writing workshop I was attending recently, a lawyer told me that you never forget your dreams, and you always go back to them. I think it’s important to be realistic— sometimes we expect to achieve our goals in a short period of time. However, the first step starts with taking a risk in what you believe in. Try everything you are interested in! If you look for people who have similar interests, you’ll definitely learn and grow with them.

You might have more than one passion and that’s perfectly fine (you may be a multipotentialite!)

In her TED talk, Emilie Wapnick states that society tries to narrow down the various creative interests of multipotentialites, telling them to focus on their “one true calling.” However, Wapnick claims that this view is limiting, because it doesn’t inspire children to think of everything they could be. Even if you are a specialist, I think the theme of her talk—to follow your curiosity and learn as much as you can along the way—is an important and valuable lesson.

Remember that these are just tips, and not algorithms for finding your academic passion(s); only you can choose who you want to be.

Some may claim that surviving in this economy is more important than pursuing our academic passions. However, I don’t believe that succeeding in anything in life is easy. As well, when you experience a set-back in something you abhor or have no feelings for, you will find it much more difficult to get back up and keep going. Once you’ve found your academic passion, it’s also important to consistently work at it. As Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, states: “What I did each day would determine the kind of person I’d become.”

Remember to keep an open mind about yourself and your future—trust yourself to make the right decision and leap as far and high as you can. Best of luck to all of you!
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