“Follow your passion.” You hear it everywhere.
Think back to when you were a kid. What was your answer to, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Was that daunting for you, or pretty easy to answer?
You might even still not know what you truly want to “be.” Maybe you’re in a job just to pay the bills. Or maybe you’ve found the thing that brings you joy and fulfillment.
Imagine now being a teenager and having only very limited history and experience behind you. Is it really fair that we ask teens to figure out what they want to study and become this early on with such little understanding of all the things that are out there to explore?
While it would be terrific if everyone was born with an innate knowledge of what made them happy, it’s not realistic.
Nevertheless, helping your teenager find his passion is a truly worthy pursuit. Here are just a few reasons why:
- It feels great to be immersed in something you love, to learn more about something that makes your heart happy.
- It’s a critical piece in helping to form an identity.
- Colleges seek students who commit to activities that they’re excited about and grow with.
- And a bonus: Being engaged in something she’s passionate about can help occupy your teen in something meaningful and keep him out of trouble.
Some students have a natural passion that’s unmistakable. My oldest daughter, for example, has been obsessed with learning about horses since she laid eyes on one when she was two years old, and so just about all of her pursuits have involved horses in some way or another. She’s helped run summer horse camps, volunteered as a farm and ranch hand and held a job as a trainer for beginning riders. In between activities she reads literature and watches documentaries related to the subject.
But it’s not so easy for some kids, and it can seem daunting to them to really “get” what truly drives them.
Here are a few ways that you can support your teenager in recognizing or developing his own passion:
1| Give your kid some space.
You may have visions of your teen becoming a doctor or a lawyer, but is that truly what he’d become if he followed his heart? It’s in our nature as parents to want great things for our children, but it might not fit with who he is. It’s important for your teen to figure this one out on her own. To become her own true, authentic self.
2| Talk about meaningful vs. just-to-pay-the-bills work.
It feels much better to wake up each morning excited about another work day rather than trudging through it watching the clock until 5 pm. Have a conversation now about how following a passion can create a meaningful, rewarding life. Your teen should know that he can do something that he loves and get paid for it – an absolute win-win!
3| Ensure your teenager understands there’s a lot of time to figure this out.
In high school, students are frequently asked what they’re going to study in college and what career they’ll pursue. It can be so intimidating to students to feel as though they need to make a decision about their entire future – it’s as if life must be set in stone right after graduation day.
Explain to your teen that there really is plenty of time to figure out what she’s passionate about. College is a great place to explore new subjects and potential interests – and they may change over time. And in fact, I often recommend that students enter college with an undeclared major if they’re just not sure what they want to study. This gives them the freedom to explore freely and follow interests as they arise.
4| Discuss unique talents and abilities with your teen.
Is your teenager great at fixing things? Maybe he has a gift for bringing people together to collaborate on projects. These are examples of strengths your teen has that can provide a window into what might ultimately make him happy and engaged.
5| Brainstorm about potential passions and interests.
Rather than simply listing all of the activities your kid could be involved in, start with what makes her feel inspired. To do this, ask open-ended questions like, “What problems do you feel passionate about trying to solve? If you had an unlimited amount of money, what would you do with your time?”
For a list of 30 thought-provoking and brain-churning questions, download the What’s Your Passion? worksheet. (They’re great for conversation starters, too!)
6| Encourage your teen to try out lots different of activities – with no strings attached.
Check out camps, online courses, clubs, teams, activity centers and part-time jobs to find out what might spark an interest. And then…participate! The more exposure your teenager has to different activities, the better understanding he’ll have of what turns him on and what turns him off. It’s all a great learning experience.
Anything your kid enjoys should be encouraged, even if he doesn’t have an apparent strength for it at first. Strengths and skills can be developed, especially when there’s a passion there.
And also – be sure your teenager doesn’t feel badly about quitting an activity after giving it a fair shot. This exploration is a great way to find activities that might really drive him, and it’s important to not set limitations while figuring things out.
7| Lead by example.
You’ve likely got passions of your own. By showing your teenager how you engage in those passions and how rewarding they are to you, she’ll learn that doing things that are meaningful is a worthwhile, fulfilling endeavor.
Demonstrate how you engage in the things that make you happy, and you’ll show her exactly what it means to live a purpose- and passion-driven life.
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