Where Does Passion Come From?

Posted on November 24, 2011


A Pivot (someone who works for Pivotal Labs) gave an excellent presentation on observational astronomy the other day. The presentation was so well done that I think it could easily inspire people to learn more about astronomy.

This is one of the questions I think about a lot. I truly believe that for education to be effective you need to tap in to intrinsic motivation. You can’t rely on extrinsic motivators like grades otherwise you run the risk of losing all motivation once the extrinsic motivators are removed.

Passion is a vague term, but it’s often to used to identify some subject or activity that people are strongly intrinsically motivated to do. You never hear people talk about passions rooted in the desire to get a good grade or a big bonus or the chance of promotion. People talk about being passionate about something because of the importance it plays in the world or how it makes them feel at fundamental level.

So for these purposes I’m talking about your passions as the few things in your life that you care deeply about purely due to intrinsic motivations.

Many educators feel that the greatest ideal for education is to have students discover their passions so that the intrinsic motivations will drive the students to accomplish much more than any grades could do alone, while feeling good about themselves along the way (enjoying the journey). I have some subtle arguments with this philosophy, but generally I agree that tapping in to passions is one of the most effective ways to approach education.

But where does passion come from? How do you help kids explore their passions without forcing them to do things they don’t want to do?

Here are a few thoughts on planting the seeds of passion:

  • Curiosity

    Curiosity is one of the more potent ways to engage someone enough to allow passion to take over without forcing them to do anything. It ensures a great deal of autonomy, which may be the most important component to a great education.

  • Inspiration

    An inspiring story or presentation can be a great motivator for someone to develop a passion. Exposure to someone else who is already passionate about something is a fantastic way to breed passion.

  • Aptitude

    I’m not a huge believer in the idea of “aptitude”, but how ever it happens, people usually develop passions for subjects or skills that come more easily to them then to other people. It’s unlikely that you’ll develop a passion for something where you are consistently more confused or less capable then those around you.

How you create environments to encourage these factors is an on-going exploration for me. “Aptitude” isn’t easily leveraged, but curiosity and inspiration can be used effectively to motivate people to explore something and potentially develop a passion for it.