The Purpose of Our Passions

The coming week marks an important milestone in the lives of many seniors at Lawrenceville, as many begin submitting their first college applications in the early round.

The coming week marks an important milestone in the lives of many seniors at Lawrenceville, as many begin submitting their first college applications in the early round. At Lawrenceville, it is no secret that students and their families place immense importance on the college process. In the past, parents were asked about the factors they valued most in their child’s education, and one of the most common responses was “college.” At the same time, Lawrenceville provides the student body with a wealth of resources to prepare them for college. There is nothing wrong with placing a premium on college. Placing a premium on college is certainly not unique to Lawrenceville, and almost all would agree that college is an important landmark in one’s life. However, it is important to place limits on what sacrifices we are willing to make for the sake of achieving such goals.

In a recent conversation I had with several seniors, they spoke to me about how they had chosen many of their extracurriculars because of the success they knew it would garner them or how it would reflect on them in their applications. In retrospect, they lamented, there were passions that they had found more enjoyable but ultimately chose to drop because of their lack of perceived benefit in the college process. At Lawrenceville, we are surrounded by a culture that often strives for success in outcomes, and while there is nothing wrong with this, in the process of seeking results, many of us often fall into the trap of choosing our “passions” for the purpose of recognition or success in outcomes, instead of intrinsic enjoyment.

There is an important distinction to be made between the various motives behind participating in activities; while some people enjoy the act of participating in an activity, others enjoy what participating brings, such as good grades, money, and prestige, among other things. Although the differences between these two mentalities may not seem consequential, it is evident that many people in the latter group are participating in activities for the wrong reasons. Being passionate about the work that an activity entails will motivate us to pursue excellence in it, regardless of any difficulties that may come up. Conversely, students who derive their interest from the resulting rewards that activities bring, rather than from the work itself, will likely lose motivation in the face of such challenges. This is not to say that we shouldn’t partake in activities we may not be passionate about, but rather that such pursuits are unsustainable in the long run. But by taking them on, we forgo the alternative opportunity to reach our maximum potential in a true interest over the long term.

Ultimately, the purpose of our “passions” is not only just to excel, but also to create greater meaning in our own lives. While there is certainly value in the former, it is important to recognize that our passions are hollow without a commitment to the latter. The author William Lowell Randall once wrote about the “Art of Living,” the idea of crafting our own lives as works of art. In the case of committing to pursuits that we don’t enjoy or don’t enrich our lives with any greater meaning but instead serve as hollow stepping stones for later aspirations, we may be falling short of crafting a life of meaning. The canvas of our lives remains blank.

In a world where we often measure success in concrete outcomes, it is easy for us to believe that in order to distinguish ourselves as successful, pursuing our true passions is not valuable. Meaningless accolades and recognition can mislead us into pursuing activities that we find such concrete success in rather than those that we truly love. Instead, what truly gives value to our actions should be our interests and curiosities. In the long term, whatever gains we may achieve from hollow accolades fall flat to those that give us true meaning.

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