Is passion for research necessary? Yes and no

There is an existential problem that everyone eventually encounters – what to do with their lives. Up until university, I had no idea. Even now, it’s still kind of unclear. I thought going to university and getting a job were supposed to help me gain some clarity, and they did, to some extent. It led me to the path of research. But… was it the right path?

Early on, I turned to self-help books. I find that self-help books are popular because there many others out there also trying to figure out the same thing. One of the most popular advice that I came across was “follow your passion”. In other words, follow your greatest interest, and pursue a career involving that interest. Apparently, this is important because if you are passionate about something, you are excited to do the work, you provide more value to others, and it gives your life meaning. If we look at some successful people, they are often passionate about what they do.

Others argue that following your passion is bad advice because it’s not clear how to do it, not easy, and not realistic. For example, yeah, I’d like to play basketball professionally and get paid, but what are the chances (pretty high if you ask me, but low if you ask everyone else). Rather, they suggest build your passion. By finding something you are good at, mastering it, providing value, and gaining autonomy – you eventually build this passion. In some cases, successful people didn’t follow their passion, they grew passionate about their work. This passion developed alongside their success.

In any case, this black and white thinking of “follow your passion” or “do not follow your passion” is likely not going to help anyone. The key, it seems, is balance. Follow or build your passion, but do so in realistic terms. Find something you are (or can be) passionate about, but also something you are good at. If you focus just on passion alone, you might end up nowhere. On the other hand, if you focus only what you are good at without being passionate about it, you might end up feeling unfulfilled. Keep in mind that for every person that succeeded by following their passion, many have failed. It’s OK for work to simply be just work, and to pursue your passion on the side. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do.

I admit, I was not always passionate about public health research. In fact, I find working in research can be rather dull. It’s often about mundane, everyday topics, or gets repetitive with all the reading, surveying, interviewing, and writing. Thankfully, this is not always the case. With the mindset of being curious about individuals and communities – talking to them about the things they do and think, and about their successes and challenges – it can make the process interesting and very rewarding. I developed a passion for research by improving my research skills and applying them to capture and share people’s stories.

I think most of us don’t have a single passion. We have multiple passions, and they can change over time. Which is why although the path of research seems right for me for now, I am mindful that my current interests may pave way to something else, perhaps a step forward.

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