Dear Interns,

You are immersed in a culture that repeatedly bombards you with the message that your worth is derived from the degree to which you are pursuing your passion. The latent danger in this belief is that it often leaves those who have not yet identified their passion in a quandary marked by wandering. In their attempts to discover their passion, most folks try so hard to determine it that their efforts blur any clarity that might exist if they just pursued the virtue of curiosity. What I mean is this: whether we realize it or not, we have a set of pre-determined criteria by which we evaluate the things we enjoy, our vocation being fairly significant among them.

What we enjoy is heavily influenced by our cultural context, our upbringing, our education, and the advice and opinions of others, both positive and negative. We may follow directions given to us by others which set us on a path that may not lead to the destination we desire. Especially if the destination is as vague as “passion,” we may not know it even when we see it because we were looking for the wrong thing. Couple this potential outcome with the added pressure of committing your joy to the successful completion of an agenda which is basically all or nothing. Rarely do you hear others express that half measures and compromises have fulfilled their longing for a life doing what they are passionate about. With this much riding on our presumed happiness, it is inevitable that our expectations cannot be satisfied. The quest to identify and then pursue one’s passion is so fraught with impediments that many folks are paralyzed with indecision and abandon the quest altogether.

The pursuit of passion is like setting off on a long hike in the wilderness expecting to find a table set with a feast. Theoretically it is possible; practically, it is improbable at best. Rather than pursuing an outcome such as “passion,” pursue curiosity. Curiosity by its very nature does not promise anything. It is satisfied in the pursuit rather than the outcome. In interviewing candidates and building teams, there are few predictors of success as important as curiosity. The strong desire to learn and know cannot be externally imparted to someone and can seldom be faked. However, it can be internally cultivated in one’s own character and when it is, it is inevitably apparent to others. People who are curious are dependent on external stimuli in order to satisfy their wonder and exploration. They must therefore engage with externalities, which is why it is such an apparent character trait. And that desire to learn and know usually leads to growth in one’s character and a constant improvement in one’s work.

Practically speaking, the cultivation of curiosity requires time, space and remembrance: time in that you need availability to explore and discover; space in that you need the unoccupied mental bandwidth to be open to interruption and free (even momentarily) from the tyranny of agenda items; and remembrance in that we were all once children and have experienced the freedom from demands of adulthood. Curiosity is a lot like an intentional inactivity where you position yourself to absorb newness. And it is in this deliberate posture of readiness that we can be truly free to discover what work will bring us lasting joy and fulfillment. The pursuit of passion most often leads to dashed expectations, but the cultivation of curiosity may actually lead to the discovery of your passion.