One too many

While some people struggle to find just one passion, others face the ‘problem’ of having too many. Belonging to the latter crowd, our author shares some thoughts on narrowing down the few passions worth pursuing.

by Polykum Redaktion

We all need to give our life a reason, a motive, in one way or another, to make it meaningful. But what makes a life worthwhile? Obviously, such a question does not have a generic answer, but depends entirely on ourselves and who we are. Personally, I like to think that what makes my life meaningful are my passions. But having many passions does not always make life easier for us. For someone like me, who can become passionate about the most diverse topics very quickly, having many passions can often lead to uncertainty, immobility, or even anxiety. So how do we choose which passions to pursue? Let’s start from the beginning.

Making decisions (rationally)

Investigating the mechanisms that enable humans to make decisions is no easy task. However, assuming that we are purely rational beings, a popular thesis was devised by a category of academics particularly interested in this topic: economists. Many of them believe that there are mainly three components that guide our decisions:

  • Our preferences
  • Our constraints
  • Our expectations

To explain these three points, let me use a simple example. Imagine you had to buy a new dress. How would you proceed?

You would probably start by screening on the internet. The range of clothes available is vast, so you would first use your preferences to select a few. Do you prefer a vintage style or a modern one? What colours do you like?Once you had made a shortlist, you would proceed by eliminating some of them, and if, like me, you are always short of money, you would start by setting a realistic budget. Here is a good example of a constraint. A constraint allows us to simplify a decision we have to make by reducing the number of alternatives.

If you do not have an unlimited budget, you would probably be left with a few possible choices. How do you proceed? How do you know which of these clothes will fit best once bought? And here we come to the third point: expectations. Much of our decision-making takes place in a context of uncertainty, arising from the fact that the future is unknowable. Helping us is our brain, which is able to estimate the future by creating a model of it based on present and past experiences. This is how you might get to a final choice.

Making decisions (in reality)

Making a decision is not always as simple as choosing a dress. There are cases, such as deciding which passions to pursue, where no single option makes us totally happy. The reason for this difficulty, in my opinion, can be traced to a particular definition of the word passion, namely: “Exclusive inclination towards an object, intense and violent feeling (of attraction or repulsion) that can disturb the psychic balance and the capacity for discernment and control.” What is interesting about this definition is the mention of passion as something that has the potential to disrupt a normal rational process. However, if you remember correctly, the economists‘ hypothesis was precisely about the human rationality.

In the impossibility of excluding our irrational component, our goal should therefore be to ‘minimise’ it. In my case, three points help:

  • Experimenting: playing with all the interests we have can allow us to refine our expectations without having to spend too much time on them.
  • Identifying our goals: pursuing our passions should fit into a project of personal growth by goals.
  • Give time to time: Not all our passions must be fulfilled simultaneously. Give yourself time to live.

by Massimo Brivio


Massimo Brivio, 26,
is a former master’s student in mechanical engineering at ETH Zurich. He is now a mechanical and AI engineer in a Zurich-based start-up

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