During my initial years as a graduate student, I certainly didn’t enjoy an unshakable sense that I had found my true calling. The beginning of doctoral training can be rough. You’re not yet skilled enough to make contributions to the research literature, which can be frustrating. And at a place like M.I.T., you’re surrounded by brilliance, which can make you question whether you belong.
Had I subscribed to the “follow our passion” orthodoxy, I probably would have left during those first years, worried that I didn’t feel love for my work every day. But I knew that my sense of fulfillment would grow over time, as I became better at my job. So I worked hard, and, as my competence grew, so did my engagement.
This advice has been trending for a bit now, but it is still so hard to get into our little heads. Cal Newport wrote an early book on it and I think he is dead-on. Don’t worry about “passions”—that’s chasing the wind. Instead, look at your opportunities and think about how you can most effectively master a valuable set of skills. Not only is this pragmatic (as Newport argues), I believe it is also Christian, elevating giftedness, faithfulness, and servanthood above the idol of personal fulfillment.