Debunking the Passion Hypothesis

Written by
Clare Thomas
multiple authors
Updated on
May 29, 2024 8:28 PM
The "Passion Hypothesis" may set us up for failure. Instead, let's refine our passions through exploration, skill-building, and embracing failure.

“Go out into the world and find your passion.”

How many of us were told that early in our adult years? Finding our passion is a lot of pressure to put on ourselves. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a single hobby or job or relationship. There’s this idea that your passion simply needs to be “found” and, once found, it will be fully formed, leading to effortless work for which you’ll never run out of motivation. It’s called the Passion Hypothesis, a term coined by Canadian psychologist Cal Newport.

I think it’s time we ask the question—does living under this idea set us up for failure when it comes to finding meaning and happiness in our careers? 


Most data would suggest that we’re likely set up for disappointment early on. But I bet we can also look at our own stories for anecdotal evidence when it comes to this hypothesis. How many times did you change your major in college? How many times have you worried that maybe the job you have now isn’t your one true passion? How many personality tests have you taken to try to confirm your dream occupation? 

I’m about to poke some holes in the Passion Hypothesis and bring to light some of the lies we allow our subconscious to operate under.

The Passion Hypothesis Fails to Describe How Most People Actually end up With Successful, Compelling Careers. 

How many successful people hand this advice out like it’s the key to life? A lot. But it’s incomplete, unclear advice. When you take a closer look at the stories of so many successful people, you’ll find that, for most, their success did not result from them finding their passion and then finding a job that perfectly matched that passion.

Believing the Passion Hypothesis Can Stunt Our Interests. And Probably Already Has. 

We’re taught to believe that since we liked (fill in the blank) as a kid, it’s the only thing we should devote time to. But with this mentality, we’re more likely to miss out on opportunities to experience, learn, and try different things. Diversity is important in so many aspects of our lives and the world. Why do we sell ourselves short when it comes to our interests?  

The Passion Hypothesis Makes it Seem Easy. 

You’ve heard it a million times throughout your life, “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This saying, as harmless as it may seem, leads a lot of us to believe that if it feels like work, it must not be our passion. Or, if we’re lucky enough to believe that we’ve discovered our passion, it leads us to put all of our eggs in one basket, and then drop that basket and flee when it becomes too difficult to carry. Being passionate about something does not mean it’s always easy. It doesn’t even mean it’s often easy. 

Passion is a Feeling.

...or at least it’s something we’ve confused with the feeling we tend to have when something excites us. It’s not a constant. Feelings, like waves, come and go. Excitement does not last forever. Even if you are passionate about your job, that will waver. There will be hard days. Just like in our relationships, if we expect to feel passionate about our work every minute of every day, we will be disappointed. 

So I’ve made my point (many points). Blindly following the advice to “find your one true passion that has been laying in wait for you all your life” is dangerous. But I won’t leave you here. There is hope. Instead “finding your passion” we’re going to talk about some ways you can “refine your passion(s)”.

1. Hit Pause.

Stop thinking about it. Stop taking expensive psychology tests, recalling your childhood interests, and asking your friends what to do. Take a break from searching and develop skills where you are now. 

2. Take the pressure off of yourself.

You’re not running out of time, you’re not “missing it”. Reframe your perception. It’s not a race to passion, it’s a journey. 

3. Just try something.

Don’t let yourself be paralyzed or trapped within the confines of the Passion Hypothesis. Just take a step.

4. Just try many things.

See above. Rinse and repeat. 

5. Become good at something.

Practice. Hone your skills. They could lead to a future job you never considered.

6. Be okay with failing.

It happens. We keep failing and learning and growing. But when we believe that we can change and improve, we are far more likely to work at developing talent and refining our passions instead of assuming we’ve either “got it” or we don’t 

Telling people to follow their passions is like leading them down a rabbit hole. Passions change and develop—let’s embrace it! This can help us succeed at the jobs we have and feel empowered to make them fulfilling. Stop waiting for the nonexistent, perfectly customized job. If we start with the right skills, our jobs become customized to us as we grow with them.

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