Students, if you can see the end of your Penn years looming in the not too distant future, this post is for you. It concerns passion. You may have been asked or are asking yourself what your passion is. You may even be tired of hearing well-meaning friends and relatives say, just follow your passion.
If you actually have a passion, carry on. You are fortunate. You are also in the minority. Most undergraduates (and many graduate students as well) do not have anything resembling a passion. So don’t feel bad or inadequate if you don’t yet have a passion that is leading you to a particular kind of work.
In my experience after watching the careers of numerous Penn alumni unfold, graduates discover their passion through the development of skills, and this frequently happens in the workplace. It is through the daily discipline of a job that you develop the skills and expertise you need to feel like you are really making a contribution. You feel good about yourself when you do something well. You become excited about the work, and your strong performance on the job. In this way you develop a passion for this work (and perhaps the industry), and you seek positions in the future where you can use and continue to develop these important skills that you can now demonstrate.
What if you do have a passion, but it is for a political candidate, or a charitable organization, or a sports team, or any number of other things? You would do anything to work for that candidate, or that non-profit, or that team. This can be hard. The positions available may be volunteer, or extremely low paying. They could be routine, and give little opportunity to develop skills or to advance. But if by working in the organization you are meeting people, observing the roles they play, learning about the field and developing a vocabulary, then give it a try. After all, if you can’t take a risk at 22, when will you ever be able to do so?
If you can’t make it happen (or can’t afford to), don’t despair. The world is full of people who pursue their passions outside of work as volunteers. In the meantime, you can be working someplace where you can make a living, develop expertise, and perhaps find a new passion, one that is potentially more authentic and long-lasting.