Why passion may not be the key to success

Is following your passion necessarily a good thing? New research says it depends on a person’s culture.

Whether it’s through working your dream job or some other aspect of life, chasing your passion is usually labeled as a good thing that can lead to lifelong happiness and self-fulfillment. However, researchers from Stanford University said that passion is not “a universally powerful cornerstone of achievement,” finding that passion can be misinterpreted based on one’s background.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that passion — in some societies — is a stronger predictor of achievement compared to others.

What does passion really lead to?

In societies like the US and Australia where passion may be groomed to “individualistic” thinking — societies where self is independent and the source of motivation — which makes it more likely for one to find passion in whichever field they so choose. But collective societies — where relationships and roles and responsibilities come into play — are less likely to pursue their passions due to it coming in conflict with their ideals.

“In three large-scale datasets representing adolescents from 59 societies across the globe, we find evidence of a systematic cultural variation in the relationship between passion and achievement,” the authors in the study said. “In individualistic societies, passion better predicts achievement. In collectivistic societies, passion still positively predicts achievement, but it is a much less powerful predictor. There, parents’ support predicts achievement as much as passion.”

Researchers used data from three years of results from the Programme for International Student Assessment, an exam given to students around the globe.

With scores from more than a million high school students in 59 countries, they were able to gauge a students level of passion in fields like math, science, and reading, where they found that students who scored better in those individual subjects were more likely from “individualistic” cultures than collectivist societies.

Collectivist societies — like China, Thailand and Colombia — relief more on family support for their interest, which was measured as an important component, according to researchers.

They said that motivation is therefore influenced by a culture’s philosophies of “achievement, socialization patterns and educational norms.”

The important point researchers made was that the individuality model isn’t necessarily the best model.

“These findings suggest that in addition to passion, achievement may be fueled by striving to realize connectedness and meet family expectations,” the authors said.

Is passion at work bad?

Depending on who you speak to, passion can be the dealbreaker when it comes to selling yourself on your next job interview. It’s been argued that finding your passion is bad life advice, but finding your purpose is a way that can lead to passion.

Passion at work can be misconceived as well. Recent research found that employers perceive it as more acceptable to make workers double down on assignments due to their passion, ultimately leading to more unpaid, demeaning work compared to workers that did not express the same levels of passion.