On July 14th I had the opportunity to talk with a group of 300 students in Sacramento State’s Migrant Student Leadership Institute and, at the end of my presentation, a young lady asked a very important question: “how do I find my passion? I like everything I do in school but I would like to have that passion that you talked about so that when things get very difficult I will be able to overcome them and succeed.” I was taken by surprise, for I try to inspire students by talking about my passion and encouraging them to pursue their passion and dreams and have for many years now, but I have never given them an outline or road map of how they can find their passion.
For me, passion is a very powerful internal drive that allows me to never give up, even when things get extremely difficult. I believe that we find our passion by exploring and being exposed to what we do not know. In high school all the courses we take are very standard but in college and graduate school we have the opportunity to see things in a different light. We get to really explore different fields or aspects of certain fields in more depth and to learn about fields and careers we never even knew existed. We finally have the opportunity to really learn about all the various sub-disciplines that make up mathematics (for instance) and, most important, learn that there is an enormous set of jobs and careers that we can go into with a degree in mathematics. We finally get to learn all the possibilities that existed within each discipline, and we learn that we don’t have to be educators with a mathematics degree. In fact many of the math graduates from the top programs in the nation such as MIT are going to investment and business type of industries.
But how do we learn all this? We learn more about mathematics (and any other field for that matter, as this advice applies to other disciplines and academic areas) by taking classes in areas we had not previously explored, by going to talks and presentations on various topics, by attending conferences, workshops and seminars, by listening to career panels, by participating in summer programs and internships, by doing research with faculty, by taking an independent study class or a reading course on a topic that is new to you, and by talking to others who are in that area or know of people in that area. Finding your passion is often a process where you are a sponge and you absorb everything within your reach. It is part of finding yourself and to know who you are, what intrigues you, what sparks your interest, what drives you to go the extra mile, as well as what turns you off (or disengages you) – you have to put yourself in situations that will expose you to new things. Once you are in these new environments/ situations you have to engage everything around you and learn more.
In the process of finding your passion you cannot neglect your grades and do things that go against ensuring that you graduate on time. Taking more classes, attending/participating in conferences and workshops and doing the things mentioned above should not take you way from your first priority, which is to do your best in school and maintain your grades. Take classes that count towards your graduation credits. If you are attending a conference or workshop make sure that you prepare ahead of time by doing the your classwork in advance and similarly if you have to do work study or work for pay, try to get your hours in before you attend the conference. Finding that balance will also help you find your passion.