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The illusion of Passion

It is never easy to reflect on the decisions which got us where we are today. For some of those decisions were a mere chance, or mere pressure, or the only option we had, maybe the easiest, maybe the hardest, maybe the most suitable one we HAD to take in a certain passing situation. So there is a bit of randomness in making those decisions that once we try to track them back, contradictions rise.

We find that what we are doing today, or what we aspire for in the future has little to do with our initial intention, and here hits the feeling of frustration, or failure and the question of "Am I really on the right track?". But what is the right track really? Maybe it's a dream you had, or a plan you've been working on, or a self image you've been aspiring to, or a passion. But should we sustain the same degree of passion towards a project? should we actually have a passion in the first place?

We have always been exposed to the idea of the necessity of having a dream or a passion. Modern life coaches cannot shut up with the "follow your passion" Chauvinism, and we can't help but applying it everywhere, in our personal lives, in our relationships to others, and even in our professional lives. And here I want to focus on the latter.

As someone who has studied Astronomy and spend most of my time amid people who did the same, I can say I have a lot to say about the topic. I find it really interesting when junior researchers get asked on why they have chosen to study Astrophysics. Almost all of them come up with some romantic reason: "I have always been fond of the sky", "I am interested in discovering life in the universe", "When I was a kid I had a telescope and was always in my garden watching the stars with my dad".... I am not sure how many are actually truthful but let's suppose that all of them are.

So why am I criticizing this kind of thinking? simply because it's dangerous. We are all researchers, we know how research goes, we might have a degree in "Solar Physics" or "Exoplanetary Physics" or "Stellar Astrophysics" but we know that our area of "expertise" and the tasks we are involved with everyday are far from those fancy titles. We are more likely to reconnect to our "passion" by looking at a beautiful picture of the Sun or by watching Carl Sagan talking about how small we are in the universe.

It is dangerous to confuse your career with passion because whenever something does not work with your task at work, no matter how small it is: the code is not working or can't get sense of the data or you are continuing someone else's project who missed up somewhere and you have to track it and fix it, etc.. whenever this happen, it'll leave you frustrated and wondering "Am I following my dream? Is this how my dream is supposed to look like?". The answer is you should never have a dream. Do not ask yourself "will this fulfill my dream and passion?" rather try to find a new passion in whatever you are working on.

I do not have a passion, and people often get surprised. My "passion" is constantly changing because I do not intend to look for it, I instead always try to find it. I have studied Astronomy because at that time and space, it was a challenging thing to do, and I like challenge. I did not have a telescope, I did not go out on the balcony and watch the stars, I simply wanted to stand out and prove myself in a woman shaming society. I wanted to get out of my country, that is why I made sure to be good in Math and Physics, to get good grades and have a scholarship and flee. That was the only excuse for a woman to leave her household, to study abroad. And now that I am working towards a career in Physics, I try to find and develop my passion the whole time without holding on too much to it, because one day, as harsh as it sounds, I will leave it for another one.