Chapter 1: Passion

Dave Dillon


“Ganas. That’s all you need. The desire to learn.”

– Jaime Escalante

Think about what you are passionate about. It might be family, friends, a significant other, a pet, an upcoming vacation, or what you might have for dinner. Different people are passionate about different things. Ask yourself: Why are you passionate about those things? What makes you passionate about them? Now ask yourself if you are passionate about school.

Author’s Story

I can think of many things I would rather do than sit in a classroom listening to a lecture. I’d rather be relaxing at the beach, traveling to a new place, or playing Mario Kart with my family and friends. But when I was in college, my education was extremely important to me. I had a tremendous amount of passion, which allowed me to succeed. I had the attitude that nothing was going to stand in the way of getting my degree. In my first year in college I took an Introduction to Sociology class that genuinely interested me. It was easy to be passionate about it because I really liked the subject matter, my professor, and the textbook. I also took Microeconomics. And while I understood its value and importance, I was not as interested in attending and completing the assignments. However, I always knew I needed to find passion in the course if I wanted to be successful and accomplish my goals. One strategy that worked for me was to find situations where I could apply concepts in those less interesting classes to my personal life. For instance, if the lecture and textbook were explaining a Microeconomics concept like total and marginal utility, I would try to apply this to something I could easily relate to. If utility is the satisfaction of the consumption of a product for a consumer, I would think of an example involving Arby’s roast beef sandwiches, and blue raspberry slurpees. Making the material meaningful to me allowed me to be passionate about learning something I otherwise would not have been.

“Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.”

– Randy Pausch

There were other activities I enjoyed more than class, but I knew it was important to find a passion for my classes because it was the key to succeeding in them.

It is common to have other things you would like to do more than sitting in class, doing homework and preparing for exams. But you still must have passion for the learning and for the class in order to be successful.

My favorite definition of success is from John Wooden: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

Why Are You Here?

Please note: It is OK to not know what your goal is when you start college. In fact, it is extremely common for students not to know what their goal is or what their major is when they begin college, but there is value in identifying your goal(s) as soon as possible.

More questions to ask yourself: Why are you in college, and why are you taking the courses you’re taking? If you can answer these questions with solid logic and understand their purpose and how they fit in to being important to your life, you are off to a great start. However, if you are taking classes at someone else’s suggestion and you are not genuinely interested in them, you may want to reconsider. I do not wish it to be misconstrued that I recommend you drop out of college, rather I want you to have a plan and passion to be able to achieve your goals. For many people, higher education is a necessary part of their goals.

I see many students in my counseling office who want to be independent, work a full time job, and/or party (rather than go to college). I also see many students who come back a few years later with a renewed passion and value for their education.

For college success, you must attend when the time is right for you. How do you know if it’s the right time? Ask yourself if it’s the right time for the following students to go to college:

  • Monica’s goal is to go to a university. She was accepted but couldn’t afford it. She enrolls at a community college. She is passionate about attending community college and then transferring to earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • Christina is a high school graduate. She would like to take a year off of school to work and travel. Her parents gave her an ultimatum, saying that if she wanted to continue to live at home, she had to go to college full-time.
  • Javier completed one year of college then got married in his early 20s. He and his spouse raised four children and he has been working for 20 years in an uninteresting, low-paying job. He always wanted to finish college and now finally has the time to go back to school.
  • Andy is interested in partying and little else. He knows his college education is important but it is a low priority at this point.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Passion

Sometimes we are motivated by a specific desired outcome of performing a task. Some people play a game because they want to win. In education, some students work hard because they want to receive a good grade or transfer to a prestigious university. Parents of younger children may give a monetary reward for each “A” their student earns. This is extrinsic motivation.

Interest, desire to learn, and enjoyment of a subject are characteristics of intrinsic motivation, or what we call passion. Passion for your education must come from within. If your educational goals (passing a college course, acquiring new skills or attaining a degree) are important enough to you, your motivation can become intrinsic, allowing you to find passion, which will help you reach your goals. Without passion, you may find yourself struggling, withdrawing from courses, earning poor grades, or dropping out. External rewards of ascending to a certain academic level or acquiring wealth, lose some of their appeal if students do not find the work to get there personally rewarding. These students, who truly embrace their work, are intrinsically motivated – passionate while those who are focused mainly on rewards for high achievement and punishment for poor performance are extrinsically motivated. Trophies, medals, money, new clothes or a new car are examples of extrinsic motivators. One could argue, “the end justifies the means”—that it doesn’t matter if a students’ passion comes internally or externally, as long as they accomplish their goals. However, when the reward is learning itself, the student is on road to long-term success!

“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.”

– Denis Diderot

The Choice Is Yours

I believe one of the best decisions you can make is to attend college if you are passionate about it and it is the right time for you. On the other hand it is better to postpone attending college if you are not passionate about it or feel the time is not right. Please do not misunderstand – I am not discouraging anyone from going to college nor am I encouraging anyone to drop out of college. And I do not expect you to be passionate about every aspect of college. There were some classes and some requirements that I disliked during my own college experience. My concern, however, is students who start college and are not passionate about it. After a few years and a poor transcript, they meet with a counselor saying they weren’t in college for the right reasons, weren’t serious about their education, didn’t know what they were doing, or… “my parents made me go.” There are some suggestions in this book that can assist a passionate student to succeed. But all of the suggestions in the world will not help a student lacking passion. In the end, I want you to be successful and I want you to enjoy college, but I believe these are nearly impossible without passion.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

There is a scene from the movie Serendipity where Dean’s character says, “You know the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: ‘Did he have passion?’” I will leave it up to you to decide if this is true or if it is Hollywood taking a liberty, but either way that quote has stayed with me. You can be successful in college. This textbook is a journey in figuring out how you are going to get there.

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon).  Now licensed as CC BY: Attribution.


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Chapter 1: Passion Copyright © 2021 by Dave Dillon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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