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“I love painting. Should I follow my heart?” Course selection dilemma – interests vs. prospects

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By Tiffany Wong | Admissions Counselor

Are you good at it? Do you have what it takes? 

Here’s the dirty truth – just because you’re passionate about something does not mean you’re good at it.  Do you have what it takes?  Have you not seen those contestants at America’s Next Top Model (and think about those you never get to see on screen as they did not make it to the show in earlier rounds of auditions)? 

“You can be anyone you want to be” my mom used to tell me that when I was a kid.  I think she wanted to encourage me to dream big and know that the possibilities are endless. But I’ve learnt that this is just part of the truth.  As Chris Rock revealed in his Netflix special Tamborine the harsh fact  – “you can be anything…anything you’re good at, as long as they are hiring”.  Spot on.  Yes, it does come with a condition. 

So please do evaluate your strengths and ability in conjunction with your interests when deciding on which subject you want to study.

Abilities, like passion, can be developed.

We are most likely going to be good at something if we enjoy doing it. Wait, or is it the other way round? If we enjoy doing it, we would do more of it and eventually become good at it? We can argue all day about this.  But Adam Grant would tell us that we are totally missing the point here. This has been the biggest misconception of the century. 

Passion is, in fact, a side effect of mastery, rather than a cause.

It is often hard to enjoy it when you suck at something. 

But hey, sucking at it the first time, the second time, and for many more times, does not mean that you will suck at it forever.

The danger of focusing on a passion-driven course of action, might be that we tend to give up whenever we lose that sense of satisfaction.  If my ‘passion’ for painting is solely driven by voluntary obsession, yes, I might be self-motivated when I find the process enjoyable (which is an emotional state of mind); but I might want to give up once I no longer experience any emotional gain whenever I struggle to paint that perfect shade of blue or get that stroke right.  If I stop trying believing I do not have passion for painting, I’d never master the skill and develop that passion. 

If we lose interest the moment we run into obstacles and give up, we are forgoing the chance to be good at anything before trying hard enough. 

Passion is a consequence of effort, but not a cause.

Bear in mind that passion is a product of learning and eventually mastering a skill.  When you start improving at it and spotting tangible signs of process, passion naturally develops.  This intense desire or satisfaction develops over time, upon consistent effort and perseverance in mastering that skillset required.  If you’re interested in doing something, invest time and effort and keep pushing yourself to develop that expertise. You interest would then grow and develop into the so-called passion over time.  

Except for those who are born with natural talent, nobody is good at something right from the very beginning.  Come on, look around you.  How many of us are born singers or could do magic tricks at 3 years old? Most of us aren’t born a genius and I’m a big believer in hard work.  If you have just started exploring an area of interest, surely you would not be expecting to have mastered all the skills required. 

Instead of asking what you are good at, rephrase the question and ask yourself what you want to be good at.

What would you like to learn? What sort of skills would you want to pick up? 

Would the course and college you are going to choose foster the room for learning and development in the direction where you want to head toward?

Would there be opportunities to enhance and improve the sort of skills you want to acquire?

The power of ‘yet’

Next time you are going through that acute period of self-doubt, remember that practice, trial and errors are all inevitable phases of learning and growth. Only by overcoming those hurdles, would you gain mastery and achieve true excellence, and hopefully, develop a passion.

May your future pathways be filled with ‘yet’ and many more to come.  I hope you would all learn from experience instead of running from errors and crying over mistakes.

Learn to stand back up on your feet, embrace these errors and grow to become a stronger ‘you’.

UK counselor Tiffany

MS TIFFANY WONG

Admissions Counselor

NACAC

BA Law & Business, Warwick University (UK)

TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), Trinity College London

Marymount Secondary School (Hong Kong)

  • Over 8 years of experience in admissions counselling and test prep
  • 100% success rate in securing at least 1 university offer from top 3 choices (UK universities)
  • Formulated a unique strategy in creating competitive advantage for international applicants

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