From a Teen’s Perspective: Why it’s hard to find your “thing”
I like to think that somewhere out there is the perfect passion for each and every person. Our days are filled with a variety of activities — work, school, sports, homework, and occasional moments of free time. Many of these endeavors we don’t necessarily enjoy: I learn math because I need to graduate; I take out the trash because that’s one of my chores; and I clean my room for the sake of organization and hygiene.
However, we all strive to find those things that truly excite and inspire us. Whether it’s the creative expression of painting or the peaceful labor of gardening, finding and pursuing passions enriches our lives and gives them purpose and meaning beyond the tedious busywork. That being said, I think it’s become increasingly hard for young people today to find their “thing.”
Our youth culture has transformed into one of rigid structure. As college admissions are increasingly seen as the defining factors of personal success, everyone needs to be the absolute best at everything they do. Better to be a Junior Olympic athlete or a World Chess Champ who’s grinded 30 hours a week since you were five than a regular, old kid with time to breathe. There’s a rigorous program for everything, and while that’s great for developing skills, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for exploration.
Writing has long been my biggest hobby. From a young age, I would spend hours in my room building fictional worlds and abandoning them the next day for a new, more exciting plot. I probably have the first page of over 200 story ideas across my Google Drive and the notebooks in my drawers. However, English wasn’t always my favorite class; I disliked being told exactly what to write and how to write it.
On paper — pardon the pun — you could argue that the lack of structure was unproductive and that I should have taken some intensive writing class. After all, it’s not like I produced anything “meaningful.” But having the creative freedom to simply pursue my interests and develop my craft, in the way that I wanted to, turned me into the writer I am today and fostered a life-long love for writing that I pursue as a satisfying and expressive way to spend my time.
Along with rigid structure, I’ve also seen the rise of the “ideal activity” mentality. Both kids and parents alike tend to have firm ideas about which activities are valuable and which should be avoided. We are sometimes pushed — by others or ourselves — into activities that are perceived as “more impressive.”
I know plenty of people at my school who are deeply invested in pursuits like coding or high-level athletics even though they would rather spend their time drawing or painting. They feel guilty producing work that is purely for their own enjoyment and imagination. However, the whole point of passions is to bring you personal fulfillment!
Passion is all about what matters to you. Interests and hobbies serve as neccesary sources of satisfaction and enrichment, so find the ones that truly bring you joy. Quiet the fear of wasting time on the “wrong” activity and trust that free exploration will guide you to your thing.
I understand that structure and guidance can help kids make the right choices, but when there’s no room for exploration, they lose agency over their own interests and risk never discovering activities they might love. My advice is simple: give yourself the space — even if that means 15 minutes a day — to indulge in something you love or try something new.
Passion is our motivation, our liberation, and our North Star. Don’t limit your potential based on arbitrary rules society uses to keep us both breathless and restless.
Got any topics you want me to cover? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your request!
From a Teen’s Perspective is a weekly column contributed by Menlo-Atherton High School Junior Dylan Lanier, who has lived in Menlo Park since he was two.
Lydia April 03, 2023 at 9:44 pm
Well put, Dylan! Finding and developing an interest shouldn’t become yet another source of stress.
On a tangent, there’s a great episode of This American Life about discovering a love for birds. One person describes how, as a teen, he hauled a rotting deer carcass back to a field near his house so he could observe a flock of vultures up close. Definitely not a sanctioned extracurricular activity! But it changed his life.
Charlotte Muse April 05, 2023 at 4:29 pm
I really enjoyed this column, Dylan! People need time to dream, time to create, time to think more deeply. We’re giving away too much of individuality when our time is constantly organized for us. I don’t know if you saw the movie, “The Yak in the Classroom”, but it speaks to the points you make in your thoughtful piece.